Category Archives: General

General information about plastics the use of plastic trench drains.

3 Reasons Why Trench Drains Fail

A trench drain can be an expensive item to install.  First you have to invest time and energy into trying to solve a drainage problem.  Then, there is the cost of the drain itself: channel, top grating and shipping costs.

Next, there is an expense associated with the installation.  Maybe you use a contractor.  Maybe you do it yourself and end up with a sore back or smashed thumb.  You have concrete and other supply costs, as well.  It all adds up.  If it’s a home project, there is some personal frustration associated with the whole affair.  So, in the end you want the drain to actually solve the problem.

Shortcuts and misunderstanding the breadth of the problem lead to a failed trench drain.  Usually, I am brought in to consult with the project owner after the failed drain is discovered.  I have seen enough of these to lump the failures into three categories.

Improper Installation

There is a misconception that you don’t need to use concrete when installing a channel drain.  Put this out of your mind.  In most cases, you NEED to encase your trench drain in an envelope of concrete.

The only situation where you don’t need to pour concrete is in a paver patio that will never see vehicle traffic.

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Cracked polymer concrete drain in paver driveway

The example to the left shows a polymer concrete drain installed in a paver driveway.  Polymer concrete has a high compressive strength but is brittle and easily breaks when dropped or put into a dynamic force situation.

The abutting paving stones could have settled a bit in this drive.  The top edge of the trench drain became exposed to the dynamic forces of the car wheel, which broke the channel walls at the base of the drain.  The contraction and expansion of the stones freezing and thawing may also have played a role in the disintegration of the drain.

Originally, a modular trench drain was sold as a “form” which was used to when forming a drain out of concrete.  The drain body wasn’t the strength of the system, it was the shape.  When a drain is encased in concrete, the concrete takes the shape of the drain and becomes the strength of the drain.  Often, suppliers will specify a thickness of concrete needed to achieve a specific drain load classification.  Four inches are used in small automobile traffic.  Eight inches for heavier loads.

A drain can’t merely be sitting adjacent to the concrete.
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Without proper concrete reinforcement, trench drains will crack

The concrete must encase the body of the channel intimately.  In the example above, the client poured the concrete allowing a gap for the trench drain to be grouted in after the fact.  Because there was no support below or from the sides of the channel, the plastic channel body and grates were easily crushed under the weight of an automobile.  If the entire drain was supported by concrete, the weight load of the car would have been transferred to the concrete and the drain would still be intact.

“Can I use asphalt to install my drain?”

Generally, I would say “No”.  I have seen situations where the majority of the drain was encased in concrete, but the top surface adjoining the drain was tamped with asphalt.  That is doable if the contractor takes care not to crush the drain during asphalt compaction, but that is not a risk I’d like to promote.

Encasing the entire drain in concrete is preferred – and easier for the installer.  The asphalt can be compacted next to the concrete.  If there is an aversion to the contrast between the light grey concrete and the black asphalt, one could always seal coat the concrete to make it blend in.  If not, you may end up with a drain that looks like the photo below.

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Plastic trench drain installed with packed asphalt

Improper Drain Selection

You can install a product beautifully, but if you install the wrong drain you are not going to have a good time.  Such is the case when you put a plastic drain in an area that sees fork truck traffic (below).

For applications where a drain is going to see repeated automobile, delivery truck or fork truck traffic, a heavier duty drain is required.

I recommend drain bodies made from HDPE or polymer concrete with grating recesses that are supported by embedment concrete (i.e. the grate is wider than the channel opening).  Channel bodies capped with a metal frame and heavy duty grating are more preferable.

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Lightweight Spee-D Channel failed to support forklift traffic

Some drains are meant to be used in light duty, residential applications only.  Those little plastic drains you buy at the big box stores (Lowes, Home Depot, and Menard’s) are meant for use in a patio or maybe a driveway with little automobile traffic.  Often, the channels are made from extruded cellular PVC and the structural support on which the grating rests is made entirely of plastic.  The light duty construction of these channels will have a tendency to break under heavy loads or due to the freeze-thaw episodes seen in the winters up north.

Another improper drain selection situation is when you install a drain that will see a larger amount of water than it can handle.

The drain can be installed perfectly, but if the drain is overrun with a deluge of water, it is not serving its purpose.

