Pipe Bursting


Pipe bursting is a modern, trenchless way to renew and replace pipelines

Residential and commercial customers sometimes ask, “Is pipe bursting an option for replacing my aging sewer line or water main?”

Frequently, the answer is “yes.” Pipe bursting is an established, widely-used trenchless method for renewal and replacement of buried pipelines. Property owners involved in gas, water and sewer pipeline renewal and rehabilitation projects should investigate whether available trenchless pipe replacement methods such as pipe bursting fit their project’s requirements.

How does pipe bursting work?

Pipe bursting, a leading trenchless method of replacing underground pipelines, fractures a pipe from the inside and forces pipe fragments outwards while a new pipe is slid in to replace the existing one. Trenchless pipe bursting machines split the existing pipe by pulling a pipe bursting head through the existing pipe, splitting the old pipe and pulling new pipe inside. There are various types of pipe bursting systems, including pneumatic, hydraulic expansion and static pull systems.

With modern pipe bursting technology, sewer lines, water mains or natural gas pipes can be replaced without surface excavating. It’s respectful of nearby utilities, pavement and structures that might otherwise be damaged in a dig. Both commercial and residential customers can save time and money on sewer line replacement and water main renewal with pipe-bursting techniques by a qualified trenchless plumbing contractor.

Is every trenchless contractor a pipe-bursting specialist?

There are different types of trenchless pipe renewal technology, from horizontal directional drilling to microtunneling. A pipe bursting contractor like TrenchFree can help determine whether pipebursting is the optimal solution.

While many plumbing contractors and residential plumbing services now have trenchless equipment and pipe-bursting tools, not every plumber is a qualified pipe-bursting contractor.  Nor is every contractor a good contractor who will quote fair prices, show up on time, get the job done as described and leave the site clean when they leave. A service organization that does what they promise and saves customers time and money is the type of pipe bursting contractor to look for.

So, what exactly is pipe bursting trenchless plumbing, and what should you know before you hire a pipe bursting contractor?


With trenchless pipe-bursting, “launching and receiving pits” are used instead of the trench dug in conventional pipe-laying. A pipebursting operation instead uses an expander head, pulling rods, a pulling machine and a retaining device. “Fins” make the first contact with the existing pipe to ensure that the pipe is broken along the entire circumference. A hydraulic power pack provides the power to burst the pipes and create an underground tunnel trenchless.

Typical pipe bursting involves inserting a conically shaped tool (the bursting head) into the old pipe. The head fractures the old pipe and forces the old pipe’s fragments into the surrounding soil. The trenchless contractor then pulls or pushes a pipe in behind the bursting head.

The base of bursting head is larger than the inside diameter of the old pipe to cause fracturing and slightly larger than the outside diameter of the new pipe, to reduce friction on the new pipe and to provide space for maneuvering the pipe. The front end is connected to a cable or pulling rod and the rear of the bursting head is connected to the new pipe. The bursting head and the new pipe are launched from the insertion pit, and the cable or pulling rod is pulled from the reception pit. The cable/rod pull together with the shape of the bursting head keeps the head following the existing pipe, and specially designed heads can help to reduce the effects of existing sags or misalignment on the new pipeline.

Pipebursting may also be used to increase a pipeline’s carrying capacity by replacing smaller pipes with larger pipes.  That’s known as “upsizing.” The gas and water industries have demonstrated the practicality of upsizing gas mains, water mains and sewer lines.

Still confused about pipe bursting? It’s fragmenting an underground pipe into smaller pieces with advanced equipment.  In short, pipe bursting is a simple as it sounds.

Not every plumbing contractor is a pipe-bursting contractor

A plumber who is experienced in fixing leaky drains, installing bathroom fixtures or unplugging toilets can go out and purchase trenchless plumbing equipment and read a few manuals. That may not be the contractor who you want to hire for a trenchless plumbing project. In the case of TrenchFree, trenchless plumbing is what we do. We named the company TrenchFree because trenchless plumbing is our exclusive specialty. We’ve done hundreds of trenchless plumbing jobs over the past seven years. If you need a showerhead replaced or a French drain cleaned out, we can recommend someone else.

There’s more involved than just bursting pipes though. A pipe bursting contractor should know more than just how to burst pipes. The pipe bursting contractor should also understand the infrastructure and environment of the pipe system. The contractor should be aware of geology, soil conditions, tree roots and other underground infrastructure, such as buried gas lines, underground electrical, telephone or fiber optic cables.

The pipe bursting equipment is deployed in such a manner that it should break the old pipe without destroying the hardscape or landscaping above the pipe line.

Should a pipe-bursting contractor know more than just how to replace a sewer line or underground water line?

To an extent, yes. A pipe bursting contractor — apart from being a good contractor — should also be aware of how the pipeline interacts with the overall plumbing system.

The contractor you choose should be familiar with modern pipe-bursting equipment and trenchless techniques. Your contractor should also understand of pipeline materials — terra cotta, iron and PVC — as well as soil types and soil conditions to make the pipe bursting go more smoothly and not interfere with or damage other underground infrastructure.

What makes TrenchFree™ a trenchless industry leader?

So what makes TrenchFree a good pipe bursting contractor? Experience, knowledge, specialization and commitment, as well as broad knowledge about piping systems, their purpose and function. If your project is in the San Francisco Bay Area, including the San Francisco peninsula, San Jose / Silicon Valley, or Oakland and the East Bay, please call 408.726.7926 to find out more about TrenchFree’s advanced trenchless plumbing, no-dig pipeline renewal options.

To find out more about TrenchFree’s trenchless plumbing and pipebursting services, visit TrenchFree.com or call 408.726.7926.