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Dry utility installation – a term which at its most basic refers to the setting up of utility services other than water – plays a significant part in modern essential infrastructure. There are varying methods involved in dry utility installation, and this guide looks at perhaps the two main approaches: trenching and directional boring. In the main, we will be looking to differentiate them on the basis of pros, cons, and the scenarios in which each is best suited.

Trenching method

Trenching is a well-used method that involves the digging of a continuous open pit – or, more familiarly, a trench. Within this trench, the installation team lays utility lines for gas, electricity, fiber broadband, or another utility. This method of installation is straightforward and guarantees simple access to the utilities concerned.


  • Trenching offers a direct route for utilities
  • Because of the open access, it is much easier to detect and fix issues promptly and thoroughly.


  • It can be disruptive to activities on the surface, causing traffic diversions and negatively affecting landscapes.
  • It may cause environmental disturbances, including damage to local habitats and ecosystems

Best-suited use cases

  • Trenching is best suited in areas with minimal surface activities. Installations on private property, away from busy roads and with few neighboring businesses are particularly well suited.
  • Short-distance installations. Digging a trench involves a lot of displacement of earth, and it is always advisable to keep this to a minimum – particularly considering that the earth has to be reset afterward.

Directional boring method

Directional boring is sometimes also known as horizontal directional drilling, and does not involve the digging of a trench. Utilities are instead installed via a drilled path, with minimal disturbance on the surface as a result.


  • It is significantly less disruption to activities on the surface such as traffic and commerce.
  • Environmentally friendly – far less soil is removed, fewer habitats disturbed, and an easier tidy-up.
  • With greater directionality, there is a better chance to navigate around obstacles.


  • There is a greater requirement for specialized equipment and the work needs to be carried out by more experienced, skilled workers.
  • An increased, although still minimal if done correctly, risk for causing damage to other buried infrastructure.

Best-suited use cases

  • Urban areas with a lot of activity on the surface, such as retail zones or high-density residential or mixed-use accommodations.
  • Environmentally sensitive areas.
  • Long-distance installations which may run the length of a street or block.

Comparison of trenching and directional boring

While, on the face of it, both trenching and directional boring meet the same purpose, the way they approach that purpose differs in numerous ways. While trenching, an open-cut method, is more disruptive, it does offer more direct access. Directional boring, as a trenchless technique, keeps the disruption on the surface to a bare minimum. Choosing between the two will tend to take account of the factors around a specific job. These can include location, budget, distance, and exterior environmental concerns.

As examples of where each method would work best, a small town that needs to upgrade its electrical infrastructure may opt for trenching, because the main street carries minimal traffic and offers easy access. While a city looking to install fiber-optic broadband for improved internet connectivity may choose to go with directional boring because there is a busy, traffic-laden commercial zone with a protected park.

Note that these installations aren’t without their objections. In the case of the small town, business owners may not appreciate open trenches in front of their businesses. While city stakeholders may not like the minimal risk of infrastructure damage posed by directional boring. Nonetheless, these objections are there to be managed and the jobs will need to be done with care and minimal disruption to assuage them. Few approaches are ever 100 percent problem-free.

Selecting a dry utility installation technique

Trenching and directional boring are like tools for a job – both have their use cases in which they provide definite benefits while also presenting some challenges. The key for anyone having to choose one of these methods is to balance the specific requirements of the project with the method that fits best. Based on efficiency, impact, and cost-effectiveness, the right decision should suggest itself. While the challenges inherent to each method don’t fully disappear even when it is the right choice to make, the compromise should be fairly simple to decide upon when you have the facts available to you.

If you require expert guidance for a dry utility installation job, simply call Muller at 703-560-4040 or contact us through our website, and we’ll offer the assistance you need.