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(I’d rather you read the intro, but feel free to scroll down if you want to go straight to the guide.)
Like many others, I’m currently self isolating. The difference between myself and many others around me is that I started self isolating during the first week of February. I started driving my wife into work in NYC to keep her off public transit. We stopped going out for anything other than groceries–and even then we only shopped late at night when the store was almost empty. I got weird looks when I sprayed rubbing alcohol on my card after using the keypad at checkout. The shelves were full of hand sanitizer when I bought a couple gallons worth. (I won’t go into details, but I’ve, uh, got a few N95 masks.)
Fast forward to the end of February: I’m packing to leave the area, and telling everyone I know that NYC will be the epicenter of the virus and that they should Get. Out. Now.
Am I particularly smart, or special? No. Not really. (If you’d like to pay attention to people who are, I recommend @nntaleb, @normonomics and @yaneerbaryam on Twitter.) I will tell you what I’m not: arrogant. I don’t think that I’ll be saved because I’m a special person in a special era in a special place. As a human being, I have a responsibility to myself, my family, and my friends. So do you.
In 2020 in the United States of America, you can very easily buy anything you need. It’s always easier to buy something than it is to replace it. How does this relate to our current situation, and why am I making this garden hose repair about the pandemic? Because buying a cheap garden hose every year or two because it’s easier than fixing the old one is the same inclination that got us into the middle of a pandemic without enough ventilators or masks or PPE. Easier and Cheaper is the modern American way. These are not the principals that made us the “greatest country in the world”–they’re the principals that made calling the United States the Greatest Country In The World a silly and ironic and quaint statement.
Michael Williams (of A Continuous Lean) wrote an excellent essay about the decline of American manufacturing. Because he’s a better writer than me, and his essay says everything I’d like to say in this post, here’s a excerpt:
I see a clear connection between what it means to make jeans in America and what it means to make the critical PPE and medical equipment when we need it. It’s not just about the cost of goods, it’s about the loss of important capabilities when they are most important. It’s about self-sufficiency and having the power to create things when we need it – not to depend on a foreign government to help us.
Repairing your garden hose–knowing how to do it, wanting to learn, and being inclined against just replacing it–this might not seem directly related to this situation. But it is. Pandemics happen. Disasters happen. Don’t be arrogant. You need to be able to take care of yourself and your family, just like our country needs to be able to take care of itself. We need to employ our own citizens, make our own stuff, and take care of each other. You need to be able to survive on your own, take care of your family when no one else is coming to help, and make due with what you have–and you should want to.
A garden hose is one of the best examples to start with. To own a garden hose is to hate a garden hose. They break, they leak, they fall apart, they need to be replaced. They’re also incredibly easy to fix. It costs very little, and like Hemingway’s broken places, they’re often stronger and better after the repair.
How To Repair Your Garden Hose Instead of Replacing It:
First, you’ll need some tools. These tools, generally speaking, are things you should already have. So if you don’t own them, I suggest you buy stuff that’ll last. I’ll include links to tools I either already own, or plan to buy when my current version breaks.
Electric screw driver (Optional)
Ratcheting pipe cutter (This is optional, but highly recommended. Really. You can use this to cut most plastic tubing, you can fix your sink drain pipes, and you can do so safely. You can use a utility knife for this repair, but I don’t recommend it.)
Safety glasses–ALWAYS WEAR SAFETY GLASSES. I’ve scratched my eyeball before, luckily missing the cornea. You can easily lose your vision if you’re not careful, but even if you don’t the pain from scratching the white of your eye is incredibly painful. Make wearing safety glasses a habit. If you grab a tool, you put safety glasses on. (The Carhartt glasses I linked to are my personal favorite.)
Now you’ll need the repair kit/fittings. There are various kinds of repair parts/kits made for a garden hose. There are a few options made to be installed without the use of tools. (You’ll still need something to cut the hose.) These are mostly plastic, and of poor quality. They exist to make what’s already an incredibly easy job look like something even easier. I’m omitting these due to their poor quality. Instead I’ll focus on the standard, time honored repair parts. You can see the various options here.
The fittings in the top row are often a little cheaper than the ones below. I personally feel that they work just as well, and in some ways might be a little more durable. The downside is you’re going to have a sharp hose clamp right next to your hand when you’re handling the end. You could, conceivably, cut your palm open.
For that reason, the fittings you saw on the bottom row are far preferable. The only downside is they’re slightly more likely to crack–being cast metal–if you were to hit the finished repair hard against a rock or something.
Again, I think the safety issue is serious enough that I can’t recommend the hose clamp fittings. Use your own judgement here.
When buying these repair fittings, make sure to stick to pure brass with zinc. I recommend the following parts.
The parts I listed above will work with a standard 5/8″ garden hose, which will account for the vast majority of hoses here in the USA.
You might have a non-standard 3/4″ hose–these are often sold as “heavy duty” or “contractor grade.” Some of the “no kink” or “never kink” hoses are also 3/4″, though most are still 5/8″.
