Trenchless sewer repair eliminates digging mess


If your sewer pipe broke, would you know what to do? It's a project that can be quite expensive and leave your yard a mess.

"Most homeowners don't think about their sewer line, but if your house is more than 40 years old, you should have it inspected. Call a professional in - they can use a camera to look at the sewer line to check its condition. If you live in a newer house, you may still need to have it checked out, because the new pipes could be connected to an old sewer line," said Angie Hicks of Angie's List.

There are many fixes. Some professionals opt for no-dig trenchless sewer repairs. It's a technology that's gaining popularity.

"We prefer pipe bursting. What we do is, essentially, we are pulling a new pipe through the old pipe with hydraulic equipment when we pull the new pipe through we shatter the old pipe as well," said Chris Davis of Metzler's Mr. Plumber. "With some of the other styles of trenchless, you are lining pipes and you have to use the old pipe and you actually have to make the old pipe smaller. With this, you are getting a brand new pipe and it's the same diameter, so you don't have to have a restriction at all."

The cost can be 30-50 percent more than conventional digging. So, if the ground is just grass, it would probably make more financial sense to dig a traditional trench and re-sod afterwards. However, the trenchless method can be worth the cost when obstructions, such as decks and stone patios, have been built over the path of the sewer line.

"We can do a pipe burst that were $3,000 and we've done some that are upwards of $20,000. It really depends on the extreme of the situation, the location, because we have the ability, also, to pipe burst underneath streets because most homeowners don't realize once their sewers leave their property, it's still their sewer. Out in the middle of the street where you connect, it's still yours, so if it's bad, it's still your responsibility."

If it's going to cost a third of the cost of sewer replacement in order to replace the landscaping and the concrete, then you should go with the trenchless.

Before you repair your sewer pipes, inspect them in advance. Consider a video viewing by a professional to examine your pipes and check your homeowners insurance policy to see if the repair or replacement is covered.

More on sewer repair

A home's main sewer drain carries all household sewage to municipal sewer lines or to an on-site septic system. Older drains can become invaded by tree roots, causing blockage that can lead to sewage backing up into the house.

If a sewer line springs a leak or is punctured and in need of repair, it can create a mess for the homeowner and plumber. Certain professionals opt for no-dig trenchless sewer repairs, a technology that's gaining popularity.

What is trenchless sewer repair?

· The process uses a fiberglass tube coated with epoxy resin that's inserted into the damaged pipe and blown up like a balloon. After a few hours, the epoxy hardens and creates a pipe within a pipe.

· Trenchless options can cost 30 to 50 percent more than conventional digging, so if the ground above is just grass it would probably make more financial sense to dig a traditional trench and re-sod afterwards. However, the trenchless method is worth the cost when obstructions such as decks and stone patios have been built over the path of the sewer line.

A nationwide Angie's List poll found:

· Nearly a quarter of respondents have replaced their sewer and 3 percent say it's a project in their imminent future.

· About 78 percent of respondents hadn't heard of "no dig" sewer technology, but 73 percent say they'd pay more for sewer pipe replacement if it would preserve their existing landscaping, patio, deck or other outdoor features.

· Of those who'd had their lines replaced by any method, 17 percent paid more than $5,000.

Common types of trenchless sewer line replacement:

· Pipe lining: A pipe liner, also known as "cured in place pipe," is a flexible tube coated with resin is blown or pulled into the damaged pipe and inflated. The resin then hardens, creating a pipe within a pipe that is joint less and corrosion resistant. Lining will reduce your lateral's diameter by about a quarter inch, but won't affect your capacity to remove waste from your home. Pipe lining typically involves digging one access hole.

· Pipe bursting: Pipe lining might not be possible if the lateral has joints or has collapse, but the pipe bursting method can still be done on a collapsed lateral if there's room to drag a cable through the old pipe. Pipe bursting involves pulling a new pipe through a damaged one, while simultaneously fracturing the old pipe outward. This typically requires digging access holes on either side of the lateral pipe.

*Pipe bursting and lining are equally durable, and many come with warranties ranging from 10 to 50 years.

Angie's List tips: Keep sewer pipes flowing freely:

· Inspect in advance: If you're thinking of purchasing a home, add a sewer pipe inspection to your checklist of considerations before buying. Inspection prices usually run between $250 to $350.

· Consider a video viewing: Even if you have lived in your home for a few years, have a professional examine your pipe with a camera to determine its condition. Then you can budget for repairs or replacement that may be needed down the line.

· Rout it out: If roots are already finding their way into your sewer lateral, you might buy some time before the next backup by having them cleared.

· Consider coverage: Before a sewer line backup necessitates an expensive repair, check if your homeowner's insurance policy covers sewer pipe repair or replacement. If you're not covered, talk to your agent about adding coverage to your policy.

· When repairs are necessary: How long a sewer will last depends on various factors that affect its integrity, but if your sewer is 40 years old, it may need replacing. Even if your home is new, its plumbing might be connected to an older pipe.

· Do your research: Before an emergency arises, talk to a reputable, licensed plumber about whether a trenchless or traditional method of sewer pipe replacement might be right for your home. Keep this potential repair in mind when spending on landscaping or hardscaping that might be affected.