I recently tackled installing some french drains and exterior landscape drains to help direct the many pints of water that sometimes fall from the sky here in San Diego. One section of french drain was by a retaining wall, and another by a spot on our home that catches a lot of runoff. One question I grappled with was whether to use corrugated vs solid pipe. The black corrugated pipe seemed like a cheaper and easier option, but something told me I shouldn’t dismiss using schedule 40 solid, 4″ pvc pipe. I did a lot of research before diving into my project, and hopefully the insights I gained will help you with your landscape drainage or french drain project.
When we originally installed a retaining wall in our backyard, a french drain and some surface drain pipes were put in on the main length of the wall. However, I had a sneaking suspicion that a short length of the wall without drains was going to be a problem. After some unusually heavy rains in our normally bone-dry climate, I decided to dig up that portion of the wall to check moisture levels. Unfortunately, my suspicions were confirmed. After digging down what felt like 20 feet, I found a soupy mess that appeared to be about 99% water, 1% dirt. It was clear I needed to add another leg of french drain here.
“While I was at it” (coined the most expensive phrase in home improvement by our top-notch writer Phil), I decided to add a french drain by our house and several additional surface drains – all tying in to a 4″ pvc pipe exiting our retaining wall, where the deluge of water goes on to flood our neighbor’s house. Just kidding neighbor! Actually, it exits on our property into a rock and soil basin in our yard which percolates into the soil. By the way, if this article is getting you excited more more scintillating drainage content, check out the excellent article Phil wrote on how to install a channel drain.
In short, I had two sections of french drains that needed perforated corrugated pipe or perforated pvc pipe and another 50 to 70 feet of non-perforated pipe to carry the water away. My options for the pipe led me to the two main contenders: corrugated or 4″ solid pvc. Which one is best to use depends on your circumstances, budget and ambition.
Here’s a quick video overview, followed by our more detailed written analysis where I was singing a bit different tune than in the video:
Let’s take a look a few pros and cons of corrugated vs pvc pipe.
Corrugated vs PVC Drain Pipe – Pros and Cons
- MUCH easier to work with
- Bends for easy turns and easy connections
- Turns don’t need to be at 22.5, 45 or 90 degree angles
- No gluing to make connections
- Less connections on longer pipe runs
- Rapid installation
- Easy to transport (you can coil it)
- Light weight
Corrugated Pipe Cons
- Less efficient drainage
- Height variations can cause “bellies” where water and debris accumulate
- More likely to clog
- Harder to clear when clogged (snaking would likely damage the pipe
- Weaker, can be crushed
- Less durable
Solid PVC Pros
- Highly efficient draining
- Low points (bellies) in the pipe runs are less likely
- Less likely to clog
- Easier to clear when clogged
- Stronger, resists crushing
- More durable and long-lasting
- Connections more resistant to root intrusion
Solid PVC Cons
- Significantly harder to work with
- Bends are more challenging
- More connections on longer runs
- Connections in tight spaces can be challenging and require planning
- More time-consuming to work with
- Smelly, messy glue for connections
- Harder to transport and maneuver on site
More Details on Some of the Pros and Cons
Let’s talk in more detail about some of the major pros and cons.
Easy and Weak vs More Challenging and Strong
Perhaps the biggest difference between these two types of landscape drainage pipes is how easy or difficult they are to work with. If you have long, straight runs, with a little planning corrugated pipe goes down very fast. Once your trench work is complete, you can lay a 100′ coil of corrugated pipe in no time. With solid pvc, even a straight run will require 4 to 9 connections depending on whether you’re working with 10′ or 20′ sections of pvc pipe. Frankly, it’s a pain.
Have a project with lots of angles, bends, twists and turns? Strongly consider corrugated pipe – it is vastly easier to navigate around bends and corners. Corrugated is also far more forgiving in terms of installing in tight quarters or in runs that have numerous connections. For most typical residential installs, particularly for DIY landscape drainage, corrugated pipe will save you some time and aggravation.
