Pipe Bursting Provides Boon For Company Focused on Trenchless Solutions

After first having to demonstrate its effectiveness 13 years ago to local officials, A&A Construction and Utilities has built a business around pipe bursting

Pipe Bursting Provides Boon For Company Focused on Trenchless Solutions

A PD-33 pipe bursting system from Pow-R Mole Trenchless Solutions.

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More than a decade ago, a work crew at A&A Construction and Utilities put a Pow-R Mole PD-33 pipe bursting system through a rigorous, pressure-filled exam of sorts: a test run in front of local county officials who were skeptical about the trenchless technology.

A good performance could prompt those county officials to allow contractors to use pipe bursting technology. And the pipe bursting system, manufactured by Pow-R Mole Trenchless Solutions, aced the exam. 

“It all went very well,” says Jerome Stephens, owner and CEO of A&A Construction and Utilities, based in Pikesville, Maryland. “But the pressure was on. I still can feel it 13 years later. Our success on that job made it possible to use pipe bursting in that county — it opened up a whole new market for our company.”

That job exemplifies the value pipe bursting and directional boring systems bring to A&A Construction and Utilities, established in 1995. The company’s primary focus is trenchless rehab of commercial and residential waterlines and sewer lines, as well as installation of waterlines and sewer lines.

The company, which employs about 15 people and serves customers throughout Maryland, owns five Pow-R Mole directional boring machines (one model PD-2, two PD-4s and two PD-6s) and three pipe bursting systems (one PD-22 and two PD-33s).

“I’ve basically built a lot of my company’s reputation on Pow-R Mole equipment,” Stephens says. “We offer both directional boring and pipe bursting because you can’t call yourselves a trenchless company and have just one way to do jobs. When we say we’re going to do jobs trenchless, we really mean we’re going to do it trenchless.”

The test run for county officials 13 years ago was fraught with challenges. The failing 4-inch-diameter HDPE sewer line ran under a residence’s driveway from a road to a garage — about 80 or 90 feet in all. About halfway into the garage, the line took a 45-degree turn and traveled into the home, under a foyer. From there it took another 45-degree turn and eventually terminated in a half basement in the back of the house.

The total length of the pipe, which emerged from a foundation wall about 6 feet above the basement floor, was roughly 120 feet. The homeowner was extremely interested in pipe bursting because conventional opencut line replacement would have required breaking up the driveway and the garage floor, not to mention digging up the foyer inside the home.

The homeowner talked to county officials, who eventually agreed to let A&A Construction and Utilities replace the line through pipe bursting. But first the company had to offer a five-year guarantee, plus allow county engineers and the chief plumbing inspector to observe the job, Stephens says.

“Since the technology was still a bit new to us, we asked Pow-R Mole to send down one of its best guys to help us out,” he says.

To do the job, the crew used a PD-33 machine, which generates 30 tons of pulling force at a maximum rate of 6 feet per minute. The project required digging three holes: one at the property line by the road, one inside the garage and one in the basement wall. The first bursting “pull” started inside the basement and ended in the garage; then the crew turned around the machine and performed the second pull from the property line into the garage.

A clean-out was installed at the 45-degree turn under the garage. The project took the better part of a day, Stephens says.

He first started investing in Pow-R Mole equipment about 15 years ago when he decided to enter the market for trenchless pipe rehab.

“Opencut work is so much more involved — it’s both time- and labor-intensive,” he says, pointing out things like installation of trench boxes for safety, the excavation required, backfilling trenches with stone and compacting it, and so forth. “Pipe bursting usually is about the same price as open-trench installation. But we tip the scales and win jobs because the customer doesn’t have to hire a landscaper and a concrete or asphalt contractor to do repaving. There’s no added restoration expenses after the pipe is replaced.”

Stephens says he opted for Pow-R Mole’s product line because of its versatility.  

“You can do both water and sewer work with pretty much any machine,” he says. “Other machines we looked at could do waterlines, for instance, but couldn’t put sewer pipe on grade. So it made sense to invest in one machine that could do both. It was a no-brainer.”

Furthermore, the PD-4 and PD-6 directional boring machines can also do pipe bursting, increasing their versatility, he adds. In addition, the machines are well-designed and very durable.

“They’re made with a minimum of moving parts, and the less moving parts there are, the less problems you have. There just isn’t much that can break,” Stephens  says. “Their engineers really sat down and thought things out before they started making them.”

In pipe bursting, a conical-shaped device called a bursting head is pulled under extreme pressure through the host pipe that’s being replaced. The bursting head is larger than the host pipe, so it fractures the pipe as it passes through. At the same time, the bursting head tows a length of HDPE pipe that replaces the old pipe. During the process, new sections of pipe are fused onto the tail end as needed; A&A Construction and Utilities uses a pipe-fusing machine made by Connectra and McElroy. To find and inspect pipelines, the company relies on cameras and locators made by Vivax-Metrotech, plus one inspection system built by Hathorn.

At a cost of roughly $19,000 to $24,000, depending on the model, the Pow-R Mole pipe bursting systems represent a significant upfront capital cost. But the value they bring in terms of generating revenue makes them a worthwhile investment, Stephens says.

“We’ve built a business around them. They’ve more than paid for themselves.”   



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