Did you know that terracotta pipes were once used to carry water and other liquids? While they are not popular anymore, due to the advent of more modern piping materials, terracotta pipes still have their place in some industries. Let’s take a closer look at what terracotta pipes are, how they’re made, and why some people might choose to use them.
What are terracotta sewer pipes?
Terracotta sewer pipes (i.e. clay pipes) are one of the finest natural materials for use in sewer systems. They are extremely durable, resistant to corrosion, maintain water tightness, and have no risk of chemical reaction with their surrounding environment. Terracotta has been used for this purpose for thousands of years, even before modern plumbing was developed. With proper care and installation, a terracotta sewer pipe can last for decades with no need for repair.
Terracotta has been used in Italy for over 4,000 years. It is likely the Romans discovered its viability as a material for sewer piping when building their famous aqueducts which still stand today. Modern companies like Mazziotti offer high-quality terracotta pipes for use in modern sewer systems with the same durability and longevity as ancient Roman models.
How are terracotta pipes made?
In its traditional form, terracotta is low-fired pottery that can be fashioned into many different shapes. Due to how it’s manufactured, terracotta has a high porosity which makes it an ideal material for sewer pipelines. In its raw form, terracotta is formed into cylinders that are then dried. After the drying process, the sewer pipes are fired in a kiln at over 900 degrees Celsius which requires several days to complete. By firing the terracotta at this high temperature, the clay becomes extremely hard and durable.
What are the benefits of terracotta sewer pipes?
One reason why Terracotta is such a good material for use in sewers is its impermeability. The pores in the terracotta naturally form an airtight seal, preventing any water or contaminants from seeping into the pipe. This is especially important in regions with high levels of precipitation and rainwater runoff, as it prevents groundwater from seeping into the system and causing backups and overflows. Terracotta’s impermeability also makes it more resistant to erosion than other materials like iron or PVC, which can be damaged by even small amounts of sedimentation and corrosion.
Terracotta sewer pipes are also resistant to both water and chemical reactions. While it is impermeable, the pores in the terracotta trap a small amount of water within its matrix, preventing hairline fractures from drying out and expanding prematurely. The same mechanism which prevents the migration of moisture through the material also makes it more flexible than other hard materials, making it easy to install.
What are the downsides of terracotta sewer pipes?
The most common complaint about using terracotta sewer pipes is the high cost of installation. Due to the requirement for precision in milling, cutting, and shaping the material, terracotta piping often requires special equipment which might not be available in smaller municipalities or localities. This can lead to higher installation costs than other materials like iron or PVC.
Additionally, if exposed to too much heat from nearby fires or hotspots, Terracotta sewer pipes can begin to expand and warp. This is not a concern in most modern cities, but in older areas where intense fires/heat are common, it might be something to consider.
When should you repair terracotta sewer pipes?
The biggest risk to terracotta sewer pipes is rust. If the water inside the pipe evaporates over time, leaving iron oxide behind, it will begin to form rust which can expand and erode the terracotta. This is especially true in areas with high humidity or intense rainfall where water evaporates quickly, also increasing erosion rates.
For this reason, it is recommended that terracotta piping be inspected every ten years or so to make sure no rust has begun to erode the material. If there are any signs of rust or red discoloration in the water passing through a terracotta pipe, its best to have a professional inspect it and determine whether repair work needs to be done or not.
It is also important to remember that terracotta pipes are only made to last for about one hundred years, so if you can’t find any information on its age it might be time to consider a replacement.
When did terracotta pipes stop being used?
Some municipalities and cities still use terracotta pipes, especially in older neighborhoods where the piping infrastructure is already in place. However, because of their impermeable nature and lack of chemical incompatibility with drinking water systems, terracotta pipes are often not allowed for installation within new residential areas or subdivisions. As a result, they have been largely phased out in favor of other materials like PVC and polyethylene which are cheaper to produce and often easier to install.
Terracotta’s days as a mainstream sewer pipe material may be behind it. However, terracotta is still being manufactured and used for this purpose around the world. It has proven to be a durable and reliable material that can last for decades with minimal need for repair or replacement, making it an attractive choice for those looking to preserve their existing infrastructure.