Just the words "cracked sewage pipe" is enough to make most homeowners cringe.
It's not just the potential cost of replacing the pipe that's the issue. There's also the potential for a sewage backup that could leave damaging sludge in your home (which is another expense you don't need.) You may also notice a foul odor in your home due to the poor drainage in your sewer.
In the past, there was really only one way to deal with a damaged sewer pipe, and that was to dig down deep, remove the old piping and put in the new piping. However, thanks to advances in the plumbing industry over time, there's another method that will most likely save you time and money.
Perhaps you've never heard of sewer lining, but if you have damaged sewer pipes, it's time you did. It has been used for decades (up to 40 years ago) but is gaining ground with home and business owners. Here's everything you need to know about it and its advantages...
What is a Sewer Liner?
A sewer liner is a fibreglass and epoxy resin tube that is placed into a damaged sewer pipe. Instead of completely digging up the damaged pipe, only one point needs to be accessed to do the job.
Once the liner is expanded and cured with the help of steam, it is very resistant to damage and can last up to a century if done properly with the right materials. They will completely stop tree roots from poking through, which is one of the biggest contributors to sewage line problems. A sewer liner can fill gaps and even missing sections of pipe in some cases.
The idea is that it can be done relatively quickly without having to dig out all of the surrounding dirt to access the pipe. That's why you'll often hear this process called trenchless sewer line repair. We like to call it our “No Dig Sewer Replacement” method because we don’t even bring a shovel to the installation!
How Does The Process Work?
In most cases, an existing sewer cleanout can be used to insert the sewer liner into. Before inserting the liner, the sewer will have to be cleaned to ensure it is as clean as possible prior to installation. Either a special hydro scrubbing jet or a conventional sewer auger can be used to remove any debris from the inside of the existing pipe, preparing it for the insertion. This also helps the liner adhere to the inside of the pipe, which is often greasy.
A team will measure the liner material before the job depending on how much is required and then build it to length. Each sewer liner is built to fit as every sewer is different either in length or with respect to the specific issues that are being repaired. Because of this, a liner can be built for a small repair or for an entire sewer.
The liner crew will build your sewer liner using premium fibreglass and epoxy resin wrapped over a rubber hose. Once built, they will roll the liner up and transport it to your home for installation.
The crew will get the liner into place in your sewer from your basement cleanout and prepare it for a steam cure.
The steam will expand the rubber hose pressing the liner up against the walls of your existing sewer. The heat from the steam will then begin curing the epoxy resin in the fiberglass to create an extremely strong pipe within your old sewer pipe. Depending on the resin selected for the application, the pipe liner can be cured in place in as little as 45 minutes.
After curing the liner the rubber hose will be removed leaving behind a new pipe that can be used immediately. The plumber will then do another camera inspection to ensure the liner installation was successful.
When is Sewer Lining Ideal To Use? Or Not?
You can choose the pipe liner option for almost all types of material your existing pipes are made from. In Edmonton, most homes built before the early ’80s have a clay tile sewer (a similar material to bricks). Clay tile is usually a good candidate for a sewer liner unless it is really far gone. The other sewer pipe material used was tar paper, also known as No Corode or Orangeburg. This pipe is what is sounds like, basically, heavy paper rolls dipped in tar to create a pipe. We don’t recommend lining tar paper sewers as they generally have issues which prevent lining from being a viable option.
Plastic materials can also be lined with ease. Even if there are sections of pipe missing, you can still rely on sewer lining to do the trick.
Pipe lining is also the preferred method if your sewer line is very long – up to 100 feet or more. Some of the other methods of sewer repair are not as ideal for extended pipes.
Consider also where your sewer pipes are. If they're under a solid surface such as concrete slab, garage, deck or fancy landscaping you won’t have to disturb any of it to install your sewer liner.
Multiple connections to the main pipe are generally not a problem, as the liner can skip over that section of pipe, or special cutting tools can open flow to them again after the liner is cured.
