Angie's List | Trenchless sewer repair

If your sewer pipe burst, would you know what to do?

We often don't think about our sewer lines until there's a problem and it's a project that can be quite expensive and leave your yard a mess.

However, newer techniques can lessen the amount of digging required and the cost you can expect to pay.

"In a recent poll, a quarter of respondents have replaced a sewer line and nearly 20 percent said it cost more than $5,000. Sewer replacement can be a very involved project that includes both the sewer line and the landscaping," said Angie Hicks

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.

"As the ground shifts those joints move and then they leak. Then the trees realize hey there is water, nutrients and room to grow so they start growing into the pipe. Some people think the trees attack the sewer, but they have no reason to attack the sewer until it starts leaking they don't know what's in it. The more they grow in and truthfully the more someone has the line cabled out and roots cut out it's like pruning your bush you prune your bush to grow fuller and bigger. You do the same thing when you cable a sewer line your pruning those roots so now they are going to grow in faster and thicker," says plumbing filed supervisor Chris Davis.

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.

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.

Chris Davis, a plumbing field supervisor says, "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. 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."

A pipe burst can range from three thousand dollars to upwards of twenty thousand dollars. It depends on the extreme of the situation and the location. Pipe bursts can also be done 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 your pipe connects is still your responsibility.

When evaluating which method is right for sewer repair, consider the cost of the landscaping or any sidewalks or your driveway that might need to be replaced if they are going to use the traditional method. 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.

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.

    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.

    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.
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