Pipe Bursting: What Are The Technology Expectations?

Editor’s Note: This is the third installment of an occasional series of articles discussing long-term performance needs, capabilities and requirements of various rehabilitation technologies.
“Expectation” can be defined as the belief about (or mental picture of) the future. When it comes to trenchless technologies, the term is essentially a clear understanding of  a project’s expectations, or end state, that is clearly understood by all the stakeholders.

By Matt Timberlake Ted Berry Company Inc.

I often tell the story of a pipe bursting project I was involved in where we were replacing a section of gravity sewer main that was 8-inches diameter and 300-feet long. We met with the utility owner and discussed pipe bursting and the benefits it would bring at this particular site. In doing so, we discussed in great detail all the specific parts of the plan and impacts. The owner then “pitched” the project to the abutting property owners in a greatly condensed version.

When we arrived at the site and began excavating a pipe insertion pit, one of the homeowners said, “I don’t get it, I thought this was going to be ‘no-dig’ technology?” Another resident said, “I guess this is that no-dig digging!” with just a hint of Maine attitude.

Education

What I learned that day is that everyone is going to have an expectation for a project and a mental picture of what its success looks like. A truly successful project is one that meets expectations. As a contractor, the expectation of the owner and the contract language prevails. However, as advocates for trenchless pipe renewal and rehabilitation, it is critical that, as an industry, we take into consideration the expectations of all stakeholders, including the general public.

One of the most important items to consider when preparing for a pipe bursting project is clear direction from the owner as to what the desired end state is, and other intentions of selecting a trenchless method. A scope of work may be: “Replace existing 8-inch VCP gravity sewer main with a new 10-inch HDPE pipe between manholes SMH1 and SMH2 by pipe bursting.” However, that does not do enough to truly explain the drivers of the project and what a contractor must know to meet or exceed the owner’s expectations.

Asking why trenchless was specified for this may open up responses like “there is a buried set of old railroad tracks underground and we do not want to have to get into those during construction” (yes, this did recently happen). As a contractor, you begin to know that limiting impact and avoiding this area is an expectation the owner has, even if it has not specifically been called out in the scope of work.

Other factors

Another important factor to consider is the amount of space that a pipe bursting project can take up. With pipe bursting, we most commonly install continuous pipe segments that are constructed of HDPE or FPVC. Those pipe segments must be strung out across the job site, and can be cumbersome for a period of time while the pipe is being installed. Communicating this to the owner and the general public can create goodwill and eliminate the surprise that may come from residents arriving home and seeing their driveway blocked with a long piece of pipe.

A number of other considerations involve what the technology is physically able to do and how those results may impact expectations. A common question is, “We have a sag, can pipe bursting remove the sag?” After analyzing the pipe type, size, ground conditions, depth and other factors, we can set a reasonable expectation that the owner uses to guide the decision towards or away from pipe bursting. Whereas pipe bursting does not have any ability to steer to correct line and grade, a lot can be done to influence the line and grade through the use of installation methods (static or pneumatic), head and pilot design and configuration, new pipe type, and others that may help deliver a project end result that meets the owners goals.

What is most important is having a clear understanding of expectation and talking about them early in a project. As stewards of our industry and trenchless advocates, we have a shared responsibility to deliver projects that meet or exceed our users’ expectations.

About the author: Matt Timberlake is the third-generation owner and president of the Ted Berry Company in Livermore, ME. matt@tedberrycompany.com

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