As North America’s underground infrastructure ages and deteriorates, system owners look to ways they can get the most bang for their buck when it comes to repairs. Many times, that will lead them to trenchless rehabilitation methods.
Looking at the rehabilitation options, cured-in-place pipe (CIPP), which turns 50 in 2021 is by far the leading trenchless option when looking at improving mainline sewers. Generally speaking, when the system owners look to rehabilitate these runs, they also look to rehabilitate the associated manhole structures. The hope is that the two combined will considerably reduce inflow and infiltration (I/I).
In the last 20 years, what many system owners have found is the importance of repairing laterals, as well. Studies have been done that indicate a significant portion of I/I issues can be traced to damaged lateral connections.
“The studies have already been done and facts are nearly irrefutable. If you are going to eliminate or significantly reduce I/I, you have to address the repair of leaking laterals,” says Gil Carroll, director of business development for MaxLiner.
In recent Trenchless Technology stories, we’ve highlighted some of the equipment necessary to inspect and reinstate laterals. In this article we wanted to check-in with some of the companies that provide the rehabilitation equipment and materials, as well as those doing the work to offer a brief status check on where the market sets heading into Q2 of 2021.
“The lateral market has been surprisingly steady for us in the past year given the pandemic and the associated constraints involved,” says Carroll. “The stay-at-home market has resulted in facilitating more work than usual since home plumbing facilities are now used more than ever and perhaps that increase in usage has exposed the homeowner’s lateral deficiencies and need for repair more than ever. Most problems with your plumbing can probably go unnoticed or ignored when you aren’t home all the time. With people now home all the time, those issues and the associated functions, odors and leaks that people may have not noticed in the past are brought to the forefront.”
Michelle Strasburg, director of marketing at Pipe Lining Supply agrees, adding that the company has seen growth in a few rural areas than in previous periods and they expect to see continued overall growth in the lateral rehab markets continue.
“In general, we’ve seen this market continue to grow each year. Homeowners today are more educated about the maintenance of the service lines on their property,” says Jason Klaus, senior manager, sales for HammerHead Trenchless. “Trenchless rehabilitation or replacement are quickly becoming the preferred methods. Every situation is different and there are a lot of variables that go into the decision whether to rehabilitate or replace a sewer lateral, but in a lot of cases, rehabilitation of an existing pipe can be the most cost-effective solution.”
HammerHead, MaxLiner and Pipe Lining Supply work heavily in the residential and commercial lateral rehabilitation space, but growth before and during the pandemic was not limited to this sector. Jacob Trapani, vice president of Kenner, Louisiana-based BLD Services has seen growth among the company’s customers. BLD Services covers mostly the eastern half of the United States working for the municipalities and utilities that own the main sewer systems.
“In our world, 2020, other than going through the pandemic and dealing with employee health and safety and the different municipality restrictions, we had a strong year in 2020 from the lateral perspective and coming into the second quarter of 2021, our market is still strong and growing,” he says. “There are probably municipalities that used COVID as a reason to not get projects out, or delay them, but there are quite a few that sped things up. We see pockets of our world booming.”
Trapani goes on to say that he has heard from some sewer system owners who are concerned about decreased revenues going forward due the pandemic, but there is no indication thus far that there will be a significant decline in the spend that will take place to address the aging underground infrastructure. The challenge many sanitary sewer system owners face is the public vs. private issue of sewer lateral ownership. While the entity owns the sewer system being impacted by I/I, most laterals fall under the auspices of the property owners. In some instances, system owners will repair from the main sewer to the property line. Others will work out an arrangement to line all the way to the structure, and, in some instances, the system owner won’t touch the lateral at all.
Addressing the public vs. private issue, Trapani says that he could line up a dozen municipalities and each one will take a different approach. The most important thing he says, is having a lateral repair program or educational outreach effort in place. Everyone agrees that the lateral rehabilitation world is seeing growth, they also agree that the market is not where it could be and cite continued education from the industry as the key to continued growth.
Educate, Educate, Educate
While CIPP has been around for half a century, Strasburg notes that there are some areas where lateral relining is not an accepted method of repair and that lobbying from the industry to remove those barriers is needed.
“In some areas, acceptance in the market from local engineers or plumbing inspectors is a hurdle. While trenchless methods continue to gain acceptance, there is still work to do in educating people on the benefits of trenchless as an alternative to traditional methods,” says Klaus. “From homeowners to system owners and contractors, we can help people learn about the benefits and applications of proven trenchless rehabilitation technologies to extend the life of pipes.”
With increased awareness, Carroll expects to see more growth on the private lateral repairs referring to it as, “a pretty easy decision from not only an above ground perspective, but also from an economic view, as well.”
“Who wouldn’t choose to have their lateral relined?” he asks. The trenchless repair does not require digging up a yard, potentially killing trees and other landscaping and there is decreased likelihood of damage to other underground infrastructure like water, cable/broadband and electric. And when all is said and done, there is an overall decreased cost when compared to traditional excavation options.
“The good news is that some insurance companies and even municipalities are now offering a way to buy insurance on your home utilities and become more proactive in the process, which should only help in growing the market,” Carroll says.
Education is important but so too is having a competent workforce to complete the installations. “To continue the growth, there needs to be qualified contractors who can do the work. It’s a niche industry and I liken laterals to snowflakes everyone is a little different,” says Trapani. “We need to make sure we don’t ruin the lateral rehab market by having unqualified contractors doing lateral work and creating a bad image that it does not fix the problem.”
Carroll agrees, “Training and developing standards that ensure quality installations and protect the good name of trenchless lateral rehabilitation are also an important part of laying the groundwork for market acceptance and growth.”
With an educated customer base and trained qualified workers using the best equipment available on the market, everyone interviewed agrees that the sky is the limit for the trenchless rehabilitation of sewer laterals.