histories refute old assumptions about hubless dwv couplings below
Reprinted with permission of The
Until the mid-1960s nearly all soil pipe for underground
drainage was of the hub & spigot (a.k.a. bell & spigot and "sv")
variety. Hubless pipe was relegated mainly to in-wall and other
above-ground applications. Since then, though, no-hub has made a
significant dent in the below-ground market, capturing 90% in some
areas, mainly in California and the Far West. Still, specifiers
elsewhere are reluctant to allow no-hub below ground for fear of
possible leaks and other problems. Are these fears justified?
A California-based no-hub pipe foundry commissioned an informal
survey of plumbing specifiers, wholesalers and contractors in the 11
western states. Their perceptions and policies regarding hubless vs.
hub & spigot were and checked against performance data. Some
important misunderstandings were uncovered. Perceptions of no-hub
and sv systems varied considerably among them, with geographical
location emerging as a variable.
For example, most of the California and Nevada engineers cited no
major quality preference for either hubless or hub & spigot. Many
had specíd both types for below ground for decades, with no major
problems with either type. At least one billion no-hub joints have
been installed in the U.S. since 1963, about 25% of them below
ground. The engineers indicated theyíre confident the joints are
performing at least as well as the hub & spigot joints. They
indicated that their decisions to spec no-hub or hub a & spigot were
based on the dictates of a particular job, not on concerns about
quality or joint integrity.
Many professionals from other states, however, expressed a definite
preference for hub & spigot below ground because they believed
no-hub might not offer the weight and joint quality to prevent
leaks. Many engineers and other professionals interviewed said they
used hub & spigot material below ground because "thatís the way
weíve always done it." Others said they thought hubless couplings
wouldnít perform as well. Their reasons condensed down to four major
concerns: corrosion, joint integrity, east of installation and
Perceived corrosion resistance
Some engineers said they believed hub & spigot systems last longer.
In fact, both systems are made of the same cast iron raw materials,
with nearly the same wall thicknesses, and they corrode at the same
rate. No-hub couplings manufactured to national standards require no
more protection from corrosion than does the pipe itself. Hubless
couplings consist of a rubber gasket into which the hubless pipe or
fitting is inserted until stopped by an internal rubber center stop.
The gasket itself is surrounded circumferentially by a stainless
steel shield; the resulting "sandwich: is tightened to the pipe or
fittings by stainless steel, worm-drive sealing clamps. The rubber
used in both the hub & spigot and no-hub gaskets contain neoprene as
the sole elastomer. Both no-hub and hub & spigot gaskets have
identical resistance to corrosion catalysts.
Nevertheless, to win over the skeptics, several manufacturers now
produce a heavy-duty hubless coupling designed to provide added
performance. These typically feature Type 304 and 305 stainless
construction and more hose clamps, with greater torque force. They
provide more corrosion resistance and better sealing than do
standard hub couplings. Where corrosive soils are present, and
easily installed, readily available and inexpensive prophylactic
material ought to be placed around the piping to protect the pipe,
fittings and couplings (both hubless and hub & spigot).
Integrity and resistance to deflection
Some engineers said they believed the hub & spigot joint provides
greater resistance to deflection and longitudinal joint-separation
forces. But this too appears to be unsupported by research data or
Deflection is the forced dislocation of piping and/or fittings from
the imaginary centerline gradient of the piping installation.
Deflection is caused by seismic or other forces or by impact, such
as from a backhoe or soil compactor, and most commonly during
installation. Hub & spigot joints do resist or limit deflection, but
this resistance itself can cause problems. For example, in resisting
a strong deflective force, the bell end of the pipe could crack
and/or the spigot end could fracture. Moreover, if the deflection
takes the joint to the limit, the resulting gap between the spigot
pipe and the gasket could allow leakage. Be aware that the hub &
spigot gasket has little "memory," especially under extreme forces.
And even when the line is returned to its former center line, the
gasket may not return to its former sealing position on the spigot
In contrast, tests show hubless couplings allow greater deflection
of the piping system. They show that no-hub couplings allow at least
twice the degree of deflection without leaking, and this is under
greater hydrostatic pressures than normally encountered by such a
system. Instead of maintaining integrity by resisting deflection,
the no-hub strategy is to accommodate deflection. It yields slightly
rather than comes apart, so leakage paths and other openings donít
No-hub manufacturers respond
No-hub couplings change their inside and outside diameter dimensions
within a broad tolerance when the worm-drive coupling clamps are
loosened or tightened during installation. While a 3" coupling
canít seal a 2" dia. pipe or fitting, hubless couplings appear to
have more inherent latitude to accommodate two different diameters.
Because hubless couplings donít rely on the displacement of rubber
by the insertion of a "wedge" (i.e., spigot pipe) they seem to make
a more positive joint. When proper torque is applied to the hubless
coupling, an even seal around the circumference of the pipe and
fittings is created. This band-load gives the coupling greater
protection against leaking during deflection.
Heavy-duty no-hub couplings provide even greater band load because
of higher torque clamps. And they generally have more clamps. So
thereís more resistance to separation than with hub & spigot joints
and up to three times more resistance to internal hydrostatic
pressure than either standard hubless or hub & spigot joints.