Let the Debris Flow – PVC vs Corrugated in Terms of Drainage
Despite getting relatively little precipitation and our surface drains not being fully installed, I was surprised to find that a bunch of sediment had actually clogged the end of our existing pvc drain pipe. While testing the existing surface drain pipes, I found water was not exiting where it was supposed to (this was in part because a “temporary” drain grate was installed below grade and likely inundated the drain with muck). Even so, a little hand-clearing near the 4″ smooth pvc pipe exit cleared the drainage line.
Catching debris is something corrugated pipe is known for, particularly if there is a belly in the pipe. Those can happen if the slope on your trench is uneven. Why is it corrugated then, you might ask. Without the corrugations, the pipe would be as flimsy as a large drinking straw, with the same limited flexibility. The corrugation adds strength and flexibility. When you think of free-flowing water, a bunch of perpendicular ridges isn’t the first and most efficient thing that comes to mind. There is a reason all plumbing you might find in a home or business is smooth-walled, whether it’s ABS, cast iron or PVC. So, for preventing clogs and keeping your drain water flowing long term, pvc is the winner over corrugated pipe.
Typical Costs of Corrugated vs PVC Drain Pipe
A 100′ roll of 4″ corrugated pipe (solid or perforated) will, at the time of this article, set you back roughly $50 to $75.
Most corrugated pipe fittings such as couplings, tees, wye, etc. are in the $2 to $10 range.
All in all, corrugated drain pipe is super affordable.
100′ of 4″ schedule 40 pvc pipe (solid of perforated) will run about $100 to $200 depending on where you source it.
Most solid pipe fittings such as couplings, tees, wye, etc. are in the $3 to $10 range.
While 4″ pipe fittings are comparable between corrugated and solid pvc, you’ll typically pay way less than half (potentially as little as 25% the cost) for corrugated vs pvc pipe. If you are on a budget, corrugated is the clear winner in the cost department.
Durability of Corrugated vs PVC Pipe
A simple handling of the two pipes will instantly tell you which is more durable and crush-resistant: pvc. With that said, most landscape drain pipe doesn’t have a ton of weight on top of it. PVC is definitely stronger and more durable, but how much that will actually benefit you is up for debate.
What’s Better for Most Users, Corrugated or PVC?
If I had to do my project all over again, I would probably seriously consider corrugated pipe. It’s far less costly and vastly faster to install. It is also much more user friendly, whether you are a DIY’er or a pro. If you have a relative small job and you’re tying into existing PVC like I was, PVC might still make sense. But if I had friends ask me what they should use in their yard (particular for a DIY install), in almost all cases I’d likely recommend corrugated pipe for its ease of installation, lower cost and easier handling.
18 thoughts on “Corrugated vs PVC Pipe for Exterior and French Drains”
Superbly helpful article. I am about to DIY a relatively small French drain to keep rainwater away from a goat shed. Our property is at the bottom of a hill and gets extensive rainwater runoff.
The area I plan on installing the drain will be walked on extensively by (a) 2 humans, (b) 3 Nigerian dwarf goats, and (c) 2 miniature horses (Maximus and Penelope, who weigh probably 200 lb each).
Given this traffic, it seems PVC is the way to go. Yet I don’t have unlimited time (or energy) for this install; consider myself “semi-handy”; and really don’t want to get hugely frustrated doing this.
Is there a way to still use corrugated pipe but in a way that will reduce the likelihood of problems (mainly damage due to crushing)? Perhaps dig a deeper trench than usual and install more stones/gravel on top of the pipe?
Plot twist. Noticed that Home Depot sells these “triple wall” perforated pipes, which seem to offer the best of all worlds in terms of function, durability, and price.
Anyone have experience using this product for a French drain, in comparison to PVC and/or corrugated plastic?
Hi If I am having it professionally installed and not as concerned about cost would you recommend still going with the corrugated or the PVC?
I think generally, people are less likely to regret installing PVC. If you’re paying someone to put it in, don’t mind the cost, and your installer is in agreement with you, I’d go with PVC. Good luck with your project Dina!
once your get roots in that corrugated line you’ll have to cable it and then you may get lucky and get them out or you will have to then end up replacing them in about 5-10 years then it will cost you even more to replace all those lines.
