Explaining Microtrenching: A Modern Approach to Installing Subsurface Utilities

Explaining Microtrenching: A Modern Approach to Installing Subsurface Utilities

In the rapidly evolving world of infrastructure development, the installation of subsurface utilities has been a critical, yet challenging task.

Traditional methods often involve extensive excavation, leading to disruptions in daily life and significant environmental impact. Enter microtrenching, a modern technique that promises to revolutionize the way we lay down utility lines, including fiber-optic cables, water pipes, and gas lines.

What is Microtrenching?

Microtrenching is a construction method used to install subsurface utilities with minimal surface disruption. This technique involves cutting a narrow trench, typically 1 to 4 inches wide and up to 24 inches deep, along the roadway or sidewalk. The utility lines are then laid in this trench, which is subsequently filled with a quick-setting compound, restoring the surface to its original condition. The process is fast, efficient, and less invasive compared to traditional trenching methods.

Yellow cable being laid into a microtrench.
Unlike traditional trenching, microtrenching’s narrow cuts mean less damage to roads, sidewalks, and landscaping.

Pros of Microtrenching

Reduced Surface Disruption

One of the most significant advantages of microtrenching is the minimal disruption it causes to the surface. Unlike conventional trenching, which often requires wide and deep excavations, microtrenching's narrow cuts mean less damage to roads, sidewalks, and landscaping. This results in fewer inconveniences for residents and businesses, as well as reduced restoration costs.


Microtrenching is generally more cost-effective than traditional methods. The reduced need for excavation and surface restoration translates to lower labor and material costs. Additionally, the speed of the process means that projects can be completed faster, further reducing overall expenses.

Faster Deployment

The speed of microtrenching is a significant advantage, especially for projects with tight deadlines. The process allows for the rapid deployment of utilities, making it an ideal solution for areas requiring quick upgrades or installations, such as expanding broadband networks.

Less Environmental Impact

Microtrenching is considered more environmentally friendly than traditional trenching methods. The smaller trenches mean less soil disturbance and a lower risk of damaging tree roots or disrupting habitats. Additionally, the reduced need for heavy machinery results in lower emissions and a smaller carbon footprint.

Cons of Microtrenching

Limited Depth

One of the drawbacks of microtrenching is the limited depth of the trenches. This can be problematic for utilities that require deeper installation for protection or regulatory reasons. In such cases, traditional trenching methods may still be necessary.

Risk of Damage

Microtrenches are often cut close to the surface, which can increase the risk of utility lines being damaged by future construction work or heavy traffic. This can lead to costly repairs and service disruptions.

Weather Sensitivity

The success of microtrenching is heavily dependent on weather conditions. Wet or freezing weather can hinder the setting of the fill material, leading to delays and potential trench collapse. Proper planning and timing are crucial to avoid these issues.

Compatibility with Existing Infrastructure

In areas with dense existing underground utilities, microtrenching can be challenging. The narrow trenches leave little room for error, and the risk of accidentally cutting into existing lines is higher. Detailed surveys and precise cutting techniques are required to mitigate this risk.

Microtrenching offers a promising solution for the installation of subsurface utilities, with its reduced surface disruption, cost-effectiveness, faster deployment, and lower environmental impact. However, it's not without its drawbacks, including limited trench depth, increased risk of damage, weather sensitivity, and compatibility issues with existing infrastructure.

Three GPRS Project Managers holding utility locating devices.
GPRS offers a comprehensive suite of utility locating and mapping services designedto keep your projects on time, on budget, and safe.

How GPRS Can Help You Mitigate Risk During Microtrenching

Anytime you’re breaking ground, there’s a risk of damaging existing subsurface infrastructure.

The average cost of a utility strike to a facility is $56,000 and as much as eight weeks of downtime.

And that doesn’t consider the damage a utility strike does to your reputation, or the potential danger it puts your workers in.

GPRS’ utility locating services mitigate the risk of subsurface damage during microtrenching by ensuring you have a comprehensive, accurate map of the buried infrastructure on your job site.

While contractors and excavators are required by law to contact their state’s 811 one-call service to obtain the estimated location of all public utilities on their site before digging, it’s important to remember that 811 contractors do not locate private utilities, which make up roughly 60% of all subsurface infrastructure. Hiring a professional utility locating service like GPRS is an essential step to keeping your microtrenching projects on time, on budget, and safe.

What can GPRS help you visualize? Click below to schedule a service or request a quote today!

Frequently Asked Questions

What is microtrenching?

Microtrenching is a construction technique used to install subsurface utilities, such as fiber-optic cables, water pipes, and gas lines, with minimal surface disruption. It involves cutting a narrow trench, typically 1 to 4 inches wide and up to 24 inches deep, along the roadway or sidewalk, and then laying the utility lines in this trench.

How does microtrenching differ from traditional trenching?

Microtrenching is less invasive than traditional trenching methods. Traditional trenching often requires wide and deep excavations, causing significant surface disruption and requiring extensive restoration. Microtrenching, on the other hand, involves cutting a much narrower and shallower trench, resulting in less damage to the surface and quicker restoration.

Is microtrenching suitable for all types of utility installations?

Microtrenching is best suited for the installation of shallow utilities, such as fiber-optic cables. It may not be suitable for utilities that require deeper installation or in areas with complex underground infrastructure.

How long does a microtrenching project typically take?

The duration of a microtrenching project can vary depending on the length of the trench, the type of utility being installed, and local conditions. However, one of the advantages of microtrenching is its speed compared to traditional trenching methods, allowing for faster project completion.

How is the risk of damaging existing underground utilities managed during microtrenching?

To minimize the risk of damaging existing underground utilities, detailed utility mapping should be conducted before microtrenching begins. Precise cutting techniques and equipment are used to ensure the trench is cut accurately and safely.