Are my drains PVC or Clay

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In Australia, there are two primary categories of sewer pipes: Clay or Earthenware Pipes, and Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC) Pipes. These two materials have different histories and characteristics that can have a significant impact on your plumbing system. To help you determine which type of drain pipe could be present in your home, let’s take a closer look at the world of sewer pipes.


Clay, Terracotta, or Earthenware Drain Pipes: A Journey Through Time

Clay, terracotta, or earthenware pipes have a storied history, dating back over a century in Australia and as far back as 4000 BC in Mesopotamia. While these pipes have proven their durability over millennia, they present several challenges, especially from a plumber’s perspective.

One glaring drawback is their weight. Each clay pipe tips the scales at a hefty 30 kg or more, making the installation of an entire house’s stormwater and sewer drains an arduous task. In today’s world, this would raise significant occupational health and safety concerns due to the sheer weight involved.

Furthermore, the limited length of clay pipes, typically 1200 mm, means that numerous sections are needed to complete a standard house drain. This results in higher labour costs and installation times. Additionally, clay pipes are sealed with rubber rings, which, while water-tight under normal conditions, are susceptible to infiltration by tree roots, leading to blocked drains.

Perhaps the most critical issue with clay pipes is their lack of flexibility. As ground movement is inevitable, especially after excavation for drainage, clay pipes are prone to cracking once installed, causing leaks and system inefficiencies.

Key Characteristics of Clay Pipes:

Diameter: Typically 100mm

Length: 1200mm (short)

Weight: Over 30kg (heavy)

Rigidity: Brittle and inflexible

Historical System


Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC) Pipe: The Modern Plumbing Marvel

PVC pipes introduced roughly 50 years ago, revolutionized sanitation systems. Their lightweight construction, typically available in 6-meter lengths, reduced labour time and costs significantly. PVC is exceptionally flexible, making it highly resilient to ground movements, unlike its clay counterpart.

From a plumber’s perspective, PVC is a game-changer, simplifying sewer and stormwater drain installations. This modern material has made the plumbing profession far more manageable and efficient compared to the past.

It’s important to acknowledge and honour the pioneers of the plumbing industry whose innovations, even dating back thousands of years, laid the groundwork for the systems we have today. Without them, our society would face vastly different challenges.

Key Characteristics of PVC Pipes:

Lightweight, durable, and flexible

Trouble-free service life

Lifespan can exceed 100 years

Determining Your Pipe System

If you’re unsure about the type of pipes in your home, consider contacting The Plumbing & Electrical Doctor for a professional inspection. They serve various areas, including Canberra, Newcastle, Central Coast, Hunter Valley, Lake Macquarie, and Port Stephens.

Understanding your drain pipe material is crucial for maintenance, repairs, and future renovations. Whether it’s the enduring clay pipes or the modern marvel that is PVC, each has its place in Australia’s plumbing history. It’s a testament to human innovation that we’ve come so far from our ancient plumbing roots.


General Plumbing & Electrical | Hot Water Systems | Blocked Drains | Gas Fitting