Wooden Pipes Have a Place in the 21st Century

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I often suggest that there are lessons to be learned from the way we used to build, and that the modern technologies are not always the greenest or most effective. Yet I forgot that when yesterday I was appalled that some Americansstill get their water in wooden pipes. A commenter corrected me gently:

Yet this is truly where Alter betrays his jaw-dropping ignorance. Wood stave piping systems are in fact a proven, robust and versatile contemporary technology, with many commercial and industrial applications. Of course, he wouldn't know this, feeding himself on a narrow diet of Huffington Post and New York Times, but that doesn't seem to stop him from running his pie-hole.

And when it comes to pipes, he's right.


The commenter graciously provided a link to Canbar, a Waterloo Ontario company that started with barrels in 1872 and has been going strong ever since. Canbar points out that in fact, wooden pipes are environmentally friendly:

The Canbar Wood Stave Pipe is the most environmentally friendly solution to the challenge of building pipelines through fragile environmental areas. The assembly of Wood Stave Pipelines is carried out on site. The wood components and steel bands are easily transported to the site without the need for expensive, heavy equipment. There is minimal need to scar the terrain by building a service road.

And in fact, all those things that make wood so good for building houses and boats apply to pipes:

Wood Stave Pipe technology is simple and it works. It uses the natural insulating and corrosion resistant qualities of wood and combines them with the structural strength of steel bands to create a secure durable pipeline. The wood absorbs the water and expands against the steel restraining bands, creating a watertight pipeline. Wood's natural insulation eliminates the need to clad or bury the pipeline to combat temperature changes.

It isn't that difficult to put together:

Since Wood Stave Pipe is shipped unassembled, the cost of shipping the pipe to the installation site can be a tenth of other materials. A crew of unskilled workers under the direction of a Canbar technician is all that is needed for installation of the Wood Stave Pipe. The lower labor costs and the elimination of the need for heavy installation equipment can make Canbar Wood Stave Pipe significantly less expensive than the other pipeline materials.

In the New York Times article I quoted previously, it concluded with a statement from a City director of public works:

"It's kind of an art to work on wood pipe now," said Mr. Van Epps, who used to repair the wooden pipes in a neighboring town when he was a young contractor. "And I'm not sure that we have even the expertise to do a major repair on wood lines."

Had someone said this about wood windows in an historic building, I would have been all over them- it's carpentry. In fact, wooden pipes may be old-school technology but they appear to have a lot of advantages.