Is Trenchless Sewer Replacement a Good Idea?

Katy Willis
Written by Katy Willis
Updated January 21, 2022
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Trenchless sewer replacement comes with a long list of benefits—and few drawbacks

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One of the last things any homeowner wants to hear is that they’ve got a sewer problem. Considering that broken or clogged pipes can lead to backups, floods, and other costly consequences, a damaged sewer pipe needs immediate attention. But does trenchless sewer replacement, which promises less mess and faster service, really live up to the hype?

Learn more about how each type of sewer repair works to figure out whether you can really avoid digging up your yard.

Understanding Sewer Lines

Before you can decide on how to replace your sewer lines, you have to understand how they work. Assuming you’re connected to your city’s sewer system, there will be a large pipe that runs from the street to your home. This pipe is your main sewer line, and it’s your responsibility—meaning you’re on the hook should it break, clog, or otherwise become damaged.

The traditional way to replace a broken or damaged sewer pipe is to dig it out. This involves digging a long trench that’s a couple feet wide and several feet deep, following the path of the sewer pipe from your home to the street.

As you can imagine, digging such a trench is labor-intensive work. And it’s only made harder when there are obstacles (such as buildings, pavement, and landscaping) in the way. Depending on your property’s layout, replacing a sewer pipe in the traditional fashion may involve removing these obstacles so a plumber can remove the old pipe and install the new one.

All said, traditional sewer line replacement can take a week or longer to complete, and it can cost up to $20,000 due to the work involved—and that doesn’t even include the cost of replacing trees, shrubs, and pavement that may sustain damage during the project.

What Is Trenchless Sewer Replacement?

Trenchless sewer replacement aims to replace sewer pipes without the extra labor and potential damage that comes with traditional, trench-digging replacement.

There are two primary methods of trenchless sewer replacement: pipe bursting and pipe lining.

With either method, a local sewer service first digs out access holes at the street and where the sewer line enters your home.

With the pipe bursting method, a missile-like device is inserted into one end of the sewer line. Its job is to slowly move forward, breaking up your old pipe as it progresses. Attached to the back of the device is a new, flexible sewer line that instantly occupies the space the old line once took.

When you choose pipe lining (sometimes referred to as trenchless sewer repair), your old pipe isn’t destroyed or removed. Instead, a crew inserts an epoxy-coated sleeve into your existing sewer drain. The sleeve is then inflated and allowed to cure, which actually creates a new pipe within the old one.

Trenchless Sewer Replacement Pros

When you compare the labor and installation processes involved in traditional sewer line replacement versus trenchless options, it’s clear that there’s a lot going for trenchless.

Reduced Property Damage

Because a plumbing crew doesn’t need to dig a trench following the path of your sewer line, everything in its way—including landscaping, hardscaping, and even buildings—are safe from damage or demolition. There may be minimal damage around the access holes, but many crews try to minimize this by containing dirt on tarps to prevent making a mess and preserving dug-up grass or shrubbery to replant later.

Potentially Lower Costs

Depending on the complexity of your project, it may cost less to choose trenchless sewer replacement over the traditional method. This is mostly due to the fact that there’s no need for as much manual labor. But in some cases, the cost for this service could be as much or even more as the traditional method. But you should take into account that you’ll still save on the time and effort of restoring your property because there won’t be as much damage.

Faster Job Completion

Traditional sewer line replacement can easily take a week or more due to all. that. digging. When you choose a trenchless method, your crew only needs to dig two access holes and then run a new pipe or build a new one using epoxy. This means the crew can complete the job in as little as a day.

Less Disruption

Digging out an old sewer line is a big deal. In addition to all the trench work, your crew may also need to close your street to make way for equipment or to protect workers. And of course, as the crew works you won’t have any sewer services. This means no washing dishes, flushing the toilet, brushing your teeth—absolutely nothing that involves wastewater. It’s not exactly an easy way to live for days on end.

Longer-Lasting Results

Today’s sewer lines are made of stronger, more durable materials that last longer than yesterday’s go-tos. This means you can count on your new sewer line to last 50 years or more.

Trenchless Sewer Replacement Cons

If you’re in need of a new sewer line, trenchless technology may seem like a clear winner. However, there may be times when it’s not a good fit.

Requires Trained Technicians

First and foremost, you should only hire trained technicians to tackle trenchless pipe lining or replacement. This isn’t a job that any plumber can take on. 

Qualified technicians undergo training and certification so that they can evaluate whether trenchless technology is suitable for a project and then properly execute the job. Even if a company advertises trenchless replacement, it may not have plumbers with the skills to do the job right, which could create even bigger problems down the line.

Not Suitable for All Circumstances

As amazing as trenchless sewer replacement sounds, it’s not always an appropriate choice. If you’re dealing with a collapsed pipe, an incorrectly installed pipe, or a pipe that’s burst and caused damage to surrounding utilities, you may not be able to take advantage of the convenience of trenchless technology. 

In these cases, you’ll need to settle for traditional trenching to remove the old pipe, address the additional issues, and install the new sewer line.

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