The design service life of corrugated high-density polyethylene (HDPE) drainage pipe has been a subject of considerable research over the past several years. While significant long-term performance data is available for smooth-walled polyethylene pipe, the data for corrugated drainage pipes has been somewhat limited until now. The long-term results of 100 years of service life are based on some of the current widely-accepted methods employed by the plastic pipe industry, while modifying them somewhat to take into account the unique geometry and installation conditions of buried corrugated pipe.

Predicting Service Life

The process for long-term service life prediction involves two assessments:

  1. The anticipated service conditions of the drainage pipe, including such factors as environmental conditions, soil and traffic loads, and the resulting long-term stresses and strains evident in the pipe, and
  2. The capacity of the material and the manufactured pipe product.

The service conditions of the pipe will vary by geographic location, based on temperature and soil and traffic loads. Deep installations may result in large compressive stresses on the pipe, while shallow installations are more subject to bending and tensile stresses. These bending and tensile stress levels are typically lower in magnitude than the compressive stresses associated with deep burial conditions, but they are considered a limiting condition as the material is more prone to failure in tension rather than compression.

The capacity of the material to resist failure is the second factor that must be addressed. Based on its wide use as a piping material (i.e. gas, water, industrial, oil field, etc.) polyethylene is a highly scrutinized material and its mechanisms of failure are well known. For corrugated drainage pipe, the primary mechanisms of material failure are slow crack growth and oxidation or chemical failure.


100 Years of Service Life

Taking into account the service loads on the pipe and capacity of the HDPE material given its known mechanisms of failure, the latest research suggests the service life of corrugated HDPE pipe is well in excess of 100 years, even at deflections greater than 5%.

For more information

See the published papers listed below which are from independent studies presented at Plastics Pipes XIII in Washington, DC, as well as the Pluimer paper published at the ASCE Pipelines Conference in Chicago.