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What Every Edmontonian Needs to Know About Trenchless Sewer Repair

The team at Mr. Rooter Plumbing of Edmonton has prepared the ultimate guide to trenchless sewer repair for our fellow Edmontonians. So, if you were searching for “Edmonton trenchless sewer repair” you found that best resource online!

There are a lot of trenchless sewer repair resources online, but this one was created by local Edmonton plumbers that have years of experience in the area. This guide was created because many of our customers were asking the same questions about trenchless sewer repair.

So, before you dig up your entire front lawn, make sure you read our trenchless sewer repair blog post to learn about your options. If you have any questions don’t hesitate to give us a call at (780) 429-3600, we would be glad to answer any questions you may have.

This is a comprehensive Edmonton trenchless sewer repair guide, so let’s jump right into it.

Trenchless Sewer Types In Edmonton

There are two different types of traditional residential sewer lines prevalent in Edmonton, Alberta.

Type one, often called tar paper, No Corode, or “Orangeburg”. Generally this will be the material your sewer is made of if the home was built in the 1950s. It is a pipe made of bits of pulped wood and bitumen pressed together under high force into a round, cylindrical shape. Think of a thick cardboard tube dipped in heavy oil.

In the 1950’s, Orangeburg was incredibly popular in the Edmonton area. It didn’t corrode, and it was extremely cheap to manufacturer en masse, giving plumbers the impression that they had found the ideal solution for sewage lines.

Unfortunately, it didn't turn out that way. Over time, tar paper begins to bubble and delaminate from the inside out. Different layers of the material slowly peel away as sewage passes through, leading to a high risk of collapse. However, with that being said, let’s not be too hard on it. The 1950’s were a long time ago so if you still have an Orangeburg sewer, it has served the home well if its still there.

Orangeburg is also bad at resisting physical impact. It’s so weak, in fact, that if it were lying there right in front of you, you’d have no problem pushing a shovel straight through it.

Type two is clay tile pipe, sometimes called china pipe or vitrified clay pipe. It is a type of sewer pipe material made of clay and shale.

Clay pipes were by far the most popular type before the 1950s and from the 1960s to 1980s after the problems with tar paper emerged. It’s made by forming clay into tubes and then heating it to 2000 C before being vitrified and then glazed to make it watertight.

The industry initially used this material because of its hardness and inert properties (meaning that it doesn't react with the sewage passing through it), but it was not the ideal material for sewer systems. While it didn’t react with waste products, it was brittle and susceptible to shifting earth and tree roots. Cracking was a common problem, necessitating frequent repair.

What Is Trenchless Sewer Repair?

In the past, homeowners with broken sewer lines had no choice but to allow sewer repair contractors to dig up their landscaping to repair broken pipes. Repairing or replacing an old or damaged sewer system was, therefore, a significant undertaking, and something that people were reluctant to do.

Trenchless sewer repair, however, offered a solution. Unlike traditional sewer repair, it doesn’t require the digging of trenches. Instead, it uses the existing sewer cavity as a framework for the new pipe, minimizing damage to property.

The first stage of trenchless sewer repair is reconnaissance. Technicians insert special cameras into the sewer line to check for damage and any potential issues that may prevent flow. These cameras are a little bit like the kind of flexible cameras doctors use to inspect your stomach and intestines.

The next step is the clever bit. Instead of digging a trench and installing solid pipes in place of the old ones, engineers insert a new pipeline through sewer opening using a variety of techniques (which we will discuss in more depth below).

The final stage is to inspect the pipe to check that everything is fixed and that there is no further risk that sewage won’t drain as it should.

Sewage pipe repair, therefore, is a lot more “keyhole surgery” and a lot less “open heart transplant” than it ever used to be. It’s quicker, less disruptive and, in many cases, more affordable.

Common Symptoms That Trenchless Sewer Repair Can Fix

Trenchless sewer repairs are surprisingly versatile and able to fix a myriad of problems that can damage sewer lines running from residential properties.

Pipe Damage From Tree Roots

Tree roots can be highly destructive to sewer systems, especially clay. The roots snake down towards the sewers and, over time, place pressure on them. Unlike other materials, clay cannot flex or bend to accommodate the root, leading to cracks.