Hi! My daughter has been searching for some suitable replacements for her kitchen pipe which is getting older already. When you clarified about solid PVC pipes which have longer lifespan and sturdier in general, I felt so much better. Very well, I’ll show this exciting update to her so she can purchase the right item afterwards.
I prefer the smooth walled pipe also and I get the holes being on the bottom. My only question is if the only end of the pipe that’s opened to air is the lower, draining end and the higher end is sealed where does the air go as the pipe fills with water? Isn’t it a bit like putting your finger on top of a straw then putting it in a glass? Doesn’t water drain poorly out of a pipe when it isn’t vented as in “air behind water”?
Hi Chris! In a typical landscape drainage scenario, you have lots of openings to air. In our case a channel drain and several surface drains all tie into the drainage pipes. Those connections freely let air in. However, I could see your concern if, for example, you had a single french drain running to the outlet (with no surface drains). Even in that case, it’s hard to imagine a properly sized drainage pipe being completely filled with water. In other words, if under heavy rain about 50% of the pipe is filled with water flowing through it, air can still flow in the remaining 50%. Hopefully that answers your question, but if not, please feel free to chime in again here.
Agreed. I guess I was just wondering. It won’t apply to me anyway as I’m running some surface drains into solid pipe then the last section of 10ft pipe before the vertical piece and the pop up will be perforated with the holes on the bottom.
My issue is that I do not have a lot of slope in my back yard to where I need the water to drain. With a total of about 150 feet I might have about 1 foot to 16 inches from the begging of the needed perforated area to the end of the drain. I have put down the corrugated pipe but getting the slope correct is driving me nuts because I will have a 2 inch rise here or 1 inch drop there that is very hard to see and the water does not move because somewhere(s) in the line there is a rise further down that might be higher than the beginning or previous area of the drain. Since PVC will lay flat I can easily put a 4 foot level on the pipe and at least look at the bubble for the slope. I know the cost is higher but because I have minimal slope, would you recommend using the 4″ PVC perforated ( PVC so I can see the slope easier) and then tie it in to the solid corrugated for the last maybe 50 of ‘drain pipe’? I’m not concerned how fast the water drains, even a a few inches of slope will move the water, I just want it to move. If I have an obvious slope I know I could go all corrugated pipe but I’m thinking I need the PVC perforated for the main run of the French drain….agree?
I am considering using 12 inch ADS dual wall corrugated pipe to provide drainage from a 14 inch channel drain across a downward sloping driveway. The pipe needs to run about 160 feet. How deep can I bury the pipe without worrying about the weight of soil crushing it? Thanks for your expert advice.
Hi Steve. That sounds like some serious pipe! Unfortunately we don’t have experience with that particular type of pipe. Part of the answer to your question will likely depend on how the pipe is installed (culvert pipe is sometimes put in with stone packed around them for support) and what kind of vehicle traffic/weight will be going over them. I would recommend pinging the manufacturer of your pipe to see what they recommend based on your general install spec’s. Good luck with the project and please let us know how things work out here if you get the chance.
This guy as a great series of videos on this subject:- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I6Was-peXS0
I would prefer rigid PVC just because corrugated pipe is just kind of crummy. But if the catch basin is supposed to be installed level, and the pipe is supposed to tilt downward, that means that there has to be a slight angle leaving the catch basin, right? How is that achieved?
You focus on ‘faster, cheaper and easier’ with only the briefest mention of the most important aspect, which is efficiency in moving the water. That factor alone should have steered you to pvc in your application.
Hi David, thanks for your comment. Our readers will be approaching this project from a variety of perspectives and circumstances. One reader might have a drainage issue and very limited budget. Another reader might have an intricate landscape with lots of obstacles. Since everyone’s top priority may not be “which option maximizes efficiency moving the water” I tried to cover pros and cons of both systems so our readers can make an informed decision of what might be best for their circumstances.
Hi, could you please let me know which pvc pipe you went with. Looks bigger than 4″…assume maybe 6in ? And where did you purchase it from ? Thanks in advance..Rob
Hi Robert. It’s standard 4″ PVC and I purchased from a local sprinkler / landscaping supply house. Hope your project goes well!