Too Tight Unions

mgecaOctober 29, 2013

The 3" PVC unions before and after my external pump were tightened by someone not available to help now. They are too tight for me to loosen by hand or with a strap wrench.

Does anyone have a tip or know how to loosen the unions? Is there another tool that would help? I would like to remove my pump for the winter although I can drain it in place and leave it--worst case scenario.

Since heat expands, I'm thinking a hair dryer or pouring very warm water on them might help, but I don't know the tolerance of PVC or ABS for that.

I hope to get it done in a warm stretch we are having. Thanks for any ideas.

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I have to use a strap wrench. I find it works best if the pipe is empty and if you have room use a piece of pipe to extend the handle of your strap wrench.

    Bookmark   October 29, 2013 at 3:36PM
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Thanks Mike. As I'm sure you know, the union for a 3" pipe has a large diameter and is kind of slippery. My strap wrench has a strap only about 1" wide and is just long enough to go around the fitting and get put in the handle. It is hard to get a good grip on anything and the strap slides around too much. It is all I could find at a big box store.

What type strap wrench do you use, especially width of strap? I might be able to extend the handle but it will be hard to keep the strap in place. And I worry about too much torque on the plastic handle.

Is there a strap wrench out there with a wider strap, durable handle? What about ones used to remove oil filters? I just need to get that first loosening and then I will be OK. I suppose I could pour some of that potable water anti-freeze in the pump. Otherwise I am all winterized and ready to go once I get the water out of the pump.

    Bookmark   October 29, 2013 at 4:03PM
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Mike, My strap is one inch wide but it is about twice as long as I need. I think I got it from HD or Lowes. Its red if that helps ID it. Steel oil filter wrench wont work and a very large pipe wrench is not a good idea on plastic pipe because it compresses the pipe making things worse. Good luck.

    Bookmark   October 29, 2013 at 8:52PM
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sleeplessinftwayne(z4-5 IND)

Howdy, stranger!

If you are concerned about too much heat from the hair dryer try wrapping the connector with a cotton rag and pour boiling water on it. Protect it from wind etc. to keep it hot longer. I use a thermos to keep the water hot enough for similar needs. A heat gun is relatively inexpensive and won't be as chancy as a hair dryer. It can be used to keep the wet rag hot.

Supporting the joint to keep it still can be very helpful. Then you can gently tap the hot pipe with little fear of damaging it. The vibration should loosen it up. Have you tried using two strap wrenches to allow opposing force?

I use teflon tape for non permanent joints. Admittedly not 3" pipe but I haven't had a leak in 2"pipe yet.

    Bookmark   October 31, 2013 at 12:31PM
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Hi mike
I had the same issues with my union fittings
I found a pair of channel lock pvc pliers at CAL ranch store
I don't know if you have one in your area. I tried them & they work well
thanks Kelly

    Bookmark   October 31, 2013 at 5:20PM
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Hi Back to ya Sleepless,

Yeah, I come around once every few years when another element of my initial poor design bites me. What happened is that I needed work on the low points of my two 3" pressure pipes. Previously I was draining the line by disconnecting the two big ball valves in the pipes and letting them drain. That was usually a muddy task coupled with even more difficulty re-connecting in the muddy spring as more and more settled. So I had my plumber come and put ball vales where they could be opened allowing a quick pipe drain farther away. A big job due to my design and a tight work space, another design issue. It was all lovely at first until I got creakier.

I usually use the tape as well. In this instance the plumber had to loosen the pump, meaning taking apart the unions before and after. I suppose instinctively he tightened everything way too much. Since neither of us can loosen the unions alone or together, I'll try the hot water as I know it works on other types of plastic pipe. Then I will bite the bullet and call the strong-handed plumber to stop by.

Where would you apply the water--at the base of the fitting where it meets the threads? It is firm enough to withstand some vibration. My last ditch attempt will be a wood block and hammer, gently, against the knurled ridges on the fitting.

Otherwise all is well--my last non-reproducing shubunkin died, minimal plants, but the streams have really matured and taken on that natural look I hoped for.

Looks like it easy to post pictures now; maybe I'll put a few out showing the 7 years of progress.

I'll let you know how the project goes.

    Bookmark   October 31, 2013 at 5:26PM
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thanks - those look perfect for the unions, although the 3" is has a really big circumference. I bought the biggest Channel-Lock water pump pliers that I could find and they were too small I'll find them somewhere, even if just on-line, and see if they fit. The design will do the job. I'll report back.

