drainage pipe

Different Types of Drainage Pipe and When to Use Them

Almost every contracting project’s final product requires access to water. And when a project involves water, it almost always requires drainage pipes. With any form of pipe or wiring, there are many variations, each with different advantages and disadvantages specializing in particular situations.

What is Drainage Pipe?

A drainage pipe is any pipe used to facilitate the transfer of water from one place to another. The main purpose is to dispose of wastewater from homes, office buildings, or industrial areas. Disposing water properly and efficiently can prevent water build-up, leading to flooding, structural damage, soil erosion, and other issues. For this reason, drainage pipes can even be used for the work at the job site as well as the final project. 

These drainage pipes vary in both material and use. Some drainage pipes are used to remove water from specific areas such as roofs, while others are exclusively used to move water underground because of their material and composition. The type of drainage pipe a contractor chooses will often be based on the project’s drainage situation. Choosing based on price alone is usually insufficient due to the severity of the ramifications of failure. The three qualities contractors will utilize to determine the type of drainage pipe used are strength, size, and installation ease. Typically, almost all new drainage pipes are plastic so as to be resilient to all weather and ground conditions.

Photo by Jimmy Yan

Plastic or Metal?

If you live in a home built before the 1960s, your drainage pipes are likely metal. Even though plastic was invented in 1907, it wasn’t widely available or heavily used in building construction until the second half of the twentieth century. The common metal pipes include the original cast iron, as well as the softer, less-corrosive copper pipes. 

While metal was popular in drainage pipe construction earlier, it is rarely used in new installations. The only time metal pipes will be used for drainage systems is to repair existing metal pipes within the property. Otherwise, if you were to replace the pipes, you would replace them with plastic alternatives. 

The main reason for switching away from metal is due to the material’s high tendency to rust. Being resistant to weather conditions, especially extreme weather conditions, is a quality that many contractors will consider when choosing the appropriate drainage pipes. Even without consistently wet weather, moisture exists everywhere – especially underground. The moisture in the air or on one’s skin is actually enough to begin the oxidation process on the surface of metal pipes. Such oxidation can inevitably lead to rusting, which makes the pipes substantially weaker as their durability becomes compromised. It doesn’t help that drainage systems create extremely damp environments based on running water’s continual movement. 

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With metal pipes, there is always an expiration date because rust and corrosion are not just risks but inevitabilities. When metal pipes fully rust through, they can become cracked, form gaps, or, in extreme cases, completely collapse. The simple choice of plastic pipes circumvents all this risk and removes a contractor’s greatest fear: renovation and replacement. For the property owner, damaged drainage pipes can result in tens of thousands, sometimes even millions, of dollars in both damages and replacement costs. If you can pick your drainage pipes, always pick plastic.

Types of Drainage Pipes

Below are different drainage pipes that have been separated by material and style. The piping style can be adapted to various plastic drainage pipes and have specific uses of its own. Here are the different types of drainage pipes available and how and when they are best used.

street pipe
Photo by alexkich



Polyvinyl Chloride pipes are the most commonly used pipes for any drainage project. Due to the material’s malleable properties, PVC pipes can come in almost any size. These types of pipes are great for drainage situations where the water and environment exert a great deal of pressure and weight. It is also one of the few plastics that can be recycled. So, if you are a contractor on a project where the client is demanding a more eco-friendly approach, PVC might be an ideal purchase. PVC’s strength, durability, and resistance to both water and some chemicals make it one of the more inflexible pipe types, especially amongst plastics. 

concrete pipe
Photo by Prachum


While plastics are the drainage industry’s status quo, concrete can be a frequently inexpensive choice for drainage systems that utilize heavy-duty or industrial piping. Concrete, while completely inflexible, is used in projects and situations that demand zero leaks. Concrete piping can also be used as a complimentary exterior shell for drainage pipes of another material. In this case, the concrete would protect a weaker or more vulnerable pipe by acting as its outer shell. 


This is the most flexible of the plastic pipe types. Polyethylene’s easy manipulability makes installing these types of pipes incredibly simple. If the project requires piping and water to be transferred in small spaces with many turns, polyethylene pipes are likely the optimal choice. 


Smooth Wall

For single-direction water transfer with a smooth interior surface, smooth wall pipes are going to be your best friend. While they are more difficult to install, they are more rigid and sturdy than other winding pipe styles.

Single Wall Corrugated

These corrugated pipes are typically low-cost, flexible, and super easy to install. The largest drawback is that the pipes’ corrugated texture can make them vulnerable to clogging, and they often require steeper angles for drainage than regular pipes.

Dual Wall Corrugated

This is the compromise between the smooth wall and the single wall corrugated pipes. It is not as easy to install or as flexible as the single wall corrugated pipes, but it does have a smooth interior wall. This type of fusion cost requires money, as these pipes are usually more expensive. 

wall pipe
Photo by Panaiphoto

Final Thoughts

Picking the right type of drainage pipe can require a lot of time and effort. Depending on the material and the style, you may have to alter the drawings or blueprints of a project to accommodate or vice versa. Your time shouldn’t be used to relay decisions and updates between the field and the office. A construction project management tool like eSUB can connect your teams together via cloud-based document sharing, reducing the time you spend making decisions and increasing the project’s overall productivity.

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Contact us for an eSUB CLOUD demo and to learn more about how project management software developed for subcontractors can streamline your processes for more profits and less chaos.