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The Orangeburg pipe situation has been a financial boon for plumbers and a financial burden for homeowners. Named after the town of Orangeburg, New York, where it was first produced, the pipe has about a fifty-year life span. Since the last of the Orangeburg piping was put down in the 1970s, the most recent installations are going to be facing their expiration very soon. If ignored, they could result in an extremely messy and extremely expensive sewer line collapse.

A Quick Recap on the Orangeburg Pipe Problem

Made of wood pulp that has been sealed with coal tar, Orangeburg has been described by some plumbing professionals as nothing more than a “coal tar-impregnated toilet paper tube.” That it has lasted as long as it has is some sort of miracle, many say.

While a form of Orangeburg (otherwise known as bituminous fiber pipe) has been around since the late 1800s, widespread usage of Orangeburg began during World War II due to a shortage of more cast iron materials, which were needed for the war effort. Following the war, Orangeburg continued to proliferate because it was cheap.

An Orangeburg Disaster

Sewer piping tends to be “out of sight, out of mind” until there’s, at a minimum, some sort of water backup. That’s just what happened to homeowner Erika Dronen.

“We started having problems with our sewer line about a week after purchasing our home,” Dronen told The Patch. “Black water started coming up from the drain in our basement floor. We were told we had Orangeburg piping and the tree roots in our yard were crushing it. At this point, we have spent over $20,000 in sewer line repairs and the replacement of carpet and furniture.”

So what can you do to avoid facing a problem like Erika?

Know the Orangeburg Warning Signs

First and foremost, if you’re buying a home that was built before 1980, have a professional plumber do an inspection to ensure there’s not Orangeburg piping (if there is, you can subtract the replacement estimate from your offer).

If you’re already settled and are unsure whether you have Orangeburg piping, the previous homeowner or city documents may have the answer; if not, it’s again best to bring in a professional plumber who can do an inspection for you.

However, there are a few warning signs to watch out for:

  • Slow draining
  • Frequent toilet back-ups
  • Foul sewer odors inside the home
  • Mold issues
  • Lawn patches that appear greener than others
  • Dips or indentations in the lawn
  • Sinkholes in the foundation

Trenchless Technologies versus Orangeburg Replacement

If it’s determined that your Orangeburg piping is in decent shape or at least salvageable, a professional plumber can use trenchless technologies to avoid digging up your yard. Basically, trenchless technology involves inserting a new pipe inside the old pipe; it’s done by feeding a liner inside the pipe, inflating it, and curing it to seal it in place.

If your Orangeburg piping is beyond repair, however, full replacement with PVC piping will need to be initiated to avoid complete collapse.

If You Can’t Afford Orangeburg Piping Replacement

While replacing Orangeburg piping should be a priority (remember, replacement is going to ultimately be a lot less expensive than cleaning up after a collapse), we understand that immediate replacement is not a financial option for many. Unfortunately, it’s also not often covered by insurance; if your policy does include sewer lines, chances are there is a “cap” on pay outs and you’ll still be on the hook for some of the expense. You should check in with them as soon as possible.

In the meantime, have your plumber send a camera down into the sewer every six months to keep tabs on the situation. This costs money too, of course, but perhaps you can share the cost by taking turns with a neighbor or two; it’s likely they have Orangeburg piping that was installed at the same time, meaning it’s probably in similar condition. If their pipes seem to be holding up, then it’s a safe bet that yours are too, and vice versa.

If the inspection reveals damage but not imminent danger, your plumber may be able to extend the life of the pipes a bit longer by snaking them while you look into a loan or other means of affording the replacement.

On dangerous ground? Sacramento, California-based Express Sewer & Drain is equipped to handle sewer lines that have been damaged due to the mainstream use of Orangeburg pipe. While Orangeburg once had its uses, it’s now worn out its welcome (literally). Speak with one of our experts today.

Residential Trenchless Technology Guide

Topics: Pipe Bursting, Plumbing in Sacramento