Badger Underground Aims High with Compact Drill

Boring 80 ft. up a bluff is just another day on this residential trenchless utility contractor's busy schedule

Badger Underground used a Grundodrill 4X compact directional drill to complete a difficult gas, water and sewer line installation in Oconomowoc, WI. The homeowners wanted a trenchless application that would not disturb extensive landscaping.
Badger Underground used a Grundodrill 4X compact directional drill to complete a difficult gas, water and sewer line installation in Oconomowoc, WI. The homeowners wanted a trenchless application that would not disturb extensive landscaping.

Badger Underground, Milwaukee, WI, has been servicing Milwaukee and surrounding communities for over 15 years since owner Jeff Proell started the company in 1996 as an offshoot of his father's company, Badger Plumbing. Significant investments in trenchless technologies, including compact directional drilling equipment, have distinguished the firm's service.

"Whenever possible, we try to utilize trenchless repair and replacement technology for water lines and sewer laterals, in order to minimize the need for long-ranging excavation and concrete and asphalt intrusion," says Proell. "Time saved on excavation, teardown, and backfilling and patching makes trenchless a more cost-effective solution to traditional sewer repair. We can complete a trenchless sewer repair in a few hours, which ultimately saves homeowners money."

Badger Underground began developing its trenchless repertoire with piercing tools and a lateral pipe bursting system.

"Piercing tools and the lateral bursting system work well for certain projects, but service installations less than 200 ft. prompted an interest in smaller drill rigs," Proell notes. "These smaller drills have impressive capabilities and can operate in tight working conditions and sensitive areas."

For water services and certain sewer lateral installations, Proell uses a Grundodrill 4X compact directional drill rig from TT Technologies.

Compact Drilling Capabilities

Compact directional drills are made for shorter, smaller-diameter installations in tight working conditions, such as residential water and sewer work and last-mile fiber optic cable installation. Drill capability keeps improving, even as manufacturers make them easier to use.

With mini drills offering as much as 9,200 lbs. of thrust and pullback, the machines can accomplish a broad array of installations. In addition to water services, Proell uses his compact drill for sanitary sewer lateral installations.

Compact drills can be transported on a trailer pulled by a pickup truck and require minimal crews to operate. TT Technologies' 4X rides on steel track with bonded rubber pads that offer traction and durability while minimizing damage to concrete and turf, which is important in residential settings.

The 4X's computerized Smart Vice automates vice cycling during drill-stem makeup and breakdown. A single button controls the function, which helps speed bore times. The vice is also self-centering, reducing wear and tear. The operator can return to manual control with a flip of a switch.

Drilling Proves to Be Quick Work

Proell has noticed that the general public's knowledge of trenchless methods has increased significantly.

"We've been using a compact directional drill for about six years now. During that time we've seen the awareness level of the general customer of trenchless technologies, specifically directional drilling, increase," he notes. "When people find out they need to replace their water service or convert from a well to city offered service, they actually call us and ask if we do directional drilling. That's a big change from even just a few years ago."

The Badger Underground crew typically does several well conversions each week -- sometimes more depending upon the project and the time of year. Typically, water-service installations average between 75 and 200 ft. in length at depths reaching 9 ft. They often have to drill from the lot line, under house footings, to the back of the home to make the connections.

Services are usually 1 1/2 in. in diameter. Installation includes a pilot bore, followed by the product pullback. Soil conditions vary greatly but Proell has yet to encounter conditions he could not overcome.

For a recent project in Oconomowoc, Wis., Badger Underground was contracted to install gas, water and sewer lines. "We needed to drill from a boathouse on the property, up a small bluff and tie the utilities into the home's existing systems," Proell notes. " The jobsite was difficult to access and we needed to grade a path in order to reach the boathouse location. In addition, the home featured a significant patio area and extensive landscaping that the homeowner wanted undisturbed."

Once crews were able to maneuver the Grundodrill 4X to the drill site and prep for drilling, the pilot bore -- approximately 80 ft. up the bluff and into the basement of the home -- was under way. After backreaming was completed using a 5-in. backreamer, the Badger Underground crews connected a collar to the drill stem, attached the 1.5-in. force sewer line, 1.25-in. water service and a 1-in. gas service (all HDPE) and installed all three in a single pull. The entire installation was completed in one day.