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how to repair PVC pipe in tight spaces

How to Repair PVC Pipe in Tight Spaces

One out of every five American homeowners admits to delaying needed home repairs.

In some cases, the delay is a reflection of cost. Projects get deferred because they simply aren't in the budget at the moment. 

Other times, repairs slide to the right because they're difficult, unpleasant, or complicated. PVC pipe repairs regularly fall in this category. Homeowners often just don't know how to repair PVC pipe in tight spaces and so put such projects off. 

Fortunately, with the right tools and technique, even the trickiest spaces don't have to be a nightmare. Keep reading to learn how to replace a section of PVC pipe, now. 

Simple Repairs

Fortunately, with the right tools and techniques, even the trickiest spaces don't have to be a nightmare. Keep reading to learn how to replace a section of PVC pipe, now. 

Simple Temporary Repairs

In a best-case scenario, you will recognize leaks when they are still small. Minor leaks can typically be fixed quickly and easily using rubber or fiberglass tape. Hose clamps can serve as a temporary fix in emergency circumstances, as well. 

Rubber Tape

Rubber tape is sticky and stretchy. It adheres to pipes and the compression of the tape plugs the leak. To apply, simply wrap the tape around the pipe tightly. 

rubber tape

It is important to cover not only the leaking spot but several inches in each direction. This reinforces the damaged section of the pipe and prevents new leaks. In fact, if the whole pipe seems questionable, you can spiral wrap the entire thing with tape to prevent new problems from developing. 

Fiberglass Tape

Fiberglass tape is similar to rubber tape in that it can be used to repair small leaks in piping. However, instead of being sticky, fiberglass tape is coating with resin. The resin is water-activated. 

When the tape is wrapped around a pipe and activated, the resin hardens. This takes about 15 minutes. Afterward, the hardened tape serves as a new barrier, preventing the pipe from leaking. 

Hose Clamps 

If you need to temporarily address a small leak while you arrange for more serious repairs, hose clamps may be an option. To use, wrap rubber tape around the leak. Then place hose clamps over the tape on their side of the leak.  

Screw the hose clamps down. This will create compression, which will work with the tape to secure the leak. 

More Serious Repairs

Unfortunately, both rubber and fiberglass tapes are only suitable for very small leaks. Both can also be difficult to work within cramped spaces. For instance, you may not be able to wind tape effectively around pipes located directly against walls or in corners. 

hose clamps

To achieve more serious drain pipe repair, you may need to:

  • Use a saddle repair kit
  • Apply an expanding coupling
  • Create a hard pipe bridge
  • Cut out and replace a section of damaged pipe 
  • Cut out and replace a section of the damaged pipe 

Using a Saddle Repair Kit

A saddle repair kit consists of partial sections of pipe, PVC primer, and PVC cement. To use the kit in drainage pipe repair, you: 

  • Shut off and drain the water, if necessary
  • Clean the leaking section of pipe with a rag 
  • Apply PVC primer (also called cleaner) to the pipe to ensure a good seal
  • Generously apply PVC cement to the damaged portion of pipe and the inside of the repair piece
  • Press the repair pieces over the damaged portion of pipe, secure them in place, and allow to dry

Once the cement has hardened, the bracing pieces seal the leak and prevent the development of new leaks. Some saddle kits may come with clamps, but clamped and clampless styles both work equally well.  

Replacing Damaged Sections of Pipe

In the event that taping or saddle repair isn't sufficient, you will need to replace the damaged section of the pipe. You can do this using:

  • Flexible or expanding couplings
  • Pipe bridges
  • Straight piece-for-piece replacement

The basic steps involved are straightforward. 

  1. Determine where the leak is
  2. Turn off the water supply
  3. Drain the pipes if necessary
  4. Cut out the damaged portion
  5. Dry fit the new piece
  6. Cement the new piece in place
  7. Allow to dry or cure before restoring the water supply

Flexible or Expanding Couplings

Flexible couplings are ideal for odd, tight spaces such as in-ground piping around tree roots. They provide some leeway and give for changeable spaces. These couplings can be installed the same way as any hard pipe.  