Also, keep in mind that sewer liners are approximately one-eighth of an inch thick (3.175mm) (depending on the pipe size) so it will slightly reduce the existing pipe size. However, this is generally not an issue as the new surface is so much smoother (and root free) that there is virtually no obstruction to flow, so the slightly reduced diameter is not a problem.
Benefits of Sewer Liners Over Other Methods
You have several choices when it comes to repairing your sewer pipes. There's the traditional method of digging up the entire site and physically replacing the pipe. However, this method can be very costly, up to $25,000 for the entire line depending on depth and the obstacles in your yard. That likely won’t include the landscaping costs or potential concrete repairs or other repairs that may be required.
In contrast, the cost of trenchless repair is similar per foot, but the average cost of this method is considerably less. Because you're not ripping up your property with trenchless technology, the chance of damage and reconstruction is lowered. That means you don't have to recreate that front garden you spent years curating. You won’t be disturbing the earth so there won’t be any ground settling. You also won’t have to worry about taking down the deck, or the garage, or digging a hole in your driveway. Unfortunately, sewers are often in places that make digging inconvenient or expensive which is why we absolutely love lining sewers instead of digging them up.
Because there is no digging involved, there's no chance of accidentally hitting buried electrical, gas or other utilities.
It also means that the job will typically be done faster than it would with a full excavation. Sewer liners can often be completed in a day or less. In contrast, a full sewer line excavation can take up to a week.
Lining vs. Pipe Bursting
There are a couple of other options you'll likely hear about when you're considering your sewer line repair options. One of them is called pipe bursting, which is also a trenchless method that requires two access points at either end of the pipe. However, because of the equipment needed, there will end up being some digging involved, usually both inside the house and out at your property line.
The type of ground material around the pipe is also important. It's less effective if there are a lot of rocks or sand, and it also requires caution to ensure the job is done properly without mishaps. This method also can disturb the surrounding infrastructure due to the nature of the bursting (meaning there's the agitation of the earth involved.)
Pipe bursting involves dragging a busting head with a hydraulic tool through the line, which breaks apart the old pipe while replacing it with a new pipe. That means you're essentially replacing the existing line. The new material is very durable and is designed to help prevent clogs. Something to consider with pipe bursting is that the water service line is usually only a few inches away from the sewer and stands a significant chance of being damaged during the bursting process.
A plus with pipe bursting is that the new pipe isn't limited to the size of the existing pipe. In fact, it can be larger in diameter. The existing pipe is only there as a guide as the old pipe is burst with the equipment.
However, this technique may not work if you have a shorter sewer line (15 feet or less), or if there are multiple connections to the mainline. If this is the case, your plumber may suggest an alternative such as a pipe liner or full dig.
Pipe bursting is a service that we offer at Mr. Rooter Plumbing of Edmonton. While it is a fantastic sewer replacement option, we do prefer installing a sewer liner over performing a burst when it is possible. While the longevity of both products is excellent, the excavation required to perform a sewer burst can sometimes open up a can of worms as we never really know what is down there until we dig it up! Whereas with a liner, if we don’t disturb the earth and seal the pipe from end to end with a liner it should outlive anyone who is reading this article!
Lining vs. Pipe Coating
This is a somewhat simplified version of pipe lining. Epoxy is injected into the damaged pipe and resin is brushed on with rotating brushes. However, pipe coating does not provide the structural strength of lining as there is no fibreglass embedded in the resin. A good analogy is mudding a drywall joint without using tape in the joint, it will eventually crack. If the epoxy in your sewer cracks it means that the roots are coming back. It also won’t work well if there are larger cracks or if large sections of the pipe are missing.
Pipe coating is generally considered if there's only minor damage or a single crack. Longer pipes can be fixed using this method, but it's more time consuming and that can add to the overall costs.
How Long Will Sewer Lining Last?
