When choosing materials for sewer pipe installation, the main word you’ll hear is “lifespan”. Most contractors are (rightly) concerned with how long the materials will be able to withstand natural conditions. While that’s an important standard, there are other factors that determine what makes a great material for sewer pipes.
The common materials used are concrete, steel, clay, and plastic (HDPE and PVC). We’ll explain the benefits and drawbacks for each, so you can be best informed for your next project. No matter what material is used, you’ll want to make sure it’s consistent throughout the process.
For example, using concrete manholes with plastic sewer pipes could make for a difficult installation. By using similar products, the process will remain consistent, and connecting everything together will be easier. It will also make for easier maintenance as you won’t need to think about different steps when servicing the line.
High-density polyethylene (HDPE) and polyvinyl chloride (PVC) are two different materials, yet they contain many similarities when discussing sewer pipe applications. For that reason, we’ll refer to both as just “plastic.” Plastic is one of the first options when it comes to buried infrastructure like sewer pipes because of its ease of use.
Plastic is a preferred piping material given its lightweight, long life span (50-100 years) and ability to be procured in different lengths. Transporting 100 feet of plastic pipe is much easier than concrete or steel because of the weight. Loading and unloading is also a snap compared to heavier materials.
Best of all, it is a practical material for earthquake-prone areas, such as the Pacific Northwest. Plastic pipes also require fewer joints because the pipes can be built longer. Fewer joints mean fewer connections points and fewer chances of leaks or other complications.
They are slightly difficult to maintain, though, as they require frequent performance checks. While plastic can be made quite strong, it just can’t match the strength of concrete or steel, depending on what kind of weight will be applied from above. Also, plastic isn’t built to withstand high heat, which can make it susceptible to bending or warping.
Clay is more common with old installations than they are with new projects. It isn’t used too often these days. These pipes are resistant to chemicals and erosion, a natural by-product from being glazed and vitrified. It’s also cheaper than steel and iron and has one of the longest lifespans of any material.
Lifespan and durability are two different qualities, though. Clay can crack easily which allows the intrusion of foreign objects. In many older neighborhoods, where clay pipes have been used extensively, tree roots become a huge problem. Because clay is becoming less prevalent in buried infrastructure, it can be difficult maintaining, repairing, and replacing sections.
Steel is a more popular material for water piping, but can also be used for sewer pipes. Their main benefit is their strength, durability, and resistance to buildup and corrosion. There are two main kinds of steel pipes – cast iron and galvanized iron.
While steel is a popular choice for sewer applications, there are drawbacks to this material. Even though steel is strong, it’s also susceptible to rust, which shortens the lifespan of the pieces. Which means more repair and replacement.
Because of this, steel is the most expensive of all of these materials, not to mention how expensive it is to create the pipes in the first place. Additionally, steel is much heavier than plastic, so smaller lengths are required. More lengths mean more joints which could mean more leaks.
Concrete is the go-to choice for many contractors. For buried infrastructure, concrete is made to last for a century with very little service or maintenance. It is resistant to rot, can be used in any situation, and is readily available. Concrete is also widely used throughout the line, including catch basins and manholes. This is a big help during installation.
Concrete is also eco-friendly. Because it lasts so long with little to degradation, there isn’t a need to replace the pieces as often. Concrete is also made with natural and raw materials. This is a huge plus as municipalities look for ways to be environmentally conscious.
Concrete does require regular maintenance though, in order to limit buildup that occurs from sewage material. This can be done with regular inspections, though. They are also susceptible to breaking when handled, so they must be installed with care and the proper equipment.
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