A Pipe Size Calculation is nice to do prior to selecting your drain just to double check that you have a drain that can handle the water flow anticipated.

trench drain flow capacity, high capacity trench drain, flow calculation drains,

Improper Grating Selection

An incorrect grating selection can also lead to trench drain problems.  The most common problems arise when the grating either has:

  1. Insufficient load rating or
  2. Insufficient chemical resistance
Load rating problems are common.
winery trench grates, stainless drain grates, load class drains winery
Class A winery grate after forklift traffic

The cheaper grates generally have a lower load class.  Class A load gratings, for pedestrian applications, are sometimes used where automobile traffic is frequent thus leading to grating failure.  I’ve seen contractors or engineers choose a lower class grating because it met the budget of the project.  Later, of course, the owner of the project would have to replace the grates anyway.

This is the case for the example to the left.  A winery had stainless steel slotted grates installed that had Class A loading.  The application actually needed a grating with a much higher load rating.  As stainless steel is expensive enough, the project settled on the cheaper stainless grates only to come back later looking to replace the grates with the appropriate stainless steel product.  Money could have been saved by making this decision during the initial installation.

Insufficient chemical resistance is also a common example of an improper grating selection.

We don’t always think about the quality of the water or environment that the drain is going into.  Sometimes it just slips our mind.  Additionally, we may want to ignore the chance that the drain is in an aggressive environment because that will force us to consider more expensive, chemical resistant grating options.

Consider those folks that live near the sea coasts of Florida, California or Washington.  The salt water atmosphere plays havoc on cast iron and galvanized steel.  Eventually, trench covers corrode and need replacing.  For coastal environments, it is wise to consider a stainless steel, HDPE or fiberglass grate when possible.

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Likewise, in dog kennel applications, galvanized steel grating eventually corrodes from the dog urine and harsh cleaning chemicals used.  This leads to a premature replacement of the grates.  For non-profit organizations, who are always looking to cut costs, it is tempting to use a low cost galvanized steel grate for the kennel application.  It would be better in the long run to use a stainless steel or perforated HDPE grating so to avoid expenses later.

The photo below shows how a galvanized steel grate can corrode and deteriorate in a kennel application.

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Much of these problems can be summed up to poor workmanship.  Here are a couple take-aways:

  1. Make sure the contractor installing your drain knows what he is doing. Is this his first trench drain installation or has he had a number of successful products?
  2. Don’t leave it to the contractor to find you a drain. He might just go to Lowe’s or Home Depot and come back with a plastic drain that is incorrect for the application or aesthetically displeasing.
Contact the drain experts of Trench Drain Systems to get help with your drain selection. Send us an email or call now at 610-638-1221.

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Finally, a Installation Guide for MEArin 100!

If you’ve been looking for a MEArin 100 installation guide, you’re in luck!

Trench Drain Systems partnered up with a customer last month to create an accurate install guide designed specifically for the MEArin system.

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I love MEArin 100. I worked with it for years, and I’ve found that it has some great things going for it, especially for homeowners who need an affordable drain around the house.

  1. Versatility. MEArin 100 is the right size for a patio or pool situation, yet it’s tough enough for driveway applications.
  2. Cover Selection. To quote a coworker, MEArin 100 comes with “billions and billions of grating option.” While I don’t think it’s quite so high, MEArin 100 does
  3. DIY Friendly. All the parts assemble easily in MEArin 100.  And, installation doesn’t require technical expertise. It’s great for the residential do-it-yourselfer!

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Here’s how it happened:

When we asked MEA to send us an accurate install bulletin for MEArin 100, they sent us the same incorrect one we’d been using for years. They didn’t have an installation guide for the system, either.

We wouldn’t send contractors off to install commercial drains without a bulletin, so why were we doing it to homeowners with less experience? It wasn’t acceptable. So we decided to make our own.

At the same time, one of our customers who had purchased MEArin 100, offered to send us photos from his installation. A retired engineer, he even took the time to make suggestions for our new installation guide based on his experience installing the drain.

We’re proud to have an installation guide that is easy for DIY homeowners to reference. Use it for your own MEArin 100 installation – or as a basic guide for any driveway installation.

Need professional advice? Give Trench Drain Systems a call at 610-638-1221 or send a request to our estimating department!

