Modern plumbing owes a lot of its history to a material that man has used for thousands of years: clay. In fact, the ancient civilization of Babylonia used clay pipes to provide local residents with water from a municipal supply, back as far as 4,000 BCE! Today, the city of Ephesus (now located in modern day Turkey) was one of the first to provide citizens with running hot and cold water, utilizing clay pipes.
Today, these pipes use the same natural material with slightly more refined processes to produce pipes that can last for centuries. In fact, some clay pipes installed in cities across the United Sates have been in operation for 100 years or more and are running as well as they were on the day they were first used. This is because they’re resistant to one of the largest threats to modern plumbing: acid disintegration.
However, despite the amazing ability of this material, clay pipes are on their way out because they suffer from several issues that most modern materials don’t have to deal with. Clay pipes are prone to cracking and shattering under blunt impacts. While they’re tremendously strong under pressure (known as compressive strength), they can’t say the same about their tensile strength. It’s not uncommon for these pipes to eventually crack, causing leaks or even serious bursting. This cracking and breaking often occurs due to ground shifting, such as during earthquakes.
Here are three other major issues that are causing clay pipes to go the same way that many of the ancient civilizations that pioneered their use.
- Difficult to Work With: Clay pipes are two things: heavy and fragile. That makes them incredibly difficult to install, requiring a lot of heavy machinery and careful attention to detail. That also makes clay fairly expensive. PVC, the favored modern material, is cheaper, easier to replace, and won’t break with a small blunt bump.
- Difficult to Transport: For many of the same reasons listed above, clay pipes, especially large ones, are extremely difficult to get where they need to be. You need a heavy-duty truck with specialized cargo-securing devices to make sure pipes won’t budge even an inch while tackling the bumps and turns on the roads.
- Susceptible to Root Intrusion: Clay pipes don’t fit together quite as well as PVC, and that means there will be small gaps. Small gaps are a pipe’s worst nightmare because that’s all a tree root needs to intrude into the pipe, where it grows and turns into a huge blockage, requiring a lot of labor to fix.