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66 Adams Blvd.
Brantford, Ontario
66 Adams Blvd. Brantford, Ontario

The Ultimate Pipe Comparison: HDPE vs. PVC

Updated: Apr 6, 2023

Your water or energy piping infrastructure project involves making difficult decisions. Your choices today will have repercussions not only for those who rely on the pipes but also for installation and maintenance crews.


Sandale Utility Products is Ontario’s leader in designing, supplying and installing High-Density Polyethylene (HDPE) products, with over three decades of experience and hundreds of successful projects backing up our brand.


Over the years, we have seen cheap PVC (polyvinyl chloride) installations that prove our point time and time again – HPDE is often the way to go.


We are sharing this simple comparison to help those in the industry better understand why HDPE is our material of choice. But before we get into the nitty gritty of comparing HDPE and PVC, let’s talk about the many similarities between these two pipes…


Similarities Between HDPE and PVC


Whether you choose HDPE or PVC, you will benefit from each pipe’s lightweight design. Gone are the days when you would need to lug heavy steel or concrete to create a simple water system.


Both HDPE and PVC pipes are corrosion-resistant since they are made of plastic and resistant to buildup from chemicals and organisms.


And lastly, they are each versatile and able to handle extreme temperatures with a long life expectancy, although one has a much longer lifespan.


Now, onto the differences between these two…


Comparing HDPE and PVC’s Strength


When designing a system to transfer plumbing or sewage, you want to be sure that your system will hold up. PVC is extremely rigid and unlikely to break when used inside a building under normal circumstances. But placed in extreme conditions and massive stresses, the strength of PVC piping begins to show its weakness, where it is susceptible to cracking and even failure.


HDPE pipes are softer and more bendable, yet are still much stronger – and not just by a little. Studies show that HDPE pipes are many times stronger than PVC pipes! This strength makes HDPE far more resistant to damage from water hammer (water pressure surges).


Materials Used in HDPE and PVC Pipe Production


Both are plastic, but High-Density Polyethylene (HDPE) pipe is made of petroleum thermoplastic, while a PVC pipe is made of polyvinyl chloride, a combination of chlorine and ethylene. Both use widely produced synthetic plastic polymer, but these polymers differ significantly in their chemical composition.


The Affordability of HDPE and PVC


As Ontario’s experts in everything HDPE, Sandale routinely discusses HDPE’s benefits with prospective customers like you. Discussions include the costs for HDPE materials and how they are often comparable to PVC. But when you take an even closer look, specifically at these products' installation and maintenance costs, HDPE always pulls out ahead.


Consider that with PVC pipe installation you need to pay extra costs for diggings, area incursion, and restoration, while HDPE pipes benefit from the lower costs of directional drilling.


In municipal water and sewage applications, PVC has an installed life of up to 15 years. Studies show that HDPE’s strength, flexibility and seamless joinings can help in achieving lifespans of 100 years – some even say their service life is indefinite.


Canadian Uses for HDPE and PVC Pipes


PVC pipes are often used in homes and businesses; Look under your bathroom or kitchen sink and you will see PVC pipes. They are often found in agricultural drainage systems and industrial applications.


Canada’s challenging soil and freeze/thaw conditions make rigid pipes like those made from PVC less than ideal. HDPE’s flexibility, strength and durability allow these pipes to be used in many interior and exterior applications, including mining, landfills, oil/gas distribution, telecommunications and municipal infrastructure.


HDPE and PVC Pipe Joinings


PVC pipes are not known for their user-friendliness during installation. Joining two PVC pipes together requires gaskets or sealants.


One of the most common issues facing municipal drinking water systems is leakage, and the unique way that HDPE pipes are installed helps to reduce the number of issues. HDPE uses heat fusion to melt the plastic together into one homogeneous pipe with incredibly strong joints – stronger than gaskets and sealants ever could. In some instances, HDPE requires couplings, such as in emergency repair situations.


Stress Testing HDPE and PVC


There is no denying that PVC pipes are incredibly strong, but this strength comes with a price – when they bend, they break. HDPE, however, is also strong – many times stronger than PVC – and is flexible enough not immediately to snap when faced with significant pressure.


If we were to compare failure ratings when both pipes are exposed to rain, wind and extreme temperatures, HDPE would once again prove its durability. Even if both pipes were to be exposed to the sun’s rays for 20 years, HDPE would likely maintain its composition, while PVC would begin breaking down after only a handful of years.


Testing HDPE and PVC with various materials like salt, dust, sand and corrosive materials would result in HDPE once again surpassing PVC.


Comparing Installation Approaches


PVC pipes can be installed using an open trench or a drop burial.


HDPE pipes are installed in those same ways, plus the benefit of being bored directionally or horizontally into the ground. These additional installation techniques can be highly valued, especially in environments with limited dig space.


HDPE is no Longer a Pipe Dream with Sandale


Choosing HDPE is the logical, affordable solution for your next infrastructure project. You certainly have questions about choosing either HDPE or PVC, so please contact our team at Sandale Utility Products. We’re here to help you navigate the complexities of the industry and ensure your project is not only done but done right the first time.


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