Contractor Gets Creative to Solve Tricky Trenchless Pipe Rehab

When it comes to tackling challenging work, take a lesson from how Illinois’ American Trenchless Technologies handled a job dubbed ‘the impossible trenchless repair’

Contractor Gets Creative to Solve Tricky Trenchless Pipe Rehab

Mark Carpenter

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One thing Mark Carpenter loves about trenchless pipeline rehab is helping customers avoid the extreme disruption and high cost of traditional sewer line repairs. But another factor trips his trigger, too: He enjoys a good challenge.

That’s exactly what the co-owner of American Trenchless Technologies, based in DeKalb, Illinois, ran into several years ago when a customer called with a big problem: a sewer line so badly broken that employees dubbed it “the impossible trenchless repair.”

The customer had torn down an old home and was building a larger new one. But before connecting the home to an existing sewer lateral, it had to be inspected, according to city regulations. The inspection revealed a severely deteriorated, roughly 50-foot-long section of 6-inch-diameter clay pipe. (A video of the inspection posted on YouTube has almost 475,000 views.)

“The line was almost fully clogged with mud and broken pieces of clay tile,” Carpenter says. “Parts of the top and side were busted out. We looked at the video and wondered how we would ever be able to line it, because using a water jetter to clear the line would collapse the whole thing.”

To make it worse, the sewer line ran under a two-lane state highway, with the mainline on the far side of the roadway. That meant Carpenter would need to get a permit from the Illinois Department of Transportation to dig up the highway — a process that can take months. Carpenter estimates that excavating to replace the section of pipe would cost $30,000 or more. 

The dilemma spurred Carpenter into MacGyver mode. Instead of using a water jetter, he affixed a “fire nozzle” to a 1-inch-diameter PEX pipe and went to work. The nozzle created a spray pattern wide enough and just powerful enough to move debris forward, while the PEX was stiff enough to push the nozzle through, he says.

It took about two days of delicate maneuvering to clear the debris. Then he used a lining machine from Perma-Liner Industries to shoot a structural felt liner through the damaged section of pipe, under the highway and into the mainline.

The total lining time was a matter of minutes, not including ambient-curing time. The total cost rang in between $6,000 and $7,000. Customer satisfaction? Off the charts, Carpenter says.

“Things come up every day in this business and you’ve got to be able to figure them out. Sometimes you definitely need to be creative,” he says. “Every job is a little different, just like snowflakes. But that’s what my guys and I like about it.”


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