Angie's List: Trenchless repair can save you money - and your landscape

A broken pipe doesn't mean tearing up the yard

TAMPA - When it comes to dirty jobs, sewer line repair is right up there near the top of the list. 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. Newer techniques can lessen the amount of digging required.

Consumer advocate Angie Hicks, with Angie's List , advises an inspection of your lines if your home is more than 40 years old. "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."

Plumber Chris Davis said tree roots are a common problem. "As the ground shifts those joints move and then they leak," he said. "Then the trees realize there is water, nutrients and room to grow so they start growing into the pipe.

Some people think the trees attack the sewer, but until it starts leaking they don't know what's in it." Davis said having the roots cut out is a temporary fix. "It's like pruning your bushes. You prune your bush to grow fuller and bigger. You do the same thing when you cable a sewer line. You're pruning those roots so now they are going to grow in faster and thicker."

The traditional method for repairing a sewer line involves digging up the yard, pulling out the old pipe and replacing it with new pipe. There is a newer, less invasive process called trenchless sewer repair that Hicks said could be less costly in the long run. "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."

What is trenchless 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.

"We prefer pipe bursting," said Davis. "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."

Since this can be expensive, before trouble starts, Hicks said, consider insurance coverage. 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.

Do your research. 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.

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