What Is Pipe Bursting?

Last Updated On June 12, 2024

Updated on June 22, 2022



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What is pipe bursting

Did someone suggest pipe bursting as a repair method to replace your old or damaged pipes? You may want to know more about the process and what sets it apart from your other options. 

New methods of repairing and replacing underground pipes have developed in the form of trenchless pipe installation. They offer less labor-intensive (and less expensive) methods for replacing underground pipes. Pipe bursting is one of these modern trenchless pipe repair methods, and it’s pretty amazing. 

In this PlumbingNav guide, we will cover:

  • What is pipe bursting?
  • How does trenchless pipe bursting work?
  • What are the different pipe bursting methods?
  • Popular pipe bursting equipment
  • What does pipe bursting cost?

What's In This Guide?

      What is Pipe Bursting?

      Pipe bursting refers to a method of trenchless sewer repair that replaces underground pipes by forcing the existing pipe to “burst” by feeding the new HDPE pipe (high-density polyethylene) through and into its place. The old pipe breaks as the new pipe is pushed or pulled through it, and the fragments dissolve into the soil. 

      Pipe bursting service applies to residential and commercial plumbing.
      The pipe bursting process was first developed by the British Gas and the DJ Ryan engineering company in England in the late 1970s.

      As they perfected the process, it became more and more widespread until it became the most popular method of trenchless pipe installation today.

      did you know What is pipe bursting

      How Does Trenchless Pipe Bursting Work?

      You have two types of underground pipes: water line and sewer lateral line. Pipe bursting can work on both types of damaged pipes. 

      Three Approaches to Pipe Bursting

      The pneumatic pipe bursting method of using a pneumatic hammer to force the new pipe in place of the old pipe using air. Pneumatic pipe bursting doesn’t work with cast iron pipes. 

      The hydraulic pipe bursting method uses a hydraulically powered wench to force the new pipe through. This option is most commonly used for cast iron pipes and gas pipe lines. 

      Static pipe bursting uses a constant pull force as opposed to the dynamic force used in the other two methods. Static pipe bursting has become the preferred method thanks to the absence of shock waves.

      See the following video for an example of how pipe bursting works to replace your water lines:

      Watch Video of Pipe Bursting to Replace Water Lines:

      Watch Video of Pipe Bursting to Replace Sewer Lines:

      What are the Different Pipe Bursting Methods?

      Pipe Bursting

      Pipe bursting is the traditional method to replace a broken pipe that is used under normal conditions. It is the most common approach used in trenchless water line replacement.

      In some cases, rocks or coarse soil will cause you to use one of these slight process variations covered below. 

      Line Pushing

      Line pushing also referred to as rod pushing, uses the host pipe to guide the rod pusher stems. The old pipe is pushed through and then cut off. 

      Line Pulling

      Line pulling, similar to line pushing, uses the host pipe as a guide. However, it works in a pulling motion as opposed to a pulling motion. Simply put, there is often a better access point on the receiving end to pull the line through. 

      Video of Line Pulling to Pipe Replacement

      Typical Pipe Bursting Process

      Pipe bursting works as a machine pushes a new pipe into the place of the old pipe, bursting the old pipe in the process. 

      Please see the following video for a visual representation of what happens during the pipe bursting process:

      Video Animation: Typical Pipe Bursting Process

      Are there any pipe bursting limitations?

      There are some limitations to pipe bursting:

      • Extra long pipes

      Pipe bursting works best when dealing with trenchless pipe installation under 750 ft. 

      • Nearby service lines

      Nearby service lines may get in the way on occasion, especially since pipe bursting doesn’t work great when working with 90-degree angles.

      • Clogged pipes

      Since the new pipe must feed through the entire old pipe, you must first receive drain cleaning services for any clogged pipes to gain adequate clearance.

      • Burst pipes

      A pipe burst can occur in freezing conditions. If an underground pipe bursts, it won’t allow the new pipe to feed through it properly if overly damaged. If a section of pipe is completely damaged or obstructed by tree roots, special measures will be needed.

      • Sewer Belly

      Sometimes sewer line cleaning intended to remove a clog or blockage can reveal something called a sewer belly upon inspection. This is a dip or sag in your line that impedes the slope and flow of waste through the system. This section of the pipe might require access to remedy the grade.

      If the situation doesn’t present ideal conditions for pipe bursting, consider a method called pipe relining as an alternative trenchless pipe repair option

      Popular Pipe Bursting Equipment 

      Trenchless Pipe Bursting Technology

      Some of the items used in pipe bursting include:

      • Bursting head
      • Pneumatic or hydraulic pump
      • Pulling machine

      The hydraulic pump or pneumatic pump forces the bursting head through from one access point to the other using a pulling machine. 

      What Does Pipe Bursting Cost?

      The pipe bursting method typically costs $100 – $150 per foot. You can multiply $125 by the distance of your sewer pipe replacement. This will give you a rough idea of potential costs. This is typically significantly less than the cost to excavate and will be finished much sooner. 

      There are a number of factors that determine the final pipe bursting cost for a project, including:

      • Condition of the soil
      • Directional shifts
      • Size of old pipe and the replacement pipe
      • Material of old pipe and the replacement pipe
      • Depth of pipes
      • Location and number of access holes

      It’s common for people to ask if major plumbing repairs like these are included in their homeowner’s insurance coverage. Unfortunately, the answer is usually no. However, if the problem resulted in collateral property damage caused by water these items are typically covered.

      Final Thoughts on Trenchless Pipe Bursting

      You can get trenchless pipe replacement using pipe bursting when you have an old sewer lateral pipe that needs an upgrade. Pipe bursting services cost less than traditional methods, and you have other options as well, such as trenchless pipe lining. 

      Talk to your plumber to learn more about the different trenchless plumbing services available to you. Get more than one estimate, and ask for references on similar jobs. This is one service you don’t want to entrust to a rookie.

      Trenchless Sewer and Pipe Repair FAQs 

      What is bursting a pipe?

      Bursting a pipe refers to the method of feeding a new pipe in place underground, causing the old pipe to burst in the process. 

      Who invented pipe bursting?

      DJ Ryan engineering company along with British Gas patented the pipe bursting method in the late 1970s and continued to improve on it until it became the most popular method available. 

      What is static pipe bursting?

      Status pipe bursting uses static force as opposed to dynamic force, minimizing the possibility of damage due to shock waves.

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      About Plumbing Navigator

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      We write about “all things plumbing,” helping you navigate common questions, repairs, and the best plumbing products on the market.

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