With the newest materials and techniques used for sewer lining and pipe bursting, it can survive at least 50 years in most cases and even last up 100 years. It is also resistant to chemicals and will resist intrusive tree roots that get into the older sewer materials with ease.
Be sure to ask the contractor whether there are warranties included. Keep a copy of the invoice to prove the work has been done, in case that becomes a selling point down the road when it's time to move.
The Stages Of A Sewer’s Life
We like to look at sewers as having 3 stages in their life (really there’s 4 but for simplicity, we’ll say 3). The first part that we don’t really count is the glorious time when your sewer works just as it should. For most homes, this is often anywhere from 20 to 40 years or more. These are the happy times.
Stage 1 is usually started by a sewer backup. In Stage 1 your sewer still has decent structure and is still maintaining its shape with some allowance for misalignment at the joints in the pipe. In Stage 1 the issue most are facing is from roots invading your sewer which eventually clog the drain. As long as your sewer is in Stage 1 it is still suitable for a sewer liner.
Stage 2 is generally characterized by a breakdown at the pipe joints. Usually, roots are still a problem but the bigger problem is that the pipes are breaking at the joints and are beginning to move. As they break the liquids draining down the pipe start to escape into the surrounding earth which soften it and allow for more movement of the pipe joints. Tree roots are also drawn to the rich soil which compounds the problem. During this stage, pipe bursting is the preferred method and can be used as long as the bursting cable can be fished through the sewer from end to end.
Stage 3 isn’t usually good news. To be in Stage 3 it means that the ¾” bursting cable can’t get through the sewer, usually due to a collapse of the pipe. In this instance, you are usually digging up the entire length of the sewer from your home to the property line. This is our least preferred option as it is extremely disruptive to your home and yard, and depending where your sewer is it may mean that a deck, garage, or other property feature may need to be removed to complete the sewer replacement. Unfortunately, sewers are often found in the worst possible places with respect to excavating which often complicates the job and adds to the overall expense.
Have an Inspection of Your Sewer Line
Before you can determine which method of repair is needed, whether it's a complete replacement, a pipe burst or a sewer liner, you should have a qualified company do a full sewer inspection. That involves using a video camera to get a clear look at what's causing the issue, so a decision can be made about how to deal with it. Make sure that you watch the video while the inspection is being done and ask lots of questions!
In some cases, a qualified plumber can remove the obstruction causing your sewer backup. However, if there's damage to the pipe, then the repair will be necessary otherwise the problem will repeat itself. Even with a backflow prevention valve installed, you'll still have to address the issue at some point.
You'll probably know there's a sewer line problem due to the odour, or from toilets or bathtubs flowing in the wrong direction (yuck.) Your toilet might start also making strange noises – it's important to distinguish a simple toilet fix from a sewer line problem. Often the first sign people notice is water coming up the floor drain.
However, even if you don't notice any signs of a faulty sewer line, it's probably not a bad idea to have it inspected and cleaned regularly (about every two years or sooner) although newer homes with plastic sewers are less susceptible to these issues. This is especially true if you have a lot of trees on your property, as tree roots are one of the main culprits for damage and subsequent issues.
If you have an older home, then you might also want to check out the sewer pipes to ensure they haven't deteriorated over the years. Older homes typically have sewer lines made from clay which are particularly prone to root infiltration and joint damage as a result of the roots.
Sewer Lining Could Be Your Best Option
Now that you know all about the different options when it comes to sewer line repair, you can make the best choice with the help of a qualified contractor.
Contrary to what people may think, pipe lining is not a temporary solution. It is a permanent fix made to last and is as durable or even more durable than the original materials.
Sewer lining can significantly reduce the inconvenience, time, and (perhaps most importantly) the cost of a sewer repair compared to the other sewer replacement methods. That's because there's no excavation necessary, no tracking mud around your property for months until the new grass takes. You also won't have to worry about hiring a crew to clean up or reconstruct your landscaping.
To find out more about residential or commercial trenchless sewer line repair, contact us today.