Expandable or telescoping couplings are specifically designed to accommodate small spaces, as well. They are more likely to be used in enclosed spaces, such as valve boxes, than flexible piping. Expanding couplings are commonly used for repairs that take place at fittings. 

Flexible or Expanding Couplings

Expandable or telescoping couplings are specifically designed to accommodate small spaces, as well. They are more likely to be used in enclosed spaces, such as valve boxes than flexible piping. Expanding couplings are commonly used for repairs that take place at fittings. 

Telescoping couplings are typically more expensive than the alternatives. They are installed the same way, however. The hard side is attached first, and the telescoping side is extended to the appropriate length and then cemented in place. 

Hard Bridges

Hard pipe bridges may be appropriate where a direct or flexible replacement is not ideal. In bridging:

  • The damaged section of pipe is removed
  • 90-degree fittings are attached to either side of the where the piece was removed
  • Small sections of pipe are attached to the fittings
  • 90-degree fittings are attached to the other end of those pipes
  • New piping is run between the second set of fittings

The effect is to reroute a small section of piping around an obstacle or into a space with more room to work. 

How to Repair PVC Pipes in Tight Spaces

hard bridges

Drainpipe replacement and repair in small spaces is particularly difficult. Challenges can come in numerous forms:

  • Inability to use tape, clamps, and other fixes 
  • Extra care needed not to damage nearby walls, appliances, or fixtures
  • Difficulty accessing valves, fittings and other pieces
  • Getting new pieces of pipe in place

Perhaps the biggest challenge, however, is cutting and removing pipe. Small spaces often do not provide the room or angles you need to use a hacksaw or pipe ratchet. This can make it difficult or seemingly impossible to cut and remove the damaged pipe. 

Fortunately, there is a solution. Inside pipe cutters free you from the cramped mess of the external space. 

Inside pipe cutters are comprised of two parts:

  • A guide wheel
  • An electroplated diamond blade
  • A quick-release arbor  

The guide wheel provides stabilization for the blade, allowing it to create smooth, clean, and steady cuts. The arbor allows the blade to be attached to a power drill. 

Once the blade is attached to a drill, it can be lowered into the pipe to the desired point. You then squeeze the trigger handle of the drill to set the blade rotating. You then press the rotating blade into the inside edge of the pipe.

By moving the blade around the perimeter of the pipe, you create a clean cut. You can then easily remove the pipe. 

These innovative pipe cutters come in small and large sizes. Large blades are 80 mm (3 1/8") and appropriate for cutting pipes between 90 mm and 150 mm (4" and 6") in diameter. Small blades are 36 mm (1 1 /2") and suitable for pipes between 40 mm and 80 mm (1 1 /2" and 3") in diameter.

Tips for Repairing Pipes

There are a handful of key tips and tricks to keep in mind when repairing pipes. 

  • Use a vise or V-block to hold piping stock in place while cutting it to size
  • Use a PVC ratchet cutter to cut small piping stock to size
  • Use a hacksaw to cut PVC piping stock more than 1.5 inches in diameter
  • Always use both PVC primer and PVC Glue when joining pipes
  • Always measure the size of your pipe before purchasing stock to ensure you buy the right materials
  • Keep clean, dry towels on hand
  • Expect to need a deburring tool, sandpaper, or a small knife if you are cutting larger pipes 
  • When tapping into existing drain line, always be careful to isolate any potential water source before attempting any work

It is also wise to check your local code requirements before beginning a project. This is particularly true if you are doing a job that will need to be inspected at any point.

Some jurisdictions have specific requirements, such as the use of purple cement. They may require that the purple be visible on the replaced sections once the job is done. Inspectors may also want to see the container of cement used.  

Checking for these and other regulations in advance can save you significant time, money, and hassle. 

Getting Started

Before getting started on your pipe repair projects, take the time to properly prepare. Evaluate your space and the tips above on how to repair PVC pipe in tight spaces. 

Order the right tools for the job and set yourself up for success. Taking a little time upfront can guarantee your ease and success once you start. 


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