Trenchless repair, however, can fix this damage while providing more robust protection against root damage in the future. Both high-density polyethylene (HDPE) and polyvinyl chloride (PVC) - two common trenchless pipe materials offer superior protection than the old clay technology.

Cracked Pipe

Of course, clay pipes can crack for a host of reasons, not just because of tree roots. When they do, it’s vital to get repairs.

Suppose you want to sell your property, for example. If you do, you’ll need to disclose the cracked pipe situation to any potential buyers. In response, they may ask for money off the asking price.

Trenchless sewer repair fixes cracks by pulling a new pipe through using a cable, forcing the old pipe out of the way. The cable connects to a bullet shaped head with the new sewer pipe attached to the back of the head. The cable pulls the head and new pipe through the old failing pipe breaking it along the way. Once the head reaches the other end of the property there will be a new continuous sewer pipe behind it.

Shifted pipes

Clay pipes have a habit of shifting over time as the soil around them moves. Because they are brittle, they then crack, leading to unpleasant leaks and infilling.

Partially Collapsed Pipes

A partially collapsed pipe is one that is no longer able to support the weight of the earth above it and caves in, partially blocking the transit of sewage. It can lead to a host of nasty problems, like foul odours, mould issues and backing up toilets. Partial collapse tends to occur most often as tar paper pipes weaken over time.

If the collapse is partial, trenchless sewer repair can fix it by clearing the blockage and then pulling the new pipe through to replace the old. As long as the pulling cable can still get through, the sewer can usually be replaced using this trenchless method.

Delaminating Pipe

Tar paper pipes are susceptible to a nasty problem: delamination. This failure is where the pipe material fractures into layers and can no longer perform to the original specification. Again, a delaminating pipe is a problem that trenchless repair can fix, helping to shift the old pipe material out of the way and replace it with new.

Pros and Cons Of Trenchless Sewer Repair

Here are some of the pros and cons of trenchless repair homeowners need to understand.


Continuous Sewer From Basement To Property Line

Having one continuous pipe from the basement to the property line reduces the chance of failure and provides a new smooth path for waste to flow away.

More Cost-Effective Than Digging

Digging trenches is expensive. Not only do you have to hire out of a lot of equipment, but you also have to go to the expense of repairing your landscaping, too, which could run into thousands of dollars. Trenchless repairs bypass most of these problems. Keep in mind that a small hole is required at the property line and another inside the basement for the pipe to come in.

Can Pull A New Water Line At The Same Time

With trenchless repair, you can kill two birds with one stone, pulling through a new water line while getting your sewer repaired.

New Pipe Material is super Strong and Flexible

Clay and tar paper pipes were the best available technology at the time, but today, we can do a lot better. New pipelines are super strong and flexible and should, all things held equal, last much longer than older varieties.

Digging A Trench Down Your Entire Yard Is Very Disruptive

Repairing pipes the old-fashioned way involved a lot of earth clearing and waste. Homeowners often wound up with mountains of dirt that they needed to manage. Modern trenchless repairs, however, avoid all this pain by using the existing pipe cavity as a tool for the new line, cutting down on the crazy amount of material that needed moving under the old system.


May Not Always Be An Option For Your Home

While trenchless sewer repair is extraordinarily versatile, it’s not always possible.

Two problems can inhibit repair work. The first is if the sewer has multiple turns. Bends may make it impossible to pull the new pipe through. Second, if there’s no way to bring a long tube into your property, then that could prevent the installation from taking place.

It Can Damage the Existing Water Line

Sewer and water lines often run close to one another in Edmonton. Pulling a new sewer line through your old one can damage the old water line. Experts, therefore, recommend that you always replace your water line at the same time that you have your sewer line pulled.

When the burst head is pulled through it is larger that the existing pipe which causes the earth around the pipe to be compressed. Usually the water line is right beside it and often either gets broken (to the point of not holding water) or it is deformed from the force of the head passing by. It is the deformed water line that should scare you, it has been bent and may now have cracks, but they are all buried underground so you won’t know. In this case the water line could fail in the future, and now you would be looking at doing this all over again. This is why we at Mr. Rooter strongly suggest replacing your water line at the same time.

