Trenchless Pipe Bursting: Interview with Charlie Fisher of Ken-Way Excavating, Inc.
If you are an investor who buys homes built between the late 1940s and early 1970s, this video and article is for you. Do the terms “Orangeburg” and “fiber conduit pipe” resonate with you? The presence of these in your current or future rental properties could cost you a lot of money some day–upwards of $10K! Are you prepared to address this major expense, or more importantly, is this on your due diligence checklist so you can negotiate this repair while searching for properties? If not, you’ll want to keep reading!
In this interview, Jeri Frank, Co-founder and CEO of AssetRover, talks with Charlie Fisher, President of Ken-Way Excavating, Inc. Ken-Way has been in business since 1966. One of the company’s primary focuses is sewer replacements and installations (pipe bursting specifically), but they offer a lot of services from residential construction excavation, demolition, trucking, and hauling. They discuss Orangeburg pipe and a newer method of getting rid of it, called trenchless pipe bursting.
“Orangeburg was a pipe material that was used specifically between the late 1940s and the early 1970s post-World War II,” said Charlie Fisher, President of Ken-Way Excavating. “The building boom was growing after the war, steel products were very expensive so Orangeburg was utilized instead of cast iron or ductile iron pipe. It’s basically a resin pressed with wood pulp in layers so as that resin breaks down it starts to deteriorate.”
There’s a lot of Orangeburg still in the ground. Being proactive instead of reactive is the key here. When buying your investment property, it’s a smart idea to have the sewer system inspected to see if there is Orangeburg piping. This will need to be replaced soon, and you don’t want the seller to stick that responsibility to you.
Related: Home Sewer System Inspection
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Trenchless Pipe Bursting
Conventionally, a sewer pipe is removed the old fashioned way. Get in there with a backhoe and dig ‘er out of there! This isn’t always a very great idea of course, because a lot of older properties have new additions, garages, sheds, and trees where that old sewer pipe was trenched long ago. You’d hate to tear apart half of the property just to get your Orangeburg out of there.
Rather than ripping a Grand Canyon sized trench through your yard, there are much more delicate ways of removing Orangeburg. Trenchless pipe bursting it exactly what it sounds like–replace the old Orangeburg sewer pipe without having to physically dig it out. “Instead of excavating from the house all the way to the main where the tap is connected to the main, we can dig a pit at the connection at each end, and then use trenchless replacement between Point A and Point B,” said Charlie. “We’re actually utilizing the old Orangeburg line as our host pipe to run our tooling through the pipe to pull our new pipe in place.”
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How Pipe Bursting Works: A Step by Step
1) Start with the Televising and Locating of the Line
At this point, Charlie recommends that somebody televises the line. In the image above, the “televising” is performed by a robotic camera that is sent through the sewer line. This technology allows the technician to control the camera in multiple ways and take video of the interior of the pipe. From there, the line will be located. “[The crew] takes paint, they locate where it taps the main and they mark that tap connection. When we go to do our street cut, we know exactly where we need to dig,” said Charlie.
2) Determine if an Exterior or Interior Burst
It may not always be feasible to do an interior burst. If your Orangeburg pipe is in too poor of a condition, you may be out of luck when it comes to pipe bursting. “Once they allow [Orangeburg] to collapse we can’t use pipe bursting, and that’s why it’s important. If they do want to utilize that technology, we have to be able to get our tooling through the pipe as the host line,” said Charlie. “If we can’t get our tooling through the old Orangeburg line, pipe bursting is not an option.”
An interior burst makes a great deal of sense if the sewer line is difficult to excavate due to above ground structures. If you have retaining walls, decks, stoops, or sidewalks, the restoration can be costly. “When you do a conventional open-trench replacement, that restoration can be great because they have a mound of dirt that has to settle naturally before they can start to seed or sod.”
3) Excavate a pit at each end
Once the crew determines whether that pit needs to be interior or exterior, they excavate the pit in the home and excavate the pit on the street. Both ends are opened up so the pipe can be bursted through the old sewer line.
4) Pull the pipe through
First, a small cord is sent through the sewer line from the basement to the outside main. This cord is going to be tied to a larger steel braided winch cable in order to guide the winch cable back through the old sewer line. At the end of the steel braided winch cable, a conical-shaped bursting head (as shown in the image for Step #2) is attached to the new replacement (PVC) pipe that is slightly larger than the pipe itself.
