How to Repair or Replace Sewer Line Without Digging

D.P. Taylor
Written by D.P. Taylor
Updated September 23, 2021
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A trenchless sewer repair can save you a lot of money on digging up your sewer main, but there are factors to consider

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Repairing or replacing a sewer line is usually a huge hassle and expense for a homeowner, and a big part of the reason why is because it's buried underground. As a result, you need heavy equipment and lots of manual labor just to get access to it.

There's got to be a better way, right? Fortunately, there are ways to repair or replace a sewer line without tearing up your property. However, it will take some planning and up-front expenses on your part.

This guide breaks down how a homeowner can install a sewer line that can be easily accessed without digging, and what it's going to cost.

Why Is It So Expensive To Replace an Underground Sewer Line?

The average cost to repair or replace a sewer main is $2,500, and the typical range is just between $1,000 to $4,000. You could pay as high as $25,000 depending on how much digging needs to be done and on whether it’s in an area that’s difficult to access due to vegetation and such. If you don't make the repairs, you could be paying even more than that to fix sewage water backup in the basement, in crawl spaces, and underneath landscaping. And that's to say nothing of the smell.

The reason it's so expensive to conduct any repairs of a sewer line is because it's so difficult to access. The main is usually buried underground, so you have to do excavation, trenching, and even wall removal in order to replace all or part of a pipe. That means heavy equipment, lots of labor hours, and consequently a large bill when it's all said and done.

As a result, any method of avoiding this massive upheaval of earth is bound to save lots of money.

What Is Trenchless Sewer Repair?

Trenchless sewer repair is new technology that has only been around since after the turn of the 21st century. With this method, workers use two less-intrusive methods to fix your sewer main: pipe bursting and pipe relining.

Pipe Bursting

Pipe bursting involves digging two access holes on both sides of the sewer line, and then pulling a new sewer pipe through the damaged pipe while fracturing or "bursting" it.

Pipe Relining

This method uses a pipe liner that workers install inside the damaged pipe so it doesn't have to be removed at all. The liner is inflated after it is pulled into the pipe, and a resin hardens to firm up the structure.

Usually, a pro will recommend pipe bursting over relining since it involves putting in a brand new pipe that may last longer, and you won't have to wait for the pipes to cure unlike with relining. But relining is a potentially less-expensive option.

Pros and Cons of Trenchless Sewer Repair

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Trenchless sewer repair has some excellent advantages over traditional sewer repair, but there are disadvantages you should be aware of as well. Here are some of the pros and cons of this system.

Pros

It's less expensive: This is the chief advantage of this system. A trenchless approach to sewer repair could result in you paying a fraction of what you would have had you decided to dig up the pipe.

It's quicker: Sewer repair can take a while, leaving you with an unsightly yard potentially for days or even weeks. With trenchless sewer repair, workers could be in and out in a few hours.

It won't tear up your landscaping: Workers can replace the dirt once they finish with a sewer repair job, but they can't repair the landscaping that was on top, leaving you with an unsightly patch of earth in the middle of your lawn.

Cons

It's not enough: In some cases, your sewer line will be too far gone for this approach to work. Your sewer main could be damaged completely beyond repair, meaning these less intrusive efforts won't solve the underlying issue. In that case, it's time to call in the excavators.

It won't fix corrosion or just plain old age: Trenchless sewer repair is best used on pipes that are otherwise healthy. You can't reverse the effects of corrosion or degradation caused by age with this method. Even if you were able to temporarily repair the portion of the line that is in the worst shape, the other sections will soon go, too.

It doesn’t always save money: Trenchless sewer repair isn’t automatically cheaper than traditional repair. In fact, in some cases it can be more expensive. Get a consultation from a local professional to determine if it’s the best choice in your case.

How Much Money Will This Save Me?

In a best-case scenario, a trenchless sewer repair job could save you 75% over that of a traditional repair. However, this is not always the case.

Because the equipment and skill needed to do both jobs is roughly equal, the typical cost range is similar: around $50 to $250 per foot for both. As a result, choosing trenchless sewer repair should be done on a case-by-case basis and isn't automatically the right choice for you. It's just another option to consider—you may find huge savings, and you may not.

Generally, a trenchless system is best when the pipes are in a location where streets, utilities, and driveways lie directly over the pipe. In this situation, digging up the pipe would send costs through the roof. If the sewer pipe is easy to access and you don't have a lot of landscaping that would need to be replaced, traditional repair might be just fine.

Still Wondering What to Do? Get a Professional Opinion

When it comes to sewer repair, every case is different. Trenchless sewer repair is a great possibility, but it's not necessarily the right for your situation. The only person who can tell you the correct way forward is a certified professional.

Contact a sewer repair professional near you to come take a look at your property. They can look at where your pipes lie and give you some options, as well as some price quotes so you can make an informed decision. For an expensive job like this, consider getting a second or even third opinion.

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