Things to Ask Your Trenchless Sewer Repair Contractor

What is the chance of damaging my waterline?

When you pull the sewer through, there is a high likelihood of causing at least some damage to the water line. If it fails, you’ll know right away. However, pulling a new sewer can cause stress on the existing water line, leading to weaknesses that cause it to suddenly or gradually fail in the future. Most homeowners, therefore, replace their water lines at the same time as getting trenchless sewer repair.

How long will the job take?

We usually like to be home in time for dinner! We send out a team of around half a dozen drain and sewer experts and complete the job, typically in a single day.

What do you use to bed the pipe?

Bedding the pipe in an extremely important part of trenchless repair. We use tamped sand to secure the pipe in place in the excavation at the property line. Sand works best because it compacts easily and quickly, preventing movement in the pipe afterwards.

Any material we use to bed the pipe needs to be thoroughly compacted. Compacting the ground following the installation of the new pipe eliminates air pockets and prevent future settling.

Do you compact the excavation, or do I have to wait for it to settle over time?

After we use sand to bed the pipes, it’s necessary to tamp the excavation, helping to reduce the chance that the new line won’t settle. Tamping is a simple process that usually involves the assistance of a machine, like an excavator or jumping jack.

Do I need any special permits, can you pull those permits?

In Edmonton, you only need a plumbing permit when adding a new fixture where there wasn’t one before. If adding a backwater valve, a permit will be required, but if only replacing the sewer pipe with a new sewer in the same place, you don’t need to apply for a plumbing permit.

Beware of companies that try to steer you into certain directions because they don’t have plumbers on staff who can do permitted work. Avoiding permits or work that requires permits might not be what’s best for you, but more likely what is best for them.

What type of warranty do you include?

We offer a 20-year warranty on our sewer bursts for the structural integrity of the sewer and from root intrusion.

Are there any hidden fees, do you always stick to your quote?

We never charge any hidden fees, and we always stick to our quote.

Just be wary of trenchless repair companies that offer low fees. They will often use low ball estimates to reel you in, jacking up the price later once work is underway.

Is trenchless sewer repair cheaper?

Trenchless sewer repair is usually the most economical option for both residential and commercial properties. Typically, users can save anywhere from 10 to 50 percent over regular trench-based repair services. A trenchless service has lower labour costs, less need for expensive machinery, and a smaller requirement for clear up and landscaping afterwards.

Does home insurance cover sewer line replacement?

Some insurance companies cover sewer line repairs in their terms and conditions, but you’ll need to check. Often you’ll find that an insurer offers insurance for certain types of sewer line damage, but not others. For instance, they might cover you for any damage caused by water backing up after a clog (such as wet carpets), but they might not cover you for the clog, or tree root stuck in the line itself. Generally sewer insurance is something that can be added to most home insurance policies.

At What Point Can You No Longer Do a Trenchless Sewer Repair?

While trenchless repairs are incredibly versatile, there are some situations in which the technique won't work.

Trenchless repair systems rely on being able to pull a cable through the cavity in the ground left by the existing pipe (whether clay, tar paper, or plastic). As long as it is possible to pull the cable through, a trenchless sewer repair is feasible.

In some cases, of course, pulling the line through is not possible. One situation is where the pipe is fully collapsed. With a full collapse, there’s no way to pass a cable through and, therefore, no way to drag the new pipe through the existing pipe material.

Other situations can create problems too. Where the sewer line runs in a straight line down to the mains, pulling a new section of pipe through is relatively easy. When, however, there are lots of twists and turns in the pipe the cable will end up choosing the shortest route which likely means leaving the pipe and pulling through virgin soil. This isn’t what the equipment is designed for and can cause problems.

Ultimately, trenchless repair relies on being able to get a pipe to run from one end of the sewer line to the other. Nine times out of ten, if that happens, we’re good to go.

How Does Trenchless Sewer Repair Work?

Traditionally you had to dig a trench lift out the old pipe and replace it with the new if you wanted to repair a sewer system. This process created all kinds of problems. Not only did it destroy landscaping, but it also damaged tree roots, leading to the deaths of trees above ground.

Trenchless sewer repair is an innovation that attempts to get around this pesky problem. There’s no digging at all. Instead, engineers simply use the existing pipe cavity for the new line, repairing the damage in the process.

