Trenching vs. Boring to Install Underground Utilities

Close up construction trench with electrical wires
Both trenching and boring have distinct advantages and disadvantages, so the decision of which to use will ultimately boil down to your budget and the layout of your property. (DepositPhotos)

Before you hire a contractor to install underground utilities, you should know there are two primary ways to carve utility lines: trenching and directional boring.

Which is right for you depends on several factors, including your price range, the layout of your property and any obstacles that might stand in the way of installation.

To help you understand your options, here’s a guide to the differences between trenching and boring.

Advantages of Trenching

A trench dug in the earth
A trench dug in the earth. (DepositPhotos)

Trenching is exactly what it sounds like: contractors dig trenches of varying length and depth to clear space for pipelines or conduits to be laid.

Perhaps the biggest advantage of traditional trenching is that it’s significantly cheaper than directional boring so long as your property is relatively open.

If you live in a state where a layer of sand is required to be laid beneath all natural gas lines, trenching is also the smarter choice, as this rule is easy to comply with using trenching, but impossible with directional boring.

Further Reading: Gas-Powered Trenchers for Your Yard

Disadvantages of Trenching

If pavement, concrete or large boulders need to be torn out before trenches can be dug, the price of trenching can increase dramatically.

Water can also make trenching extremely difficult, which is why heavy rains tend to slow the process and why trenching beneath a stream or river is nearly impossible.

But perhaps the most significant downside of trenching is its environmental impact: not only can the trench-digging process disturb surrounding surface ecosystems, but it can also pollute groundwater.


Advantages of Boring

Directional boring
A directional boring machine installs 4inch conduit. (DepositPhotos)

Directional boring is a process during which contractors drill boreholes along a pre-planned underground route to create space for utility lines.

Because this process doesn’t require trenches, it’s usually the smarter choice if your property features obstacles like concrete, pavement or pre-existing utility lines.

Boring is also much more environmentally friendly than trenching, as clean boreholes don’t disturb ecosystems and there’s no risk of groundwater pollution.

It’s also the safer process — about 60 people die from trenching accidents in the U.S. each year, while directional boring doesn’t tend to cause any casualties.

Disadvantages of Boring

The primary disadvantage of boring is price; unless your property features a multitude of obstacles to remove, boring is going to be more expensive.

You should also know that if the ground beneath your property has many large rocks of different types and densities, boring can be almost as difficult as trenching, although you can hire rock-boring contractors that specialize in these types of assignments.

Additionally, the heavy equipment used for directional boring can flatten ground on your property and potentially damage your lawn; in some cases, grass may need to be re-sown.

Both trenching and boring come with distinct advantages and disadvantages, so the decision of which to use will ultimately boil down to your budget and the layout of your property.

If you’re unsure of which process is best for your property, you can always contact different contractors to get expert opinions and price estimates.

In the end, the most important thing is that your utility lines are installed correctly without damaging your property or burning a hole in your wallet.

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