Replacing Clay Or Terra Cotta Sewer Pipes

Up until the 1960s, clay was the go-to material for sewer pipes right across America and the world.

Replacing Clay or Terra Cotta Sewer Pipes

It is, therefore, safe to say that if your home was built prior to the 1960s and hasn’t had its sewer pipes changed, they will be made of clay.

Also known as terra cotta, clay was a popular material for sewer pipes for a few reasons, namely because it was an all-natural product that didn’t succumb to wastewater’s more corrosive side. 

If you have an issue with your home’s clay sewer pipes and you are wondering whether or not it is worth repairing or replacing them, this article is here to help.

Learning the facts and stats on clay or terra cotta sewer pipes will ensure you know exactly what you are up against if and when they have run their course. 

It Is Worth Replacing Your Clay Or Terra Cotta Sewer Pipes?

If you are experiencing water leakage through your home’s clay or terra cotta sewer pipes, it is highly recommended that you replace them with the modern PVC variety.

Even though clay has been used since ancient Roman times as a sewer pipe material, it is wrought with issues that we will get to soon.

If, however, your home’s clay sewer pipes are showing no signs of problems, there is little need to replace them.

This is because clay pipes that are not damaged and/ or compromised can last for up to 100 years without a worry about it.

That’s not to say that they will last 100 years, just that they have the potential too.

What’s more, depending on their accessibility, clay pipes can also be extremely expensive to replace.

It is, therefore, a classic case of needs must. If you have sewer pipe issues, replace them. If you don’t, ride it out until you do. It is as simple as that. 

What Are The Causes For Damaged Clay Pipes That Need Replacing?

As we have pointed out, damaged clay sewer pipes should be replaced in a timely manner with a more modern material like PVC.

Why? Because it will eliminate the potential of your home and garden from being flooded with sewer water.

Below we have listed the most likely reasons why clay sewer pipes become damaged and compromised so that you are clued on in the untimely event of a leaking pipe incident. 

Root Intrusion

Unlike PVC and other forms of plastic, clay sewer pipes aren’t able to fit flush together.

No matter how well they were laid, there will always be little gaps between the sections of piping.

These gaps are all that root ends need to infiltrate a sewer pipe system that is made of clay.

Once inside, thirsty tree roots have found an environment where they can thrive.

Over time, these roots will grow and embed themselves into the clay, causing them to break.

Even if a clay pipe doesn’t necessarily break as a result of unwanted roots, the roots could still grow to the point where it is hard for water (Check out How To Get Rid Of Toilet Ring? Fast Results) to travel through the pipe.

This blocking process is called tree root ingress and it is bad news for a sewer system. 

If your home’s clay pipes didn’t have a proper root barrier installed around them when they were laid, this gives rise to the potential of tree root ingress.

Large trees that surround a home create a private sanctuary of green foliage that is oh-so desirable.

However, it is this same natural privacy barrier that roots could cause havoc on your clay pipes if given the chance. 

Tensile Strength

Clay pipes are strong in some ways and considered weak in others. One of their downsides is their tensile strength.

Though they can handle serious amounts of pressure and last for over 100 years, once a clay pipe is compromised, it will quickly crumble.

Replacing Clay or Terra Cotta Sewer Pipes

Clay pipes are susceptible to collapse even from the smallest stress fracture or crack. 

A stress fracture in your clay sewer pipes can be brought on by a blunt impact or something more severe like an earthquake or severe flooding event.

Once a clay pipe has been damaged in this way, it will need to be replaced.

If left unattended, your home’s waste won’t be able to properly make its way to the main sewer line and you will have a potential neighborhood bio-hazard on your hands. 

Clay Flaking

Clay flaking occurs on the inside of a clay pipe. Slowly but surely, a few flakes will turn into a few more flakes, and before you know it, your clay sewer pipes will be compromised.

Clay pipes that are essentially being eroded from the inside out, one flake at a time, are prone to catching and trapping sewer sediment.

Unwanted things like toilet paper, hair, and soap residue can become trapped to the point where they start to block a drain.  

Flaking can be caused simply by clay pipes being old in age.

Over the years, clay pipes can become a little softer and a little weaker as a result. Once flaking starts it is very hard to fix.

For this reason, after it is identified by a professional plumber who has undertaken a drain inspection, they will suggest that you replace your clay pipes.

There is the option to fix clay flaking, but it typically costs a lot of money because it entails serious work. 

Misaligned Pipes

Whether clay sewer pipes were ever-so-slightly misaligned from the offset or from ground movement matters little, what does matter is that they are misaligned.

Misaligned clay pipes are a major cause of disruption to the natural flow of your sewer drainage system.

In a similar light to flaking, misaligned pipes create a trap for debris and sediment to get stuck on.

This can happen very quickly if the pipes have shifted all of a sudden, or it can happen slowly over time. 

Another not-so-fun fact about misaligned pipes is that where there is one, there is usually another.

Once one section of clay pipe is out of whack it can create a domino effect for the next section, and so on and so forth.

This will unsurprisingly cause serious issues for your sewage system as a whole.

Your best bet in this situation is to replace the entire clay sewer pipe system with the modern PVC kind.

PVC has more give in it than clay. This will reduce the risk of it becoming misaligned as it will be able to handle movement and not shift out of place. 

Why Are PVC Sewer Pipes The Industry Standard Of Today?

Replacing clay as the preferred choice, PVC sewer pipes are the industry standard today for a few reasons.

One of the biggest reasons why PVC is the preferred choice by builders, developers, and homeowners right across America is price.

VC sewer pipes are cheaper to produce than the clay variety, and most people don’t like to pay more than they need to for their sewage system. 

Another huge benefit of PVC is its lightweight, especially when compared to clay.

This lightweight nature makes PVC piping easy to install and work with.

This equates to a less labor-intensive fit-out and, in turn, a cheaper installation cost for homeowners.

The last but certainly not least reason is its strength. PVC has a lot less chance of cracking and breaking when compared to clay.

This means it will last a long time and you will really get your money’s worth. 


So there you have it. You are now all the wiser on why it is recommended to replace your clay or terra cotta sewer pipes when they damage or break.

No news is good news with clay sewer pipes.

But, when you do have an issue with clay pipes, it is nice to know that you can replace them with PVC one for a fraction of the price.

Adrienne Carrie Hubbard
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