Types of sewer & drain pipes

Written by will gish
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Types of sewer & drain pipes
Each type of sewer and drain pipe offers its own benefits and drawbacks. (Stockbyte/Stockbyte/Getty Images)

Sewer and drainage pipes perform a function largely obscured from public view. They sit beneath roads, houses, bridges, and the earth to ensure that highways stay dry, rivers don't rise too high, and basements don't flood. There is a huge industry built around the pipes, with companies and trade organisations fighting to promote different types of pipe, from concrete to corrugated polythene. Promoters of each type vie for government and real estate contracts.

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Concrete sewer and drainage pipes are sturdy and durable. A very unsubtle photograph on one website shows a massive concrete pipe literally crushing steel, polythene, and PVC pipes. One major benefit of concrete pipes is that they are both the conduit and the pipe itself; by comparison, a corrugated steel pipe may be laid into a foundation of concrete. In that situation, concrete is the conduit, corrugated steel the pipe. Another benefit of concrete is that it does not burn.

Corrugated Steel

Corrugated steel pipes are commonly used beneath bridges and in culverts and storm sewers. A common municipal application is in storm sewers beneath highways in the centre of towns and cities, where pipes prevent flooding or otherwise overly wet conditions. According to the National Corrugated Steel Pipe Association, corrugated steel is the least costly of all major pipe types and has the lowest installation costs. Corrugated steel is significantly lighter than concrete. Therefore, it can be fashioned into much larger segments without worry of it being too heavy to lift or manoeuvre.

Corrugated Polyethylene

Corrugated polythene is a commonly used sewer and drainage pipe material. Pipes of this type are made of a durable plastic that is purported to have excellent joint integrity, meaning that the segments of pipe fit together in such a manner that liquids do not leak. According to the Corrugated Drainage Pipe Association, corrugated polythene is lighter and more cost effective in the long term than both concrete and steel. While corrugated steel pipes are less costly to manufacture they are prone to rust and corrosion, and therefore must be replaced more frequently than polythene pipes.


PVC (polyvinyl chloride plastic) pipes are used in a number of drainage operations. Unlike corrugated steel, concrete, and corrugated polythene, PVC pipes are useful in both small and large-scale operations, from creating irrigation systems for gardens and small farms to municipal sewage projects. According to online resource Engineers Toolbox, PVC pipes are used for home or building sewers, storm sewers, septic tank drains and leaching systems, subsoil drains, and municipal sewer mains. PVC pipes are commonly available in diameters of 3, 4, and 6 inches, and are thus significantly smaller than the competition and more appropriate for residential use.

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