Dear Angie: My sewer pipe broke. I am considering hiring a company that does a trenchless pipe replacement. Is a trenchless drain a good option for sewer replacement? — Laurie C., Pittsfield, Mass.
Dear Laurie: Trenchless sewer pipe replacement can certainly help you avoid the disruption and costs associated with digging long trenches in your yard and the tearing up of landscaping, hardscaping, driveways and other structures that commonly occurs with replacing damaged sewer lines.
With traditional trenching, you're often forced to pay to dig up the street in front of your home, for traffic to be rerouted and for repairs to any city-owned property or main sewer lines. This can range from a few thousand dollars to $20,000 or more.
Trenchless methods for homes have been around for about 15 years, but many homeowners are not aware of the option. The most common types of trenchless sewer line replacement are pipe lining and pipe bursting.
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A pipe liner, also known as "cured-in-place pipe," is a flexible tube coated with resin that is blown or pulled into the damaged pipe and inflated. The resin then hardens, creating a pipe within a pipe that is jointless and corrosion-resistant. Lining will reduce the diameter of the lateral pipe — which connects the home to the main sewer line — by about a quarter-inch, but it won't affect the capacity to remove waste from your home. Pipe lining typically involves digging just one access hole.
Pipe lining might not be possible if the lateral has joints or has collapsed, but the pipe-bursting method can 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.
Experts say pipe bursting and lining are equally durable. Costs for trenchless replacement vary, depending on factors including material prices, soil type and how deep the lines are buried.
Trenchless options can cost 30 percent to 50 percent more than conventional digging in some cases, but they can be more cost-effective because you're not spending thousands of dollars in restorative work.
Depending on where you live and the condition and configuration of your pipes, trenching might be the best option. Shop around and talk to reputable, licensed plumbers and sewer line professionals about what would work best for your situation.