Sewer Pipe Types: Clay, Iron, Plastic, Orangeburg

  • 01 of 05

    Types of Sewer Pipe

    Plastic Sewer Pipe
    Plastic Sewer Pipe. Luis Díaz Devesa / Getty Images

    After you dig your yard looking for your sewer pipe, what will you find?  Often, but not always, it varies by the age of your house. 

    Older Homes:  Clay and Cast-Iron

    In older properties, you might find clay, cast-iron, and even plastic sewer pipe.

    Clay and cast-iron are older types and will remain in the ground as long as they are still working.  If an older sewer pipe is still carrying waste with no leakage, there is no reason to replace it.  

    Just because a house is old does not mean that it will...MORE not have plastic sewer pipe. As the years wear on, sewer systems deteriorate.  When replacement happens, it will happen with plastic pipe.

    Newer Homes:  Mainly Plastic But Often Clay or Iron

    The reverse may be true, also:  finding older cast-iron or clay sewer lines at a new house.  

    The new house (and even some remodeled houses) will often have new pipe within the house envelope itself and extending a few feet into the yard.  But then the old sewer pipe will pick up again and continue all the way to the city sewer main.

    You may find yourself being steered in the direction of PVC or ABS plastic pipe over clay and cast-iron.

    While the plastic pipe is undoubtedly easier to work with, clay and iron have strong points, such as long lifespan and strength (for the iron).

    Continue to 2 of 5 below.
  • 02 of 05

    Clay Sewer Pipe

    Clay Sewer Pipe
    Clay Sewer Pipe. © Lee Wallender

    Vitrified clay sewer pipe is still laid today, though as a DIY homeowner you probably will not be choosing this for your sewer line replacement.

    Clay pipe is heavy and hard to cut. Often, your choice of sewer pipe is dictated by what your home improvement store has on hand, and they will not have clay pipe in stock.

    Major clay pipe manufacturer Logan Clay notes that clay pipe is "inert," making it highly resistant to chemical degradation. After all, if you are going to be installing a...MORE product in the earth, what better than a direct product of the earth?

    While clay pipe may seem archaic, it is a viable form of sewer pipe.

    Two downsides of clay sewer pipe:

    • Roots love to attach to its porous surface.
    • It can break.
    Continue to 3 of 5 below.
  • 03 of 05

    Cast-Iron Sewer Pipe

    Cast-Iron Sewer Pipe
    Cast-Iron Sewer Pipe. © Lee Wallender

    Like clay pipe, cast-iron sewer pipe is associated with older homes but is still installed today.

    Cast iron pipe is incredibly strong: a 4" sewer pipe can withstand 4,877 pounds of pressure per linear foot. By contrast, you can barely stand on ABS or PVC pipe without it breaking (don't test this out).

    Like clay pipe, cast-iron is heavy and difficult for a DIYer to cut. To cut a cast-iron DWV pipe in place--in the ground--you need a soil pipe cutter. These pipe cutters run $400-$500, though can be...MORE rented from supply houses for a small fee.

    Cast iron pipe is non-flammable. This is not an issue for below-ground installations; but should you decide to continue the cast-iron into the house, you can feel secure knowing that cast-iron pipe will not melt in a fire.

    Continue to 4 of 5 below.
  • 04 of 05

    Plastic Sewer Pipe - PVC and ABS

    Plastic Sewer Pipe
    Plastic Sewer Pipe. © Lee Wallender; licensed to About.com

    Plastic sewer pipe for underground installations is available in both ABS and PVC.

    Both types of pipe have smooth interiors for excellent carrying capacity of solid waste matter. The smooth exteriors also help resist root anchorage.

    Plastic pipe can be tied into older pipe.

    Continue to 5 of 5 below.
  • 05 of 05

    Orangeburg Sewer Pipe

    Orangeburg Pipe
    Orangeburg Pipe. Via: SewerHistory.org. DPW, City of Orangeburg, SC. Courtesy William Zorn. Photo: Jan McDonald.

    Flawless, pristine Orangeburg sewer pipe is not something you often see in real life.

    That is because you typically find it in a collapsed state after you dig up your malfunctioning sewer line.

    Fiber conduit pipe (its proper name) was "made of ground cellulose (wood) fibers bound together with a special water resistant adhesive, and, thereafter, impregnated with liquefied coal tar pitch," according to SewerHistory.org.

    Lightweight, it was easy for plumbers to carry. Brittle, it was easy for them to...MORE cut with regular carpenter's saws.

    But like today's PVC and ABC pipe, it had a tendency to collapse. Thus, the pipe had to be properly bedded in sand and pea gravel to reduce stress on the pipe.