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Q&A: Retrofitting Plastic Patio Drains

Last week we had a reader email us with a patio drain question. Namely, how could he replace the worn plastic channels of his patio drain, which was separating from the concrete floor?

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Curiosity about the drain itself aside, I am more concerned with the installation’s integrity. As you see in the photo, he pulled up some of the drain. No trench drain – not even a plastic patio drain – should pull up so easily.

A patio drain installed in concrete should be “gripping” the concrete. As plastic drains age they tend to separate, letting water between the edges. Ultimately, this deteriorates the concrete and creates troublesome moisture within the patio floor. For more information on sealing damp concrete, this helpful article by The Concrete Network has more detail.

buy patio drains, buy plastic channel drains, buy pro series drainsThis is why most new models of plastic channel drains feature some sort of rib or ledge. Extra surface area gives more “grip” and lends the drain more longevity it wouldn’t otherwise have.
The NDS Pro Series channel drain product line prides itself on this feature.

I see two solutions to the underlying problem here:

  1. Using a concrete saw, cut a minimum 4” on either side of the drain. Remove the old channels and concrete. Pour concrete around a new patio drain of the same size – but one that has more “grip.”
  2. Without widening the trench, remove the current patio drain. Secure and install a smaller channel drain in concrete. Since the channel is smaller, you may need an outlet adapter to meet the old piping hook-up (e.g., a 2” outlet to 4” pipe adapter).

I hope this gives you a couple ideas about how to fix separating patio drains. Still have questions? Send me an email at hannah@plastictrenchdrain.com. For purchasing questions, give Trench Drain Systems a call at 610-638-1221.

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5 Questions to Ask Before Installing Plastic Trench Drain

This is how you choose a plastic trench drain:

When I started my career with trench drain, I didn’t know the benefits of using plastic trench drains on drainage projects.  Since then, I’ve seen enough projects to tell the difference between good and bad trench drain systems.  From what I learned, all trench drain is good as long as you have the proper product for the application. Here’s how you get it right.

1.  Is the drain located in an area with extreme freeze/thaw?

NDS Photos 007 - prPlastic is more susceptible to freeze-thaw than other materials (such as metal or polymer concrete) used for trench drains.  Plastic trench drains can separate from the concrete that holds them in place during extreme temperature changes.  Also, PVC becomes brittle in the extreme cold and could crack under impact at those times.  So, be aware of environment factors before you choose your trench drain material.

2.  Is the drain being installed in a paver surface or in a pour concrete floor?

Mini Channel, Zurn Z880, plastic channel drain, channel drain for paver patio,Trench drains used in paver patio applications usually are straight walled  so to accommodate the close proximity of a paving stone.  Plastic drains that have built-in pedestals or an exaggerated grating seat impart greater strength to the drain and are best suited for concrete installations.

3.  Are the aesthetics important? 

decorative stone, stone grating, decorative trench drain grates, decorative residential drains, residential trench drains, residential catch basins,  decorative catch basin gratesNarrow plastic drains, also called strip drains, come in 1-2” widths and don’t offer decorative grating options. Larger plastic systems (3” wide and larger) often feature decorative grating options in plastic, cast iron or stone.  Some systems even use stainless steel grates.  Or, how do you feel about the plastic channel edge being exposed at the drain-floor interface?  There are systems which minimize or eliminate unsightly channel details.

4.  What are the load requirements for the drain?

Not all residential-grade plastic trench drains are built with vehicle traffic in mind.  But some applications, such as driveways, require load bearing drains.  Small plastic channel drains are designed to incorporate the strength of the surrounding to achieve higher load standards.  Often, these systems offer cast iron grates and reinforcing frames to assist in transferring the load away from the plastic channel.  This allows the plastic channel to achieve industrial-grade load ratings.

plastic driveway drain, trench drain for driveways,  trench drain with cast iron grates, Locust iron grates

5.  Is the drain being installed by you or a  contractor?

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Superior trench drain design promotes easy installation.  Engineers thought through the installation process to design easy-to-install trench drains.  Plastic trench drains are lightweight and easier to handle.  Still, some of the larger plastic systems can be unwieldy in inexperienced hands, especially when being installed in concrete.

