The Triumph of Trenchless

East coast pipe liner says traditional excavation’s days are numbered.

The Triumph of Trenchless

Eastern Pipe Services uses a Perma-Main Top Gun F-24 inversion machine by Perma-Liner for its main lining projects.

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Business has been good for Eastern Pipe Services. As the name suggests, they do trenchless pipe lining and repair, video inspection, pipe vacuum and cleaning services covering the entire New England region.

While a lot of the company’s inspection and lining repair work comes from area municipalities, it sees an influx of commercial property customers catching on to cured-in-place pipe repair for I&I issues of their own. Whether it is a big town project or a commercial job, the reasons for going with CIPP are similar — reduce costs and minimize disruption.

The benefits to lining are similar for both types of customers, but the process is a bit different for the contractor. Many municipalities separate pipe repair and remediation into two buckets for the bidding process: The inspection and cleaning of the lines, and then the actual repair and replacement work.

Mark Thompson, manager of operations for Eastern Pipe Services, says it’s not unusual to have one vendor win the bid for the inspection, and another for the repairs. It is also common to have an engineer, hired by the city, making the final determination on the method of repair.  

When commercial customers are battling with an I&I issue, Thompson says his company is more likely to be involved in the entire process from performing the inspection to the completing the repair work. Eastern’s expert advice on how to fix the issue is welcomed by the customer.

Sharing the good news

When Weeks Medical Center in Lancaster, New Hampshire had I&I problems, it turned to Eastern Pipe Services for advice. I&I repairs are a big deal for commercial properties. Thompson says these customers often think they’re looking at an $80,000 to $100,000 repair that will tear up their floors or parking lots for days. Instead, he has the honor of giving them the excellent news that Eastern can do lining without disrupting their business. On top of that, the repairs are just half the cost of trenching, depending on the size and length of the pipe.

That’s a tremendous relief for commercial businesses that stand to lose thousands in daily revenue — if not tens of thousands, as is often the case for a hospital like Weeks — should they have to shut down for an extended period. 

The decline of excavation

It’s benefits like these that make Thompson think we will eventually see the end of excavation for most repair work. Not only for sewer repairs, but repairs on water pipes as well. Compared to 10 or 15 years ago, pipe lining has become more advanced and much easier to work with. Back then, trenchless repair usually involved a rigid plastic liner that came on an enormous reel. That liner needed to be heated up and then pulled through the pipe. Today, the materials are far more advanced and rugged, and the installation process is much faster. The robotics used for reinstatements have much improved as well.

The substantial cost benefits are not only realized by commercial properties. Municipalities are taking advantage of the lower costs along with other significant benefits. 

“No one wants to go dig up Main Street,” says Thompson. “A trenchless solution requires very little police detail, no traffic diversion and no repaving. It is cheaper and faster.”

When excavating, you can typically repair or replace about 200 feet of pipe a day, according to Thompson. His crews can manage 600 to 1,000 feet in the same amount of time.

Thompson says that, of course, there are times when drainage or sewers have to be replaced, such as when there are elevation issues. In those instances, you have no choice but to go in and dig up streets and disrupt traffic.

“But if we’re talking about existing trenches, whether it’s drainage or sewerage, we are finding that most municipalities are now trying to use the CIPP process.”

A safer alternative

Lining is far less intrusive to the surrounding environment as well. Thompson used old asbestos pipes as an example. No one wants to remove and replace an asbestos pipe. For one, you don’t want crews having to deal with hazardous materials. On top of that, you don’t want the aggravation of having to dispose of it. By lining that asbestos pipe, there is far less danger to the crew and little or no negative impact on the surrounding soil.

Then there are areas that Thompson says you simply don’t want to be digging in, whether that’s due to the propensity for sinkholes to form or dealing with tricky substrates.

In fact, any time you’re excavating, there are risks involved. From an employee standpoint, lining is a safer process because you eliminate the confined space element that comes with excavating. Thompson says the company no longer has to figure confined space training into the bidding process.

“There’s always underground obstacles. You could accidentally hit a fiber optic cable or a gas line. I don’t know how many times we’ve seen an excavator hit the main waterline. Now you have no water until it’s repaired, and residents are boiling their water,” says Thompson. “All that is off the table when you’re doing trenchless.”

For all these reasons and more, Thompson says the industry trend is moving toward lining when there is an existing pipe. 

Problems are rare

As far as horror stories where jobs went wrong with lining, or where the company discovered troublesome issues, Thompson drew a blank. “It’s the same job over and over. Things rarely go wrong.”

However, he did remember a couple of instances where a defect in the liner caused problems for him. But in both those situations, the manufacturer made things right. And that’s about as exciting as it gets in the world of CIPP, which is a good thing.

For residential work, Eastern Pipe Services is a certified installer of Perma-Liner Industries. For anything larger than 8 inches in diameter, Eastern uses Manufactured Technologies Corp., formerly known as Mississippi Textiles.

As the trend moves toward lining, Thompson has some advice for excavation laborers who are interested in working toward a career in CIPP repair. “If I were hiring someone, we look for people that know how to lay pipe, know what a waterline and sewer line is and have excellent work ethics. If I saw that you’ve been working for the same construction company for years, then we would take you and teach you a whole different trade. And you know, when I say it’s a different trade, it’s a completely different animal than anything you will have done.”

In March of this year, Eastern Pipe Services became part of the Wind River Environmental group. Wind River provides services in 16 states along the East coast. 


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