Thanks much - Mike

    Bookmark   October 31, 2013 at 7:34PM
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DONE! After all of that, everything loosened with the strap wrench--but not without a lot of effort, two people, mud and a slice of time. Very mild day although I don't know if that helped. The plumber, by instinct to not have leaks, used tons of tape and some plumber's putty. Neither union had ever leaked before just hand-tightened, maybe an extra effort on the pressure line and its huge output per hour.

I couldn't find the pvc wrench you mentioned MIke but I found a huge steel Irwin vise-grip. I had measured the diameter of the union--just under 5", and this vise-grip opened bigger than that. But it couldn't get a grip. Before making the rounds of all the big box stores on Saturday afternoon (which is actually not a bad thing to do!), my partner said to try the strap wrench. I said you try it. She did, it loosened, no comment.

Thanks all. At least I have a few extra ideas in my tool kit. I think from now on I will close up in earlier October. I still would like to run it all winter but had a disaster the one time I tried--in the archives somewhere.

Happy winter's night pond dreaming.

    Bookmark   November 2, 2013 at 4:37PM
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"my partner said to try the strap wrench. I said you try it. She did, it loosened, no comment."

Best part of the whole post! :) I'm off to the big box myself today - same problem. Gave up last year, but I really need to get the pump out and get a good look at it before winter. We plan to run all winter, so I want to make sure everything looks ready to go.

    Bookmark   November 3, 2013 at 11:15AM
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It was funny in the doing and the telling!

Over 7-8 years with my pond, two external pumps and numerous ball valves, I discovered that if I used silicone tape (plumbers putty works but is messy and can clog threads in pvc) and comfortably hand tightened all the unions I got no leaks in intake lines and only an occasional drip in the pressure lines, almost always solved with just a little more hand tightening. Alternative approaches to too-tight unions, hot water, pvc wrench, are going in my notebook, although down the list from "give strap wrench to partner."

Would you tell us a little about your pond and where you are, what you are proposing for the winter? I gambled and lost one winter but with no damage to anything except my pride. You could check the archives for posts on "Is anyone running a pond in the winter," like that. There were long threads back then that were instructive. If you have a mild climate you should do well.

Thanks for the kind comment and good luck!

    Bookmark   November 4, 2013 at 12:43PM
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We are in northern Illinois, but have met lots of ponders in our area who run all winter, so we decided to give it a go. The ice formations are supposed to be fun to watch form. Always changing, all at the whim of!

We have our shut down set up ready - air stone on the first shelf and a de-icer ready to plug in - just in case. We have a large (6x9 ft x 6 ft deep) bog filter that flows into the falls. At the other end the pond flows over another small fall into a 1000g under ground water storage, which also houses the pump vault.

Our only real concern is ice dams forming and diverting the water out of the pond, so we will have to pay attention all winter, as opposed to shutting it down and dreaming about spring! We also planned for a water source from inside the house - obviously we can't run a hose outside and the idea of carrying buckets holds no thrill. Our sump pumps into the under ground storage, so we can run a hose into the sump pit and add water to the pond without ever setting a foot outside! Brilliant! Hopefully it works!

So your lost gamble - what happened?

    Bookmark   November 4, 2013 at 8:33PM
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Sounds like you have planned well, always subject to abrupt change of course. I like the water solution if it works. I believe you will find your water level taking a drop as it changes from liquid to ice. Planning well was not a part of my winter endeavor.

The changing ice patterns are pretty cool. Depending on the volume and velocity of water from your stream or falls or whatever way the water enters your pond, an opening in the ice should be there. If not, the water will flow over the ice. You might consider an air pump/air stone set-up for a permanent opening if you have fish and as a convenient location for adding water.

Here's hoping it all works out for you. You are prepared; do look out for those ice dams. I am envious of your up-coming experiment.

My problem was largely caused by too much water in streams with falls--throw in my own naivety. I made no changes prior to winter feeling confident that the pump and intakes and pressure pipes would be fine as long as everything was working. I was really surprised how much water was needed as the ice formed.

When I built the pond, my goal was to create a scene symbolic of influences in my life. These included rushing water and noise along with a clear, open pool of water.

I chose a high-volume external pump that puts out 7500 gallons per hour, and created two streams down a natural slope. I had my goal.

I kept the water depth stabilized and watched the ice form. You are right, it is fascinating and beautiful. And plentiful as it was an unusually cold winter with temperatures in the teens and lower for days on end.

Since it was the holidays I illuminated the setting with red and green floods. About then an unease started as the streams and the falls into the pond began to ice over. I had been warned of ice dams but wasn't quite sure what they were or how they formed. And anyway, the water is flowing fine. What could go wrong?