Once the bursting head is attached to the PVC pipe and the winch cable is secured, a pipe bursting machine at the sewer main outside is connected. This is often connected via a hydraulic line to a backhoe loader or similar equipment that can operate hydraulic machinery. Little by little, the winch cable tightens and the new PVC pipe (with bursting head) radially expands the old Orangeburg pipe and works its way through the path of the old sewer pipe.
When it’s all said and done, the new pipe is in place and the intrusion is not visible from the surface. Check out our video at the top of the page to see more.
5) Make new connections, backfill, and restore
After new connections are made, the area is backfilled and restored to look like new again. The images above are a before and after comparison with the deep pit dug out at the street and the surfaces restored after job is complete.
If you would like more information, this video animation is a great illustration of the process.
Charlie sums it up well. “Typically, the worst jobs we encounter are the jobs where people were reactive versus proactive.” Getting your current rental property inspected for Orangeburg (if late 1940s – 1970) could save you a major mess down the road. If you wait too long, the pipe may collapse and you will be forced to dig an open trench. Early detection can allow you to take advantage of this great new technology called pipe bursting! Even better, if you are looking to buy an older rental property, make sure you know the condition of the sewer before signing at the dotted line. You definitely want to pass that repair bill over to the seller or get that worked out before purchasing!
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Charlie Fisher, President of Ken-Way Excavating, Inc., can be reached at 319-366-3667 or contacted by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. To learn more about this company online, visit www.kenwayex.com!
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[00:04] Jeri: Hello investors, my name is Jeri Frank and I am CEO and co-founder of AssetRover. Today I’m here with Charlie Fisher who is President of Ken-Way Excavating and Ken-Way Excavating has been in business since 1966. Welcome.
[00:18] Charlie: Thank you.
[00:20] Jeri: All right, so we first want just to find out a little bit more about Ken-Way Excavating and what services you provide.
[00:27] Charlie: Generally we try to be very diversified. As a company we offer a lot of services from small projects to large projects. One of our primary focuses is sewer replacements and installations (pipe bursting specifically), water services, installations and replacements, septic installations and replacements. We have crews that do residential construction excavation, commercial site utilities and building paths, site excavation. We perform demolition, trucking and hauling.
[00:56] Jeri: Wow! Long, long list. What exactly is Orangeburg and why do people need to be concerned about it?
[01:03] Charlie: Orangeburg was a pipe material that was used specifically between the late 1940s and the early 1970s post-World War II. The building boom was growing after the war, steel products were very expensive so Orangeburg was utilized instead of cast iron or ductile iron pipe. It’s basically a resin pressed with wood pulp in layers so as that resin breaks down it starts to deteriorate.
[01:31] Jeri: I know in some of the reading that I’ve done they’ve mentioned that it really has a lifespan of about 50 years. Now 50 years later it’s 2015 is there more in the ground?
[01:42] Charlie: There’s still a lot in the ground, we’re still getting calls on a daily basis. We still have a crew that does only Orangeburg replacement on a daily basis. It really depends on who lived in the home that had Orangeburg, how many people, what they used as far as water and detergents and soap. As those go through the sewer it deteriorates that resin and breaks it down faster.
[02:07] Jeri: How about outside conditions? Does the condition of the lawn have any kind of, or the yard have any kind of impact on that?
[02:14] Charlie: It definitely does in terms of the soil type. When they manufactured this product it was recommended that they bed the pipe very well. They found that when it was back-filled and the soil consolidated that it would cause pressure on the pipe and cause it to deform. Often times when we replace these sewers we find that they weren’t bed properly and it causes outside forces as well as the decomposing from the interior.
[02:44] Jeri: When you say ‘bed properly’ is it like should it be in sand, should it be in rock? Is there-
[02:50] Charlie: That’s what they recommended was bedding it in sand, something that keeps it from through the zone of the pipe.
[02:57] Jeri: Tell me about pipe bursting and the benefits of using that service?
[03:03] Charlie: Pipe bursting is a technology that’s been around for a very long time but it’s very new to our area in the Mid-west. Pipe bursting provides an alternative for replacement so instead of excavating from the house all the way to the main where the tap is connected to the main, we can dig a pit at the connection at each end, and then use trenchless replacement between point A and point B.
[03:29] Jeri: Can you tell us a little more about what is trenchless replacement?
