Trenchless Technology Diagnoses Blockage Problem

Old houses are often subject to numerous and large repair bills, not the least of which can be sometimes catastrophic plumbing issues.

In South Pasadena, Calif., Mr. and Mrs. Patrick Lynch own a comfortable but aging 1920s house that they’ve taken great care to maintain. The Lynchs had been experiencing a chronic sewer backup in the sewer connection leading from the house to the main sewer line, but they couldn’t be certain where the problem was or what was causing it. A plumber the couple used fairly regularly was able to clear the line and get the sewer flowing again, but recommended the Lynchs contact Chris Graham at American Leak Detection to solve the chronic problem, as opposed to continually snaking out the pipe on an emergency basis.

The Lynchs ultimately decided to call American Leak Detection (ALD) to see if it could diagnose what was causing the backup in their sewer connection. After checking on pricing for the job, ALD offered the most reliable and cost-effective solution. Using its patented leak detection technology, Chris Graham, president and owner of American Leak Detection of San Gabriel Valley, and his ALD team were able to first find out exactly what the problem was: tree roots infiltrating the sewer connection and blocking the flow of wastewater. Upon further examination, Graham’s team discovered the problem was extensive.

“The old sewer line dated back to the house’s original construction and had lots of joints,” says Graham. “Tree roots had pierced virtually every joint in the original pipe, so it was very badly deteriorated.”
The tree roots had continued to grow over the lifetime of the home, literally growing in the sewer line leading into the house, creating both a blockage and a leak to contend with. After detecting the exact location, there were few options, as numerous breaches were found under the pavement of the adjacent street.

Now the homeowners were looking at a time-consuming and expensive repair. First, the pipe would have to be dug out, and the street trenched to reach the damaged area. Once the trenching was complete, the repairs wouldn’t take long, but would require replacement of the entire stretch of pipe to ensure that no more problems would develop. Root of the surrounding trees would also have to be cut away from the pipe itself.
The costs for the trenching alone would likely be astronomical, let alone the repair of the sewer pipe. The solution offered by American Leak Detection was both time and cost-effective. First, the sewer line from the house to the main underneath the street had to be fully inspected. The old sewer line has joints approximately every 2 ft and is made of a porous clay material. Through the inspection process, roots were discovered at nearly every joint, which meant the sewer was completely compromised.

The first thing that needed to be done was to clear the line of the roots. To do this, the line was opened at both ends through a small tunnel, and a high-pressure wash was used to clear the roots from the entire length of the pipe. The pressure wash not only cleared the roots, but also smoothed the interior surface of the aging sewer pipe, in essence prepping it for the next stage of the process.

Once cleaned, a resin-soaked, fiberglass material was blown into the existing pipe that lines the entirety of the sewer line from the house to the sewer main. This flexible material is used to conform to the original pipe, sealing the previously damaged joints, essentially turning a series of short, connected pipes into one contiguous sewer line. A balloon-like bladder was then fed into the pipe and inflated, ensuring that the fiberglass material would harden while firmly pressed against the interior surface of the original pipeline.

Once the material hardened, the inflatable bladder was deflated and removed, and the pipe was reconnected.
The job took one full day, and the Lynchs were without water for just a short period. Just trenching the area alone might have required that amount of time, before a new pipe could be installed. By using the existing pipe, American Leak Detection was able to preserve the original design and “fall” of the pipe, making sure that the sewer would drain properly. Often when installing a new sewer line, the routing might be different from the original pipe that was laid, because of landscape changes, primarily tree growth. That can lead to complications like poor drainage, longer pipe runs, and more digging.

“By using the existing pipeline, we can save time and costs. Relaying the pipe from scratch, especially on older homes can be tricky. Maintaining a uniform fall [the drop in level from the home to the sewer main] is essential to ensuring proper flow and drainage, so not having to go through that design process makes the task a lot easier and faster,” says Graham.

The cost of this process and technology can be as much as a one-third the cost of actual trenching and installation of new pipeline. “The technology for fiberglass relining has been around for a while, but is under-utilized. When you are faced with the need to trench a yard, or a driveway, or a city street, the costs start to rise very rapidly, so this is a far more cost-effective route,” Graham said.

“In addition,” Graham says, “the time to complete the repair is so much faster. That way the customer is back in the home and using water again in the same day.” Graham also points out that when doing a major repair like the one at the Lynch residence, trenching a city street also entails bringing in traffic control, and the higher cost of repaving the street to city standards.

The Lynchs problem is not unusual, and in an urban or suburban setting with well-established landscape, root protrusion is common. The fiberglass relining process, coupled with the intense pressure washing beforehand, makes for a lasting repair and a lower cost solution to this common problem.

Given the chronic nature of the Lynchs sewer problem, they could’ve continued to call a plumber and have the sewer line snaked, clearing the blockage temporarily. In their case, good advice from their plumber allowed American Leak Detection to step in and find a lasting solution, eliminating the need for expensive and time-consuming emergency calls to the plumber.

The fiberglass resealing process also allowed for a fast repair that didn’t destroy the yard or adjacent street. The outcome for the Lynchs provided a permanent solution without the expense of tearing up street and landscaping which made this repair a great deal easier on the Lynchs budget.

Patrick Finaldi is a freelance writer with CV Strategies.

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