While breaking and repairing the surface is one approach to adding pipes, cables and lines below a driveway, sidewalk or other surface, that method comes with extra labor, cost and challenges. Consider going below the surface by implementing one of the many methods of boring. There are many options for such a project, each with its own personnel requirements, space restrictions and budget.
With a larger budget and a bigger project — like a driveway or road surface — investing in a bigger piece of equipment might be the best option. But for a smaller project, such as installing landscape lighting wires under a sidewalk, consider a less invasive, more affordable option.
Four of the most common ways to bore under a paved surface include manual installation, directional drills, impact moles and earth drill boring.
1. Manual Installation Methods
For those with a lower budget, there are several simple options for boring without much equipment. Physically forcing a pipe through the ground with a sledgehammer and raw muscle power is one way. This method can be dangerous — think repetitive stress injuries, risk of slipping and hitting the operator, workers’ compensation claims, etc. It’s also labor-intensive, is limited when it comes to powering through rough material and can result in unlevel installation.
To improve safety during this method, make sure all workers are wearing protective gear and are aware of surroundings during the process.
Another manual method is using a pressure washer with a zero-degree nozzle to power through the ground. This method can result in cracking the sidewalk. It can also be extremely dangerous, as loose soil and rocks can fly out during the process. Similar to the sledgehammer method, you can reduce the risk of injury by wearing protective gear.
A third method — one that requires limited equipment — involves a duckbill shovel or spade. This labor-intensive method takes time, effort and often ends up with digging at awkward angles. Workers face the risk of injury from repetitive motion, and this method can greatly extend the length of time on the whole project.
2. Horizontal Directional Drilling
Horizontal directional drills are a better option for bigger projects — usually 100 ft. or more — that require installing pipe or cable. Their power, accuracy and improved safety make them a more attractive choice over manual methods.
However, at a cost of upwards of $90,000 and weighing at least 3,000 lbs., directional drills can be a large investment and difficult to maneuver. The scope of the project and the use of the drill requires a small team to safely maneuver the drill to get the job done. But if a machine is available to rent, it might be a realistic option for occasional projects.
Although their advanced technologies skyrocket the prices, compact directional drills offer an easier to use product. They weigh less than large directional drills and require fewer people. Along with that, their compact size lessens the damage to established landscaping.
3. Impact Moles
Impact moles, also known as piercing tools or simply “moles,” are commonly used to bore under highways and larger paved surfaces. An air compressor activates the mole head, which hammers its way through the material.
Moles are accurate and available in a variety of diameters, but their price tag is often off-putting for those with a smaller budget. While they are smaller and less expensive than directional drills, they can still be costly to buy or rent.
Moles also usually take two or more people to operate — in addition to requiring multiple steps and time for assembly — making them a hassle for a smaller projects.
4. Earth Drill Boring Kits
Some manufacturers offer attachments that turn standard mechanical earth drills into versatile horizontal boring machines. The attachments take on smaller projects, such as boring under sidewalks and driveways, and are easy for one person to operate. Earth drills can then be used for installing conduit, pipe and irrigation systems.
Besides being easier to operate than many alternative methods, the cost of a horizontal boring kit is also considerably lower than many other equipment options.
Another benefit of these attachments is that they’re lightweight and easy to maneuver. This makes them suitable for use in residential areas. The drills enable operators to install underground sprinkler systems and run lighting in half the time and with less effort compared to using a sledgehammer to drive the pipe under the pavement. Perhaps most notable is the ergonomic use of an auger compared to a more manual process.
Some manufacturers offer two types of horizontal boring kits: dry auger kits and wet drilling kits. The dry kits are designed for creating small bores up to 5 ft. long. The wet drilling kits are used for lengths up to 50 ft.
While the ideal time to install something under a sidewalk, driveway or other surface is before paving, that’s not always an option. With a variety of horizontal boring options available, there’s certainly a method suited for each project. No matter which one is used, they are all more attractive than tearing up and replacing an existing paved surface.
Mike Hale is sales and marketing manager at Little Beaver Inc.