This list of considerations is by no means exhaustive. Maybe you have some other ideas. If so, let me know by leaving a comment below.

Need a price quote? Have installation or replacement questions? Feel free to speak to one of the professional sales staff at Trench Drain Systems by calling 610-638-1221.

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Common Plastic Terminology for Trench Drains

It’s time to discuss some plastic terminology!

Disclaimer: I am not an organic chemist or a plastics engineer. I’m gathering this information from other sources and I may not be explaining it as accurately as I need to.

Polyolefin — is a polymer produced from a simple olefin, or alkene as a monomer. For example, polyethylene is a polyolefin produced by “polymerizing” the olefin “ethylene”. Another common polyolefin is polypropylene. I consider polyolefin a general term for a family of plastics. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/polyolefin)

Polyethylene — is a semi-crystalline plastic with excellent chemical resistance, good fatigue, and wear resistance. They can have a wide range of properties which are determined by the length and degree of branching of their polymer chain. In general, polyethylenes have good resistance to organic solvents, high impact strength, are light weight, resistant to staining, and have a low moisture absorption rate. They are easy to distinguish from other plastics because they float in water. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/polyethylene)

HDPE (High Density Polyethylene) — HDPE is the most common polyethylene used in industry. It offers excellent impact resistance and high tensile strength. Technically speaking, it has a low degree of branching and thus a stronger intermolecular forces. HDPE is non-toxic and meets FDA and USDA certifications for food processing. It is commonly used for the manufacturing of milk jugs, margarine tubs, detergent containers and trash cans. It is also an excellent material for use in trench drain and storm sewer pipe.

Polypropylene is an economical material that offers a combination of outstanding physical, chemical, mechanical, thermal and electrical properties not found in any other thermoplastic. It has a lower impact strength that does HDPE, but it also has better tensile strength and superior heat resistance.

Structural Foam — is a structure imparted to an olefin during processing that gives the plastic addition strength and resilience. More on this later.

PVC (Polyvinyl Chloride) — Is a widely used thermoplastic polymer. Over 50% of the PVC products manufactured are used in construction as a building material. PVC offers excellent corrosion and weather resistance and has a high strength-to-weight ratio. PVC is inexpensive, easy to clean, and a popular replacement for wood and concrete building materials. It is used in house sidings, drainage pipe, window profiles and plumbing fixtures (such as some trench drain). Despite appearing to be an ideal building material, concerns have been raised about the costs of PVC to the natural environment and human health. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/polyvinyl_chloride)

Fiberglass Reinforced Polyester — Polyester is a category of condensation polymers which contain the ester functional group in their main chain. This group also includes polycarbonates. Polyesters are popular for being used as a woven fabric. When fiberglass is added to polyester, the resultant material is more durable and resistant to impact.

UV Inhibitors — These are chemical additives that are added to plastic which help to retard the damaging effects of ultraviolet light to the plastic.

Injection Molding — This is a forming method by which intricate trench drain products (or other plastic shapes) can be shaped. In this process, a heated and liquid thermoplastic is injected into a mold that contains a cavity that has the shape which is desired. Once injected with plastic, the mold and part is cooled. The resulting plastic shape is removed from the mold and trimmed of flashing (excess plastic). This method is needed to form pre-sloped trench channels. Though mold costs are expensive, one mold is required for each size of pre-sloped channel.

Extrusion — Another method of making trench channel is extrusion. In this process, a heated batch of thermoplastic is continuously injected through a water-cooled die. The shape of the die will determine the cross-section of the extruded part. This method can be used to make simple, non-complex parts such as pipe, tubes and u-shaped channels. The most inexpensive channel drain products are made using this forming method.

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Plastic Trench Drain vs. Residential Trench Drain

Are most residential drainage projects solved by plastic trench drain?

It’s starting to look that way.

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As society’s attention to stormwater runoff issues grows, so does our need to learn about water control products such as trench drains.  Concrete and fiberglass trench drains dominated the commercial market for years. These polymer concrete or fiberglass based drainage systems proved too costly, which leaves plastic as the alternative material for household drainage products. For many homeowners, plastic trench drain offers the best value – if they can find a drainage system right for their needs.