[03:32] Charlie: Anytime that you excavate a ditch through somebody’s yard you’re opening up a trench. The conventional way to replace a sewer is with a backhoe and excavator and you dig that trench to expose the old sewer and put the new sewer in. When you’re using trenchless methods whether it’s boring or pipe bursting, you are replacing the pipe without digging that trench. With pipe bursting we open up a pit at the house to access the piping, and we open up a pit at the main and we’re actually utilizing the old Orangeburg line as our host pipe to run our tooling through the pipe to pull our new pipe in place. We don’t have to dig that trench in order to get the new pipe in place.
[04:20] Jeri: Then in terms of price is there a big savings or is there a difference in price between doing the traditional open-cut versus the pipe bursting method?
[04:31] Charlie: The cost of both procedures are very close to the same. The real savings is to the homeowner at the end in restoration. It saves them from having to replace retaining walls or decks, stoops, sidewalks, the grass. When you do a conventional open-trench replacement, that restoration can be great because they have a mound of dirt that has to settle naturally before they can start to seed or sod.
[05:01] Jeri: In terms of time is there a significant difference in time between doing the open-cut versus pipe bursting?
[05:08] Charlie: Pipe bursting is typically going to save time especially at the end of the job when the restoration takes place. When we leave that job can be over. If we pipe-burst from the interior of the house, the restoration is very minimal so it really saves the homeowner a lot of time at the end.
[05:30] Jeri: Let’s walk through a step-by-step process that you follow when you do a pipe bursting job.
[05:35] Charlie: From the beginning it needs to start with the televising of the line. At this point we recommend that somebody televises the line and also locates the line. By that I mean they take paint, they locate where it taps the main and they mark that tap connection. That way when we go to do our street cut we know exactly where we need to dig. Then we determine whether it needs to be an interior burst or an exterior burst. An interior is more favorable when there is stuff outside the house that cost additional money whether it’s a stoop, a deck, a retaining wall. Maybe we’re not able to dig right outside the house and that’s where the interior burst is more favorable.
[06:17] Charlie: The interior burst does add additional cost. It requires additional permits with the cities and it requires additional labor, but in some cases it’s still more economical to work from the interior versus the exterior. Once we determine whether that pit needs to be interior or exterior, we excavate that pit, we excavate the pit on the street, we open up both ends, we pull our pipe through, we make our new connections, and we backfill and restore the surfaces.
[06:48] Jeri: All told, it’s generally done in the scope of one day.
[06:53] Charlie: One day depending on pavement restoration, sometimes a day-and-a-half.
[06:58] Jeri: Is there any kind of cure period for any of the product?
[07:02] Charlie: Generally with the depths of our services and the size of our material, the cure period is very minimal. There is a short cure period that we wait before we make our reconnection.
[07:13] Jeri: Short period meaning?
[07:15] Charlie: A couple of hours.
[07:16] Jeri: Is there a warranty on the work that you do?
[07:19] Charlie: Anybody that’s insured and bonded with the cities are required to have a one-year warranty on their work. We offer a two-year warranty and typically if you’re going to have a problem with your sewer service or your water service, if there is problem it’s going to be relevant immediately.
[07:37] Jeri: Is there anything else you’d like to share that we didn’t cover throughout the rest of the questions?
[07:42] Charlie: The one thing I would recommend to homeowners is to be proactive versus reactive. Once they realize that they have Orangeburg and they realize that it’s deteriorating, it’s important to be on it. It’s important to get that mitigated as soon as possible. They may not be having problems but it’s easier to replace that pipe before it’s a problem. Once they collapse the Orangeburg and it’s backing up another house, now it’s a lot harder for us to do our job, and you have a mess inside your home.
[08:19] Jeri: Do you have a choice at that point if you want to do pipe bursting versus the open-cut?
[08:25] Charlie: Once they allow this to collapse we can’t use pipe bursting, and that’s why it’s important. If they do want to utilize that technology, we have to be able to get our tooling through the pipe as the host line. If we can’t get our tooling through the old Orangeburg line, pipe bursting is not an option.
[08:42] Jeri: Can you talk about the worst job that you ever encountered?
[08:46] Charlie: Typically the worst jobs we encounter are the jobs where people were reactive versus proactive. It creates a lot more mess for the guys in the field.
[08:54] Jeri: If they want to reach you how do they do that?
[08:57] Charlie: They can go on our website through the Contact Us page at www.kenwayex.com or they can call our phone number at 319-366-3667.
[09:08] Jeri: Okay great. Thank you.