Trenchless Water Pipe Replacement: The Pros and Cons

Home / Trenchless Water Pipe Replacement: The Pros and Cons

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Underslab plumbing repair is an intimidating prospect for many homeowners. It can be expensive and might require an involved repair process from punching holes through the floor to digging tunnels under the home.

So it’s no wonder the idea of trenchless repair is such an appealing one, even for us here at In-House Plumbing Company. This is why I keep a close eye on possible trenchless repair options.

So in this two-part series, I’d like to go over the various trenchless processes and if going the trenchless route is a viable one or not.

First up, fresh water pipes.

Epoxy Liners

Repairing a fresh water leak with an epoxy liner is theoretically like creating a pipe within the existing pipe. There are a few different companies/brands offering this type of repair but all essentially work the same way.

How it works

Any scale buildup or corrosion inside of the pipe is first cleaned away with sandblasting — blowing sand through the line at a high pressure. Then a liquid epoxy is pumped into the line to coat the inside of the pipe.

Hence, “creating” a pipe within the existing pipe. The belief here is that the epoxy has now sealed off any holes causing leaks in your fresh water pipes.

How we discovered & started recommending epoxy pipe repair

Back in 2005, we repaired a fresh water leak for a customer. Instead of punching a hole through the floor because of a particular type of flooring he had, we tunneled seven feet to the leak to make the repair.

Unfortunately the leak came back within nine months. At the time we were still silver soldering to repair fresh water leaks. And because we tunneled to the leak, we learned two things.

  • One, the restricted air flow in the tunnel caused the silver soldering to put off toxic fumes and one of our team members got sick.
  • And two, there wasn’t enough fresh oxygen going into the tunnel for the repair to stick, so to speak. Because of this we stopped tunneling to fix fresh water leaks.

(And although we no longer silver solder to repair leaks, we still do not tunnel to them. A fresh water leak usually means the soil is very wet so it doesn’t allow for stability of the actual soil leaving the possibility that the tunnel can collapse. We haven’t had that happen but it doesn’t mean it never will so better safe than sorry.)

Because the leak came back and we couldn’t tunnel to repair it, we had to find a solution. After some research, we found a company in the Dallas/Fort Worth area offering the epoxy lining repair method.

We contacted the owner and ended up recommending it to our customer. They went ahead with the trenchless repair, and we never heard back from that customer.

So from that point on, if a customer had multiple leaks, we recommended them to this company. Most fresh water systems will never have any leaks. And if they do, it’s usually just one. But if there is a second leak, it’s not a matter of if but when more leaks will be found.

And with multiple leaks, it doesn’t make sense to repair them all. So this seemed like an ideal option instead of replacing the whole system.

Why we no longer recommend it

We continued to refer customers with more than one fresh water leak to this company until 2017 when they decided to stop doing the process.

Turns out this company was seeing problems with the epoxy lining. Leaks were coming back, not to mention, there were a lot of problems installing it. It wasn’t working the way it was supposed to, and they would end up having to cut a hole through the slab anyway. It just wasn’t what it was cracked up to be.

So while there are other companies offering this method of repair, we no longer recommend it. It doesn’t matter which company is doing it with which brand. If it didn’t work for the company we trusted, there’s no reason to believe it does for another.

What We Recommend Now

Today we recommend what we believe is the best option at this time, rerouting the line. With rerouting the pipes under the slab are abandoned and new pipes are routed in the walls and attic of your home.

It’s also worth mentioning we do not do single line replacement/rerouting. If you’re going to reroute we recommend going ahead with all of the lines.

There are several issues with single line replacement that involves a lot more liability issues.

First, we have to find the pipe that has the leak. Then we need to cut into the pipe, test it and cap it off to see if the leak is there or not there.

If we don’t cut the right pipe and turn the water back on, it’s possible to flood the house. And there could be another leak in the pipe next to the one that was cut meaning the house would flood once the water is turned back on. (I talk about how locating fresh water leaks is the hardest job in plumbing in this post.)

So rerouting a single line just doesn’t make sense. Of course, there are always exceptions, but as a rule, we replace everything or we replace nothing.

I wouldn’t do it in my own home. And if I wouldn’t do it in my own home, I won’t do it for somebody else.

Directional Boring

Another option is directional boring.

With this method, a machine is used to drill a line sideways into the ground. A bore pit is dug at both the entrance and the receiving ends. So while this is technically a trenchless method, there is still some digging required.

Generally this is best done in the yard. This is essentially “blind” drilling so it’s very difficult to directional bore under a slab.

There’s the 4 to 5 inch slab itself to consider along with concrete beams that are anywhere from 12 to 24 inches deep and any other lines like sewer or other fresh water pipes. And then there could be other obstacles like rocks, roots, or even a trash pit from the construction site when the house was built.

So to make sure they stay under the slab and not hit any beams, other plumbing lines, and anything else is practically impossible at this point.

When a fresh water leak is in the yard from the meter to the house, we have a boring guy in the area we can recommend.

It’s also worth noting, we only recommend directional boring for water lines. Because water lines are pressurized, it doesn’t matter how the pipe is laid. It could look like a rollercoaster and still work — unlike sewer pipes which I’ll be covering in the next post.

Give Us a Call

So that’s it for fresh water trenchless repair. In the next post, I’m going to cover the trenchless repair options for sewer lines.

And if you have any questions about trenchless repair or any underslab plumbing issue, don’t hesitate to email us at service@inhouseplumbingcompany.com. Or give us a call at 972-494-1750.

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