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Plumber’s corner: Orangeburg pipe risks

Washington Energy | 03/05/2012 | Posted in Plumbing

Was your house built between 1945 and 1972? Or was a side sewer to your house laid at that time? 

What Orangeburg Pipe is and why it matters

If you said YES, you have a high potential of having sewer line pipe made of a material called Orangeburg. Since these pipes are going end of life underground now, and since the sewer line is your homeowner’s responsibility, this has come up as a highly requested topic for our Newsletter.  Here is the important information you need to know about Orangeburg pipe.

Orangeburg pipe is bituminous fiber pipe made from asphalt impregnated layers of wood pulp and pitch pressed together – essentially tar paper. Lightweight and brittle, this piping absorbs moisture and deforms under pressure It started out as a substitute to cast iron pipe, which was heavily taxed during WWII to support the war effort.  We have recently performed two sewer line replacements in one block in Tacoma because of problems with this piping material.

How long does Orangeburg Pipe last?

Orangeburg has a life expectancy of approximately 50 years. After 30 years, deformation may begin to occur. All homes with Orangeburg pipe are pre-1972 and 40 or more years old. That could put your house at risk.

What happens when the Orangeburg piping begins to deteriorate?

Once the product begins to break down homeowners can expect frequent clogged lines, tree root invasion and even total pipe collapse. Once the deterioration process begins, Orangeburg sewer pipes deform quickly, allowing tree roots to break in to them and literally shred them.

How do you tell if your Washington home has Orangeburg pipe?

If your house was built between 1940 and 1972, there’s a chance you have Orangeburg. The product was used as the standard piping as late as the 1970’s. Also, if you have frequent clogs in your main sewer line or you see indentations in the front yard that line up with where the sewer should be, it’s might be a sign of Orangeburg pipe deterioration. If your neighbors have Orangeburg, you probably do too.

You have Orangeburg Pipe in your home. What is the solution?

We recommend having a licensed plumber come out and perform a side sewer camera inspection.  This is a video camera review that does not require digging anything up. If it’s determined Orangeburg has been used and is showing signs of deterioration the solution would be to replace ALL of it at once with PVC.  The bottom line is this material will deteriorate after a certain amount of time do to pressure and moisture.  If you do not address the problem, eventually your sewer line will fail which could cost thousands in preventable repairs.

If you would like more information about Orangeburg pipe, please call us at 1-800-590-4969.  PlumbWorks is a division of Washington Energy Services.

14 Responses to “Plumber’s corner: Orangeburg pipe risks”

  • Charles j Schaefer

    Did they use Orangeburg pipe in the sewers connecting house side to the street line,in the center of the road.

  • Blair Becht

    I have encountered this Orangeburg pipe in underground high voltage feeders of a 60 year old power plant. After doing some research I see that materials used in construction is asbestos! Where could I find a MSDS on this material and further info concerning the asbestos, because I’ve told my contractor I don’t want to be around the stuff when we remove the de-energized conductors inside the pipe and then strip for the valuable copper inside.

    • Washington Energy

      Hello, it is possible in some cases to reline orangeburg pipe. The relining is usually with an epoxy coated liner. Often by the time the problem is noticed, there are too many complications. Some cases in which you might not be able to reline would be if there is a lot of partial collapse, missing sections, or when there’s a large tree that has compromised the area that the pipe would run through. It all depends on the amount of damage and the only way to know is to get a video inspection of your sewer line and go from there.

  • Brock

    Back then it probably was a great item and to get 40-50 years out of well that’s a long time. To the PVC and other things we have today to run sewer lines in it really makes orangeburg pipe look like junk. Plus look at the phones we use to have to the phones we have now days. I recommend to everyone not just cause I work in the service field but if you are buying a house pay the extra money to get a sewer line inspection. Maybe estimate on replacing it. If the orangeburg runs under a city street or is really deep, or possible both to me that would be a huge factor in. Buying the house or not

  • kent

    Our house was build in 1965 so is now over 40 years old as just this week we have had the sewer truck out twice. We videoed the pipe and find many of the problems you described in this article, collapse, deforming, root penetration. Looks like we need to have this corrected immediately. Questions for you: is there any recourse to go back to the manufacturer for help in correction this problem, why did local building codes allow this product to be used and when did builders stop using this awful product. We are not prepared to fork out $10,000 to correct this error. Can you help?

    • Washington Energy

      Thanks for asking and sorry to hear about your sewer issue. While we are not able to give legal advice, we can tell you that this pipe was still authorized as part of the building code until the 1970s. We don’t have the exact date that the Washington State Building Code was amended, but nationally it was in use after your house was built. The life of that pipe was expected to be about 40-50 years. If there are any options for legal recourse we don’t know about them, and would like to know if you find any. Orangeburg pipe started out as a protective covering for electrical wires, where there’s really no pressure on the pipe from the inside, so it had a good initial track record. When they brought it to the residential housing market they had a thicker version for the sewer pipe. Local building codes allowed this product to be used because it was cheaper to produce than metal pipe and especially after the war years, traditional building materials were at a premium and hard to come by. It wasn’t as tough as they thought. Unfortunately it’s a costly replacement project and we do recommend that you get several bids from licensed plumbers. Compare the costs closely because plumbing companies go about things in different ways (doesn’t mean one is right and the other is wrong) and charge differently for them. If you would like a bid from us, please contact us at 800-398-4663. We provide free estimates for repiping jobs so there would be no cost to you to have us bid this and no obligation.

  • Ellen

    Did Orangeburg come in different sizes? I need to replace mine, which hasn’t failed quite yet, and I’m wondering if there was a standard size. I thought we’d dig down to where it is (not far) and measure, but then I thought that if there is only one diameter (or was, since it is now likely to be squashed) I could get on to getting the new PVC pipe.

    • Washington Energy

      Hello Ellen, Sorry for the late reply. It’s a sewer pipe that came in a variety of sizes from 2 inches all the way up to 17 or 18 inches and typically round, but sometimes could be in an oval shape. The diameter you have might depend on what the city or state code was in the area you live at the time that the pipe was put into the ground. So, several variables. Please let us know if you ever want a free estimate from our plumbers for replacement of your orangeburg pipe. There is no obligation. Regards, Washington Energy.

  • Donna Lemongello

    With Orangeburg “eventually your sewer line will fail which could cost thousands in preventable repairs.” What PREVENTABLE repairs? Don’t you HAVE to replace it, how can that be prevented?

    • Washington Energy

      Thanks for your question. By preventable repairs we mean replacing the pipe will be preventing the disaster that can happen if you have your sewer line fail.

  • Deborah Saunders

    does the company have any liability at this point? I have 1st time home buyers who have moved into a “flipped” house, and the next day started having problems. After the plumber came out it was discovered these pipes were the problem. I am heart sick and mortified. Please help!

    • Washington Energy

      Deb, it’s always awful when people move into a house just to have problems from the start. We are not legal experts and would have to refer you to a different source to answer the question about this property. We do recommend that now that you know this, you point clients in that neighborhood toward getting a plumbing inspection in addition to standard home inspection to determine this issue pre-sale.


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