Pipe Bursting

There are several different types of trenchless sewer repair that companies have experimented with over the years. The state-of-the-art is called “pipe bursting.”

The way that it works is simple. First, plumbers dig through the basement floor to find the point at which the sewer leaves the home. They then look for the other end of the sewer on the property - the point where it transitions to the city owned pipe at the property line.

Once plumbers have access to both ends of the system, they’re able to begin their work. The first step is to figure out whether a trenchless repair is feasible. As we discussed in the previous section, if there are too many twists and turns or blockage, then a trenchless fix won't work.

The next task is to feed an elevator cable through the existing pipework and out of the other side. The elevator cable has a reinforced head and is attached to the high-quality plastic pipe behind. A hydraulic machine then pulls on the cable from the opposite end with a tremendous amount of force (up to 60,000 pounds of force), dragging the cable, the wedge-shaped head and the pipe through with it. The sheer power of the cable clears out the old tube and any tree roots, making the space required for the new.

With the old material pushed out of the way, the wedge appears at the other end of the line, with the new pipe in tow. Once the pipe is in place, it’s just a matter of fixing it to the existing sewer system at both ends securely.

Many people imagine that the new pipe will be smaller than the existing one, but this is false. The wedge on the end of the cable pushes the old piping material out of the way in all directions to make room for the new pipe of equal size.

Slip Lining

Of course, pipe bursting isn't the only kind of trenchless repair available.

Slip lining is the oldest variety of trenchless sewer repair. Here, plumbers use the old pipe as a lining and slip a new pipe of smaller diameter inside. Usually, plumbers will break the job up into sections, pushing new lengths of pipe through the old system in succession and then joining them up at strategic points. Slip lining doesn’t involve as much digging as traditional sewer replacement, but there’s more fuss than with pipe bursting. This method isn’t used anymore as pipe bursting has taken over.

How Much Does Trenchless Sewer Repair Cost?

The cost of trenchless sewer repair varies from home to home. It depends on several factors.

The first is the length of the sewer. Most companies charge a fixed price for deployment of their crew and equipment and then a fee for each foot of sewer being replaced. Typically, prices range from $100 to $200 per foot, although this can vary from location to location.

The second issue is the depth of the sewer. As we discussed in the previous section, plumbers need to be able to access both ends of the sewer line to carry out a trenchless repair. The greater the depth of the sewer line, the more digging that plumbers must do, and the higher the overall cost.

The material of the new line and the existing pipe could also have an impact on price. Higher quality pipes typically cost more than lower-quality counterparts.

Finally, costs can vary depending on whether you’re installing a water line or not. Adding a water line to a trenchless sewer repair will increase the price, though not as much as having a water line added after the work is complete. In the Edmonton area water lines are almost always laid right beside the sewer pipe which makes is susceptible to damage when the new sewer bursts through the old one. We always recommend replacing the water line during a burst, we feel that it is irresponsible of us not to because of the likelihood of the water line sustaining damage from the process.

Every home is unique and different, so it's always best to book a convenient appointment with Mr. Rooter Plumbing of Edmonton.

How Long Does Trenchless Sewer Repair Take?

How long it takes to carry out a trenchless sewer repair depends on several factors. These include the size of the pipes, the severity of the damage, the need for video camera inspection, the length of the damaged section of pipe, the age of the pipe and the nature of the failure (i.e. tree roots). The more problematic the job, the longer the work will take to complete.

Traditional sewer repair often takes 3-4 days for the actual sewer repair. Usually, it involves digging up the yard, pulling out the old pipes, and then replacing them with new, backfilling and tamping down. Added to that is the work involved in restoring the original landscaping and repairing the lawn. To bring things back to the way they were often requires a significant amount of landscaping work as well.

Trenchless repair, however, is different. Plumbers who use this method are usually able to complete the work much faster. At Mr. Rooter Plumbing of Edmonton, for instance, our crews typically complete a sewer line repair job in one business day. The benefits of this are extraordinary. Not only can you cut down on the yard repair costs, but also reduce all of the hassle and stress typically associated with a sewer repair.

How Long Does Trenchless Sewer Repair Last?