I found out at 3 AM one very cold night. For some reason I looked out a window at the pond and saw our adjacent patio covered with water. Sweats and a heavy parka (our thermometer read 16) along with heavy winter boots--out I went, partner a few steps behind. I could see the ice build-up on both streams and we began chopping away. As the flooding receded I stepped back into a large puddle. Ice had formed at the bottom and I was flat on my back in a couple of inches of water! I got up and immediately looked around to see if anyone saw me--yeah, lots of people out at 3 AM!

Back inside, planning on shutting the system down. At daylight with the temperature still in the teens, we shut off the pump, disconnected the unions on the big ball valves that connect the pump and pressure lines, enabling everything to drain downhill and then disconnected the unions before and after the pump--the ones that were too tight the other day, drained and removed the pump. Nothing froze except us. If any of the unions had been too tight to open, it could have been a disaster.

I think that the heavy flow of a significant volume of water down streams with multiple falls, caused spray that, while not a big deal in the summer, turned to ice as the water splashed into the frigid air. A low volume of water with reduced splashing seems now to be the way to a successful winter ponding. I suspect you may have to go outdoors(!) to change the volume of flow or to clear ice from time to time.

In the telling many years later, it doesn't seem such a big deal except for the many nights of getting up and looking out for fear something would happen and then the actual event and aftermath.

If you pay attention to where the ice forms and control it if necessary, no doubt you will have a grand experience with no puddles on a cold winter's night.

Happy ponding, let us know how it goes.

    Bookmark   November 5, 2013 at 11:00AM
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It's bound to be an adventure! Your story reminds me a bit of our experience this spring. We had record rainfall, which every ponder knows is free water...until it keeps raining. And keeps raining. And keeps. Raining. We watched the pond level go up and up and over the sides. Finally we decided it was time to act, as the pond was getting closer and closer to the house, and we headed out with our trusty submersible pump. We pumped for 12 hours straight. And wished the whole time that our underground storage was 10 times bigger!

    Bookmark   November 5, 2013 at 10:23PM
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Adventure is a fine word. Let me ask two questions. How large is your pond to pump for 12 hours? What is your underground storage? I have never heard the term and can't seem to find it in my memory anywhere.

I built in a 4" overflow pipe that leads to our storm water system. Just lucky to be able to do that. An overflowing pond would be a disaster here. I also can pump the pond down through the overflow. Without it, I couldn't have had a pond.

Thanks for some education.

    Bookmark   November 5, 2013 at 10:54PM
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Total system is 4000 or so gallons. Pond is 2500, bog holds approximately 5-600g and the under ground storage or "rain exchange" (lined pit filled with matrices and gravel - acts as a "reverse bog") holds another 1000g. It's a great system - we're able to take advantage of the rain to keep the pond topped off. At times it's full to the top, other times it's only half full. But if we get consistent rain fall we rarely need to run the hose. And the pond water level never changes, unless we slow down or speed up the pump.

We have an overflow that leads to the storm drain also, but it wasn't able to drain fast enough. And the rain just didn't stop - we were googling "how to build an ark" if that is any indication. It was raining at the rate of an inch an hour at several points during a three or four day span. Our little submersible pump was chugging away - I'm not sure the gph on it, but it's come in handy more than once.

    Bookmark   November 6, 2013 at 6:43AM
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After messing with unions and gluing elbows, tee, wyes for a couple years, I've now gone to only using "O" clamps and rubber fittings, (reducers, sleeves, elbows, etc.) Depends on your system, but mine doesn't develop enough pressure to warrant plumbing everything "hard". Undo the O clamp and slip the fitting off the PVC!!! Allows for movement and gives you a lot of "slop" to play with in tight quarters.


    Bookmark   November 18, 2013 at 2:47PM
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Great suggestion Dave! We just discussed this last weekend. These unions can be so hard to disconnect and are rarely in easy to work locations. We are going to change ours up come spring.

Why has no one come up with some kind of quick connect union?

    Bookmark   November 18, 2013 at 8:15PM
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I think these unions are considered quick disconnect. Most so-called quick disconnect are less than an inch diameter and many are quite elaborate in terms of disconnecting.

As I recall, many people use the rubber fittings along with "o" rings, I guess either radiator clamps or the squeeze open type. I think deterioration from UV is a problem, but they are easy to replace. I wish I had tried more of that instead of going with the "conventional wisdom" of all pvc/abs. You are right, pressure is an issue here.

A solution that has worked for me is to buy very high grade (expensive) fittings for certain uses, ball valves especially. I have four 3" ball valves that were very expensive but the unions don't leak with minimal tightening, and I can adjust the ball valves to make turning the handle easier.

It is all snow and ice here now; one day in the 50s then boom, teens. I hope you will keep us informed of your winter adventure lisak1.

Best to all ponders,

    Bookmark   November 29, 2013 at 10:25PM
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