Pipe Bursting: What It Is And Why It Makes Sense For You

6 February 2015
 Categories: Construction & Contractors, Articles

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Sewer lines wear out and break down due to several reasons: tree root intrusion, movements in the top layer of the earth's crust, construction activity, corrosion, and exposure to the soil and moisture. Sewer lines have been constructed from a variety of materials over the years, including clay, concrete, iron, steel and even wood fibers. Though these older materials are more likely to experience problems than contemporary pipes made from plastic, any material is still subject to failure. The good news is the old-fashioned method of pipe replacement--digging a long trench, pulling out the old pipe and laying new pipe—has been replaced in many instances with a "trenchless" alternative: pipe bursting. Below is an explanation of this technique and its advantages:

Pipe bursting – what it is and how it's done

Pipe bursting is a process whereby the old sewer line is simultaneously destroyed and displaced by a new section of pipe. It is a straightforward procedure, but it requires the use of special equipment by licensed plumbers:

  • Steel linking rods - these are heavy-duty steel rods a few feet in length, and they are connected to each other with a secure linking mechanism. Effectively, this creates a long, rigid rod constructed of several shorter sections.

  • Bursting head - the bursting head is a heavy steel cone that has an attachment on the front end for the linking rods, and it has a connection on the backside for a section of pipe. The bursting head can vary in size from a few inches to a few feet, depending upon the diameter of the old pipe and new pipe that will replace it. For a typical residential job, the bursting head used will be less than a foot in diameter.

  • Winch - this device applies pulling force on the linking rods and bursting head as they move through the soil.

Here is how pipe bursting is done:

  1. The length of the old sewer line section is measured on top of the ground directly above the pipe.

  2. Two holes, one at each end of the measured section, are dug down to the old sewer line. For a residential sewer line, the holes are usually fairly small in width.

  3. When the soil around the old sewer line is cleared away, it is then cut in half to expose a cross-section of the pipe.

  4. The steel linking rods are fed into the open end of the pipe one at a time; as each one is inserted, it is linked to the next one behind it.

  5. This process of inserting and linking rods continues until the connected rods reach the full length of the sewer line section that is to be replaced.

  6. At the opposite hole, the bursting head is attached to the assembled linking rods with the small end of the cone facing toward the old pipe.

  7. On the backside of the bursting head, the new piece of pipe is attached; this gives the pipe and bursting head a distinct resemblance to a giant arrow.

  8. The last linking rod inserted into the old section of pipe is attached to the winch.

  9. Once everything is in place, the winching device begins pulling the entire assembly of rods, bursting head and new pipe through the old sewer line.

  10. The bursting head breaks apart the old sewer line as it advances, while the new pipe fills in the space created by the fragmentation.

  11. Linking rod sections are removed one at a time as they emerge from the old pipe. The operation is completed once the bursting head and new pipe arrive.

  12. Once the new section of pipe is completely in-place, it is attached at both ends to the existing sewer line, and the holes are filled. The new sewer pipe is ready to use immediately.

Pipe bursting – the advantages

The use of pipe bursting offers a number of advantages as compared to traditional trench replacement methods. Below are a few of these benefits:

  • Lower cost – pipe bursting is often less expensive than trenching since it involves the use of fewer workers for a shorter period of time. Its cost advantages really stand out when factoring in the costs of restoration or other expenses that occur as a consequence of trenching.

  • Faster installation – pipe bursting involves making relatively small holes, and it doesn't require digging an exhaustive, time-consuming excavation along the length of the sewer line.

  • Less destructive – since the amount of surface area affected is much less than trenching, pipe bursting doesn't result in the uprooting of shrubs, trees, grass or other objects.

  • More versatile – pipe bursting permits easier access to sewer lines that run underneath objects such as foundations and streets. This makes sewer line replacement a much simpler option when the geography makes alternatives complex, difficult and expensive.

  • Safer – pipe bursting is a safer alternative to digging a trench and laying pipe. Trench digging can be hazardous if a worker or piece of equipment makes accidental contact with buried electrical or gas lines. In addition, digging trenches can be dangerous for workers due to the threat of possible cave-ins and the hazards of working in close proximity to moving heavy equipment.

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