Go to the local landscape supply or home improvement store and you’ll only see a small sample of plastic drainage products. Maybe you’ll even find actual trench drain on the shelves. But ask yourself, “Is this what I want?” Most likely, this is not what you originally envisioned. Maybe you expected a bigger variety. Maybe you are uncertain of all the products available on the market or how to find them.

Read: Top Questions to Ask Yourself Before Buying Plastic Trench Drain

PlasticTrenchDrain.com is here to shed some light on plastic trench drain systems and manufacturers plastic drainage products. Homeowners and contractors alike will see products and find possibilities to solve drainage problems using plastic systems.

I will occasionally give you website links that will help you on your quest for knowledge. I will show systems that meet your engineering requirements, budget and aesthetic needs. If you have immediate questions that need answering, feel free to leave a comment below or email me.

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Pro’s and Con’s of Plastic Trench Drain

When I started my career with trench drain, I didn’t know the critical questions that determine whether plastic trench drain is appropriate in a drainage project.

At the time, I handled a polymer concrete product line. Polymer concrete is a mixture of an inert material (such as silica sand) and a two part polyester resin binder. The sand-resin mixture is poured into a mold, where the bond sets and the shape dries. Further curing can then be done in large driers. The resultant product is heavy, hard, durable, and brittle.

My sales manager instructed me that polymer concrete trench drain products were “good” or “superior” and plastic products were “bad”. Of course, he had a vested interest in promoting his polymer concrete trench drain. It made me ponder the reasons that lead to the contractor’s decision to use one material versus another material.

Since then, I have seen enough applications and selling situations of trench drain to have legitimate opinion on what is “good” trench drain and what is “bad”. And, from what I’ve seen, it’s all good…depending on whether or not you have the proper application.

When looking for a trench drain product, determine what is needed and what can be sacrificed. Where is the project? Is the aesthetics or functionality more important? Are you or someone else installing the product? What equipment is available to use in the installation? What are the load requirements for the drain? What is the budget? All these are necessary questions to the drain selection. And, all may have an impact on whether you use a plastic based product. Selection considerations are discussed below.

Advantages of Plastic Trench Drain:

trench drain grates, trench grates, channel drain grates, channel drains, plastic trench drain, patio trench, patio drain, drain channelGreater Selection Options — Plastic trench drains come in many widths, lengths and styles. Products are available in 1” to 21” widths and can come in up to 10 foot lengths.  Narrower channels use lightweight grates with decorative options.  On the larger side, plastic trench drains can use heavy duty iron grates for situations with heavy vehicle traffic.

Plastic Trench Drain is Light Weight — Being lightweight gives plastic trench drains two benefits:

  • Easier handling during installation — One person can handle a 10 foot section of drain. Other products, such as polymer concrete and fiberglass, are heavy and come in shorter lengths.
  • Better shipping — Small orders of plastic trench drain can be shipped by UPS or Fedex. Similar orders of polymer concrete product would require a freight hauler and a fork truck to unload.

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Ease of Installation — The high degree of processing sophistication allows for superior trough designs that promote an easy installation. The designers thought through the contractor’s process and came up with plastic drainage systems that are both adjustable and quickly installed.

Lower Product Costs — Plastic trench drain is more affordable than polymer concrete drains at widths up to 8”. Plastic systems also offer a wider range of decorative grating options, corner angles and color choices.

Forgiving to Impact (at times) — If you drop a section of plastic trench drain on the floor, it won’t break like polymer concrete will.

Disadvantages of Plastic Trench Drain:

Freeze/Thaw problems — Plastic has a higher coefficient of thermal expansion than does polymer concrete. This can lead to problems in environments that see extreme cold and heat. The trench drain can separate from the concrete that holds it in place.

Extreme Cold Impact Problems — Some plastic will shatter if it sees an impact while frozen. Some plastic trench drain will do the same.

Low Industrial Strength — Some plastic products promote their ability to handle heavy load applications. And though the grate they provide may meet the load requirement, the channel itself may display low integrity.

Durability — In general, plastic trench drain doesn’t have the life as polymer concrete.

This list of advantages and disadvantages is not exhaustive. It’s just what I can think of today. Maybe you have some other ideas. If so, let me know. Email me with comments or questions! Feel free to speak to one of the professional sales staff at Trench Drain Systems by calling 610-638-1221.

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