If your hose is 3/4″, you should still be able to use those parts. They’re meant to fit both. You might have some trouble getting the fitting into the hose, or you might have trouble screwing on the retaining piece. Don’t worry. If you have difficulty inserting the fitting into the hose, just put a little bit of dish soap on it to help lubricate. If you have difficulty with the retaining collar, just make sure to tighten the screws down evenly, alternating to keep the force even. (More about that below)
And an extra piece of advice that goes along with the self reliance and preparedness I’m advocating: Buy these repair fittings when you buy your hose. When you need a hose, buy the best one you can find–the best, not the most expensive–and buy two of them. When you buy tools, buy the best you can find. You’re not buying tools or garden hoses, etc, for a specific project. You’re buying these things so you have them in your possession, for whatever might come up.
We’ll start with the simplest–and most common–scenario. It’s possible your hose fitting isn’t broken at all. It could just leaking. In that case, you’ll need to check and see if there’s a seal. This is a rubber washer sitting inside the female end of the hose. The threads on a garden hose fitting simply connect the fittings–they do nothing to create a seal. The rubber washer sits inside the female fitting and presses against the face of the male fitting, creating a seal. If this seal is missing, the connection will leak. Here’s an example.
It’s a bit difficult to see, but if you looks closely you’ll see that the hose is soaking wet. If you look very closely you might notice the stream of water on the metal spring. This female fitting was missing its seal.
You can buy these garden hose seals, but even better is to own a miscellaneous seal kit for plumbing. It looks like this.
And that’s the seal you’ll need for the garden hose.
This fitting should now seal.
The water is on, and everything is perfectly dry.
That was the easiest possible repair, and you’ll probably find that many hose fitting leaks can be fixed just by adding back a missing seal, or by replacing an existing seal that’s dried out and cracking.
Only slightly more difficult is the situation in which you have to replace the entire fitting.
Here’s an example of a brass fitting that ended up completely locked inside an aluminum female hose fitting. (Brass and aluminum should never meet. But that’s a subject for another time.)
I tried drilling it out without any success.
In this case, we’ll need to cut off the end of the hose and repair it with a new female fitting.
Because the threaded part of the fitting is loose and will rotate on the hose insert, I like to attach a male fitting to make the piece rigid. If you have any difficulty inserting the barbed fitting into the hose, try a drop or two of dish soap to lubricate it. If you still have trouble, you can try running hot water over the hose end to soften it. The combination of heat and dish soap should solve any issues you might have.
Now you can fully attach the retaining collar, making sure to alternate between screws while tightening them. You do this to maintain even pressure across the collar, and to prevent damage.
And… just like that you’re done. Don’t forget the seal! (Like I did in this photo.)
Now let’s say you have a hose accessory that’s leaking at its connection. More than likely, again, it’s only the seal.
So you go back to your assorted seals and washers, you find one that fits, and you insert it into the fitting.
But then you find that it’s still leaking. But not from the same place.
If you look closely, you can see that it’s not leaking from the connection at all. It’s leaking from the crimped part of the male hose fitting.
So you’ll need to replace that, just like you replaced the female fitting on the other hose. As an example of the safety concern I’d mentioned, I’m going to use a hose clamp fitting to demonstrate.
First, you cut the hose.
Then place the hose clamp over the hose, and insert the barbed end of the male repair fitting.
Tighten the clamp, and reattach the accessory.
You can quickly see what the problem is. This hose is now repaired. The water is on, and everything is sealed. But the hose clamp is sitting directly below where your hand will be when you grip this sprayer. Most of the time you’ll be fine, but there’s always a risk of cutting your hand. For this reason, and especially on the male fitting at the end of a garden hose, I strongly recommend against this style of repair. The screw down collar you saw earlier is far preferable.
So here’s that repair, just as easy as anything else you’ve seen thus far.
Now cut the end off.
Insert the barbed end of the male fitting.
Attach the collar, and screw it down. Again, alternating between the two screws in order to keep the clamping force even.
And you’re done.
Now let’s say you have two short hoses connected together, and there’s a drip. First–as always–check to see if there’s a seal.
There’s no seal, so you add one. Problem solved, no more drip.
But that’s not really what I want. These two short hoses are useless to me, so I’d like to couple them together. This repair is also useful in the case of a punctured hose. Say you have a leak in the middle of a hose. You cut the hose at either end of the leak, and put it back together using this fitting.
Slide the hose clamps over the cut ends, and insert the barbed fitting.
Tighten the clamps, and you’re done.
This, to me, is the best use of the hose clamp fitting. It’s in the middle of the hose where you’re least likely to handle it. (Until, of course, you go to coil it.) And because it’s in the middle of the hose it’s going to be dragging across the ground all the time, so the extra durability is needed.
And that’s basically everything you need to know about fixing a garden hose.
Overall, I hope you enjoyed this guide, and learned something you didn’t know already. The reality here is that if you can change a light bulb, you can also repair your garden hose. If you can repair your garden hose, you can also change the oil in your car. And if you can change the oil in your car, you can also change the brakes. Complexity goes up from there, but with the right tools and planning, and some more experience fixing stuff, you shouldn’t have much trouble swapping your car’s engine out. Barring physical disability, you can take care of yourself and do what needs to be done. Everyone needs to start somewhere.
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