Armchair Builder

Replacement of Sewers by Pipe Bursting Method

If you’ve ever had problems with your house sewer lateral (the pipe that runs from the house to the street), you know how frustrating things can get.  A simple obstruction within the sewer line can cause backups into the home which can cause a huge mess.  On top of that, the bathrooms, showers and kitchen sink cannot be used until the situation is resolved.  So, it’s extremely important to keep the house sewer line operating properly.  At some point if problems continue to reoccur on an aging sewer lateral, it’s time to think about replacement.  One option for replacement is the pipe bursting method.

What is the Pipe Bursting Method?

Basically, the pipe bursting method uses a cable to pull a new sewer line through the existing one with a hydraulicly expanding mandrel in front that bursts the old pipe.  The great part about the pipe bursting method is that anything located above ground can stay in tact.  This would include driveways, landscaping, structures,…etc.  The pipe bursting method does require access at either end of the pipe to properly pull the new pipe through.  However, this method can save a whole lot of expense if there is a lot of landscaping, concrete or structure above the pipe.  FYI – If you are building or remodeling, it is strongly recommended that you keep all driveways, patios and extensive work away from any sewer and water laterals to allow access for future repairs and replacement (unfortunately, not all homeowners do this).

Code Restrictions

There are some restrictions in the code for the pipe bursting method.  Here are a few of them…

  • Limited to the replacement of pipes six inches in diameter or smaller
  • Requires polyethylene plastic pipe having an SDR 17 wall thickness
  • An internal video camera survey of the pipe must be viewed by the code official prior to pressure testing of the replacement pipe
  • The replacement piping must be of the same nominal size as the existing piping


There are several benefits to replacement of sewer lines by this method.

  • Limited Ground Disturbance – House sewer laterals can be deep in the ground (eight to ten feet is not uncommon).  The deeper the pipe is underground, the wider the excavation needed if replacement is by traditional methods.  So by using the pipe bursting method, a whole lot of surface can remain in tact.
  • Price – In some cases where there is a long run of pipe, the pipe busting method may be a cheaper option.  Just like everything else, bidding is required to find out just how the different options stack up.
  • Settlement – The other nice thing about not having to excavate, is the avoidance of settlement.  Anytime we dig up the earth, we end up with settlement of the disturbed area over time.  This can require additional grading to prevent standing water.  Compaction of the backfill will limit the amount of settlement, but this can be time consuming and expensive.

Here’s a quick video showing how the pipe bursting method works.

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