Ease of installation
More than one engineer said hub & spigot was easier to install
because the making of joints is simply the shoving of a spigot into
a gasket in the hub. Whatís more, no-hub couplings require a torque
wrench to tighten the clamps, so there are chances for a faulty
installation and perhaps a leak. But the hub & spigot isnít
fool-proof either. If the spigot isnít seated far enough into the
hub of the pipe or fitting, it too may leak or come apart if
deflected, or pulled apart laterally or separate from internal
Outwardly a spigot may appear to be well inside the hub, but thereís
no marking on the spigot indicating that itís inserted all the way.
Thereís no way to tell if the spigot end is seated properly.
Improper installation of hubless couplings, on the other hand, may
be easier to determine. They distort if tightened down on pipe that
isnít seated to the center stop, for thereís no pipe beneath the
clamp to seal against, and the effect is obvious to the installer
and inspector. Also no-hub fittings have a cast-in-place gasket
positioning lug that indicates the spigot of the fitting is fully
seated inside the coupling.
No-hub couplings manufactured to U.S. standards require a pre-set
torque wrench; there arenít screwdriver slots. Hub & spigot
installations, however, are performed using all manner of tools and
devices: hammers and boards, lead pipe, chain pulling tools, "spud
bars," and "come-alongs." This leads to inconsistent pipe-in-hub
seatings. To compound the chance of a hub & spigot joint coming
apart, a lubricant typically is used to ease spigot installation.
Until that lubricant dries, or washes away, it actually can assist
an improperly seated joint in coming apart as the contractor
manipulates pipe or fittings downstream, disturbing joints already
Regardless of the system specified, major plumbing codes require a
hydrostatic pressure test on dwv system, witnessed and signed off by
a plumbing official, to ensure that all failures have been repaired
prior to covering it. This along with industry data on corrosion and
joint integrity should mitigate professionalsí personal biases and
preferences for or against no-hub or hub & spigot concerning safety
Misunderstandings on overall costs
Many of the plumbing professionals interviewed said they believed
hub & spigot was faster to install than hubless, resulting in lower
labor costs and a general competitive advantage. While there are
occasions where hub & spigot is faster to install (e.g. long,
straight runs), other factors could swing the cost advantage to
no-hub. Take, for example, the cost of waste. Some engineers said as
much as 35% of hub & spigot material is discarded as hub ends are
cut off to fit the layout.
With hubless, by contrast, there are no telescoping lengths to
consider, and the installer fabricates from different directions
without the need for hubs. Whatís more, no-hub pipe scraps are
readily usable; sv scraps are not. The result is up to 70% less
waste with no-hub, a significant cost savings.
Although prices for hub & spigot and hubless pipe are about equal
right now, prices of fittings are far higher for hub & spigot. A
recent analysis showed hub & spigot fittings cost an average of 45%
more than hubless fittings. A partial offset to the higher cost of
hub & spigot fittings, joined with the sv gasket, comes in the form
of an added cost for couplings when hubless is used. The amount of
added cost depends on the layout and whether standard or heavy-duty
couplings are used, and must be considered when comparing costs.
Nevertheless, the typical hub & spigot system appears to be from 5%
to 20% more costly than an equivalent hubless system when all costs
Is hub & spigot a proprietary spec?
Recently corporate consolidations have reduced the number of
foundries producing hub & spigot materials. At present there are
only two manufactures in the U.S. producing sv material, one east of
the Rockies and one west. This has cut the availability of hub &
spigot systems to where thereís in a de facto proprietary
specification. Some engineers reported job delays due to persistent
backordering of certain sv and long lead times for shipping orders
of hub & spigot complete.
Many engineers expressed concern that hub & spigotís de facto
proprietary status may trigger the governmental requirement that
more than one vendor be offered in publicly-funded projects. Thereís
no way at present to satisfy the "or equal" clause in many
government bids. Many of these same stipulations exist in privately
funded work. In addition, the seeming proprietary status of hub &
spigot material coupled with low number of domestic producers is
generating concern that hub & spigot prices will continue to rise.
Foundries call for changes
Not surprisingly, no-hub system marketers would like to see changes
in the way underground soil pipe is specified. Foundries in
particular contend that its only fair that hubless systems be
recognized as an "equal to " or " or equivalent" system to hub &
spigot. This minor change, they argue, would go far in making
material more available, reducing costs, and providing needed
competition to the hub & spigot marketers. Some no-hub foundries are
adding product to be more competitive with the hub & spigot
producers. One intends to produce 12" and 15" hubless components,
including heavy-duty bi-directionally corrugated couplings with
high-torque clamps for extra performance.
Good engineering or bad news?
Regardless of personal preferences or historical bias in other
regions, hubless soil pipe systems have been used below ground for
decades in the Far West with no apparent major problems. Industry
data and field experience show that concerns about corrosion, joint
integrity, ease of installation and overall costs can be safely
minimized. No-hub producers appear to have improved their products
to withstand corrosive and seismic environments.
But specifiers will have to satisfy themselves that no-hub can truly
do the job before the no-hub industryís request that "or equivalent"
clauses embrace hubless systems is answered. Still, the success of
western professionals with hubless ought to give skeptics pause. At
least itís worth thinking about no-hub in a different light.
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