How long trenchless sewer repair lasts depends heavily on the type of sewer repair.

Pipe bursting is perhaps the longest-lasting because it completely replaces the original with a high-quality PVC or HDPE pipe designed to resist soil movement or incursion by tree roots. Most manufacturers rate these pipes to last more than fifty years, with many claiming that theirs will survive for one hundred, if not longer.

Make sure you know what type of pipe is being used for your trenchless sewer repair. We recommend a heavy wall fusion welded pipe so that there are no joints in the sewer except for the start and the end of the new sewer. We have recently replaced some sewers in the Edmonton area that had been recently replaced with very subpar materials. While they were plastic pipes, they were very thin walled and were easily broken when stepped on. Make sure you know what pipe is being used for your sewer!

How long these pipes will actually last is still an open question. We haven’t been using them for long enough to know for sure what their longevity will be. What we do know is that they should easily outlast the materials that you are replacing, as these materials are truly tough!

Other trenchless sewer repairs may last for just as long. Cured-in-place sewer solutions manufacturers, for instance, often claim that repairs using the technology will last for more than fifty years and, in many cases, over one hundred.

How Effective Is Trenchless Sewer Repair?

Trenchless sewer repair is essentially just as effective as regular trench sewer repair, but without all of the mess, hassle and damage. The reason for this is that most methods mostly do precisely what traditional sewer laying would do: replace the existing pipe with a brand new one.

Pipe bursting, for instance, uses a hydraulic winch to pull a cable with a wedge-shaped head at the end along through the existing pipe cavity, pushing the existing pipe and debris outwards, making room for the new HDPE pipe to come through.

Often, the trenchless repair leads to a stronger, more resistant and reliable sewer system than the one the owner had before. Instead of relying on brittle clay or tar paper prone to root infiltration and collapse, the owner benefits from stronger, more flexible HDPE pipes that will stand the test of time.

Other forms of trenchless sewer repair are also highly effective, but they aren’t all created equal. Cured in place sewer liners are also highly effective but do have restrictions on what applications they can be used for. Unfortunately there are multiple liner options available, some of which are stronger than others which can make it confusing for consumers. We recommend looking at the warranty offered by the installer, this should speak to the confidence of their product. Also make sure to choose a company with a longstanding name and reputation because if they aren’t around when you have future warranty issues you don’t have a warranty anymore!


Trenchless sewer repair is one of the most fundamental innovations in sewer replacements since people first realized that getting waste away from the areas where people live was a priority. Today, the technique offers homeowners a more cost-effective way to carry out repairs on their sewer systems.

The most significant benefit of trenchless sewer repair is that it negates the need to dig up large parts of the yard. Traditional trench operations are expensive, messy and can do long-lasting damage to trees. Trenchless approaches, by design, rely solely on existing holes in the ground, preventing any damage to property, other than a couple of small inserts through which to feed the cables and new piping.

Trenchless sewer repair also helps homeowners who want to deal with problematic sewer issues before they move out. Many people ask for a sewer inspection before they buy or inherit a home, just to make sure that they don’t have a sewer problem on their hands if and when they move in or come to sell. Sewer repair helps them get more money for their property and avoid costly litigation for undeclared problems in the future.

Thirdly, trenchless sewer repair work saves time. In the past, people had no option but to accept trench-based repair work, which was both expensive and time-consuming. Properties were often dug up for days on end while plumbers installed new pipes and then backfilled the lawn. Trenchless technologies change all that. They get around the issue of removing soil and give property owners a way of repairing their sewer lines without damaging their properties in significant ways.

A fourth benefit is the fact that the replacement line is (or should be) much better quality than the original. In the last fifty years, piping materials have moved on considerably. Today, the preference is for HDPE. HDPE is not only inert - meaning that it does not react with sewage - but it’s also extremely strong and flexible, making it ideal for use underground. The material can bend and weave as the ground moves, remaining intact, even under high pressure. Typically, the HDPE can survive in the ground for more than fifty years, with many experts predicting more than one hundred.

Are you considering trenchless sewer repair? If so, then get in touch with Mr. Rooter Plumbing of Edmonton. We’re experts in all things related to trench repair, and we can help you fix problems with your sewer for less than you might think.