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RCP Pipe vs. HDPE Pipe for Projects in Georgia

The study carried out by the National Precast Concrete Association (NPCA) compared the pros and cons of using reinforced concrete pipe and high density polyethylene (RCP versus HDPE pipe) for storm water drainage applications. The study reveals insights into the reasons for selecting a specific material for an application. There are many advantages to using RCP pipe. Georgia commercial and industrial projects utilize this pipe extensively.

A number of state highway department specifiers are pinpointed in this application, including death of installation, so condition, traffic volume of the road above and cross drain installations, possible corrosive or active soil in site conditions, pipe diameter, and groundwater.

Strength of RCP and HDPE Pipe

RCP pipe arrives at a project site with its full structural strength already achieved. Installation is a generally clear-cut process. With the use of plastic pipe, however, there are more demanding site assembled procedures involved. The structural integrity of the pipe must be tested and additional costs may accrue due to required engineered backfill, inspections on site, and laser testing after installation. On the other hand, RCP does not rely as much on the surrounding backfill soils for its structural strength.

Installation knowledge and expertise is required regardless of which type of pipe is installed.

Service Life and Integrity of Joints

Concrete is a very long track record for service life as a material used in construction. HDPE does not have this long history of documented performance, although the plastic pipe industry has asserted that it has a service life of a few thousand years in some applications. The service life expectations for RCP and HDPE can vary in various parts of the country. Some give a 50 year service life for each product. Others agencies seek to achieve a 100 year service life for storm water drainage piping.

A number of engineers would agree that RCP pipe is a preferred product for large storm water drainage systems that are constructed beneath high traffic roadways and that it is a proven structural element that retains a long service life.

Beyond any debate about structural integrity between RCP and HDPE, it is important for the specifying engineer to assess the entire picture ranging from cost of each product, service life and strength, and appropriate knowledge about competing products. From this information and more, a proper decision to be made.

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