clay or terra cotta sewer pipes

Clay or Terra Cotta Sewer Pipes

Many of the earliest plumbing systems were made with clay sewer pipes. The first known example of clay pipes dates back to 4000 BCE. In fact, clay remained a popular material for city plumbing and drainage systems through the 1900s.

Clay was so popular because it was made from natural products and because it is largely unaffected by the corrosive nature of wastewater.

When Did They Stop Using Clay Sewer Pipes?

Clay sewer pipes, also called terra cotta sewer pipes, began being replaced by plastic sewer pipes in the 1960s. Advancements in plastic pipes provided more durable, reliable, lightweight, and flexible options such as ABS and PVC. It wasn’t long before these plastic materials replaced clay sewer pipes as the standard.

Although most don’t use clay anymore, a modern form of vitrified clay is used today in some cases. Because it combines shale with the clay and is cured at a very high temperature (2000 degrees), the clay becomes a ceramic. And clay is naturally inert, meaning it’s resistant to corrosion from chemicals in your wastewater. The combination makes it a viable type of clay pipe material for your sewer lines.

clay or terra cotta sewer pipes - vitrified clay sewer pipe (VCP)
A modern type of clay pipe, VCP (vitrified clay pipe), is an option for use in sewers because it is inert and hardened in 2000-degree temperatures. However, plastics are far more common for most applications.

How Long Do Clay Sewer Pipes Last?

If you have a modern home built in the 1980s or more recently, you likely don’t have clay or terra cotta sewer pipes. More good news is that clay pipes, when not broken by tree roots or soil movement, can last about 100 years.

If your house is nearing 80 years old, have a plumber with camera inspection capabilities inspect your pipe for wear and tear. It’s likely that it’s getting near the end of its life and will need to be replaced soon with the appropriate plastic material.

We advise you to take this recommendation seriously. A broken or blocked sewer pipe can cost you thousands of dollars in water damages and restoration.

Cons of Clay Sewer Pipes

Modern-day clay sewer pipes are challenging to work with. The process to create terra cotta pipes is extensive. Here are the three biggest disadvantages of clay or terra cotta sewer pipes:

  1. Clay pipes need to be air-dried for 24 hours and then fired in a kiln for 50 hours to create a ceramic-like product. This makes terra cotta sewer pipes difficult to work with.
  2. Due to their heavy weight and fragility, they are expensive to transport. This makes them more expensive than plastic pipes.
  3. Over time, the ground will move and shift, creating cracks and eventually breaking the clay sewer pipe. These cracks release moisture, which tends to attract tree roots.  Roots of trees can easily wreak havoc on terra cotta sewer pipes!
Excavated terracota sewer pipe that is broken and made out of clay
The entirety of this clay sewer (or terra cotta) sewer pipe was excavated and replaced due to multiple broken pieces.

When to Repair or Replace your Clay or Terra Cotta Sewer Pipes

There are things you can watch for to let you know it may be time to have your clay sewer pipes inspected for repair or replacement.  

  • Foul odor or standing water in your yard 
  • Gurgling sounds coming from the pipes in your home
  • Drain back ups

If your clay sewer pipes are clogged, a plumber may be able to open them with a drain machine or with a hydro jet. 

A drain machine may be a good solution for clearing blockages such as paper, build-ups, or foreign objects. If the blockage is too much for a drain machine, a hydro jet may be recommended. 

A hydro jet is a method of sewer cleaning using high-pressure water. A flexible hose with a specialized nozzle sprays water through the pipes and pressure washes the inner walls of the clay sewer pipe.

hydro jetting - diagram
This diagram shows how a hydro jet works to clean out blockages like tree roots.

Final Thoughts

Depending on the severity of the problem you’re experiencing, your terra cotta sewer pipes may need to be replaced. A licensed plumber with lots of drain or sewer line experience can recommend the most efficient, reliable, and affordable option for your situation.

Call 1-Tom-Plumber

Don’t hesitate to contact us here or call us at 1-Tom-Plumber (1-866-758-6237) if you have broken or backed up clay or terra cotta sewer pipes. 

1-Tom-Plumber’s certified team of plumbers and drain technicians respond immediately to any emergency plumbing, drain cleaning, or water damage problem. We also handle the excavation of underground water lines and sewer main lines. Our immediate-response team is available every day and night of the year, even on holidays.

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