'No-dig' sewer pipe repairs cost less, preserve yards
by Nick McLain
Cured-in-place pipe technology allows contractors to make sewer and water line repairs with minimal disturbance to streets, sidewalks and landscaping. A robotically controlled cutting device reconnects the sewer line to the main after the new lining is put in. The new epoxy lining is jointless and corrosion resistant, unlike most conventional pipes.
Illustration courtesy of Insituform Technologies Inc.
Earlier this year, Jim Braun of Stockbridge [Ga.] started seeing leaks in his basement, and a subsequent camera inspection revealed a fist-sized hole in the sewer line.
With the pipe buried 17 feet underground in his front yard, conventional digging to access it would require special equipment, storage of large amounts of dirt on the street and sidewalk and a $20,000 to $30,000 price tag.
"The dig would have destroyed my front yard," Braun says. "It would have been a huge hassle."
Highly rated Mr. Plumber in Marietta [Ga.] came to his rescue, Braun says, when they offered "no-dig" trenchless sewer and gas line repairs, a technology that's gaining popularity.
Joe Hayes, a service manager for Mr. Plumber, says his company performs about 200 trenchless repairs a year, or 10 percent of the jobs, utilizing cured-in-place pipe (CIPP) technology to reline damaged sewer pipes.
The process uses a fiberglass tube coated wth 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."
"It's similar to how a doctor does an angioplasty, repairing part of the artery from the inside," Hayes says. "It's better and stronger than the host pipe."
Braun says the repair cost him only $3,400, and he avoided major disruptions to his landscape. "There have been no problems of any kind with the reliners - no backups, clogs, nothing," he says. "It protected my savings account, as well."
CIPP isn't the only trenchless technology available. Greg Greenlee, owner of highly rated Greenlee Plumbing Inc. in Braselton [Ga.], uses "pipe bursting," where an existing pipe is fractured and forced outward, while a new pipe is drawn in.
"It's definitely faster" than conventional methods, Greenlee says, adding that it costs roughly the same.
While he doesn't use it frequently, Greenlee likes to have it available for customers.
Although trenchless options can cost 30 to 50 percent more than conventional digging in some cases, Hayes says homeowners should consider how much money they save by not having to restore landscapes or hardscapes.
"Just one example: a customer's sewer line came out under the front steps, and if we had to remove the steps, it would have cost about $20,000 in restorative work," he says.
CIPP technology reduces the pipe's diameter by about one-eighth of an inch, but Hayes says it doesn't affect flow capacity. Relining can actually benefit flow capacity, he says, as there are no joints or seams that separate over time.
Not all jobs qualify for CIPP. "If you have a sewer line without a positive pitch (sloping toward the house from the sewer main), a reline wouldn't help," Hayes says, adding that a crushed sewer line also would disqualify using CIPP.
Karen Adair of Marietta [Ga.] calls the trenchless repair option a "godsend," after Mr. Plumber used it on her pipes in March. Adair paid $3,000, whereas conventional digging would have cost her $6,000. The relining also came with a lifetime warranty. "It's an exciting technology," she says.