Why is Orangeburg pipe a problem and how do I know if I have it?

Saturday, April 27, 2019

    Orangeburg was the dominant brand of “bituminous fiber pipe,” a low-cost sewer pipe for underground installation in the U.S. between 1945 and 1973. It was made from wood fiber and coal-tar pitch pressed together—and derided by its critics as a "coal-tar impregnated toilet paper tube.” Orangeburg's popularity peaked from the mid-1950s through the ‘60s, and millions of lineal feet were installed. After PVC and ABS plastic pipe entered the market in the late 1960s, sales declined due to premature pipe failure problems and the success of its new competitors. The Orangeburg Manufacturing plant (located in Orangeburg, NY) closed at the end of 1972.

    Orangeburg has a life expectancy of about 50 years, but can have problems as early as 10 to 20 years out. Since it has not been installed since the early 1970s, all Orangeburg pipe still underground is near, or past, its 50-year lifespan. As the pipe deteriorates you can expect it to gradually flatten into an oval, tree root invasion, and leakage. 

    We asked our plumber, James Freeman, of J.W. Freeman Plumbing in Gainesville, if he has come across any Orangeburg lately. "Yes, it's still around,” according to James. “Orangeburg is a very thin pipe, so it tends to flatten out from the weight of the dirt over time, making it more oval than round. It is also is susceptible to roots and can be difficult to clear with a sewer machine without damaging the pipe and, because of the shape and flimsiness, making a repair to a bad section can be tricky.  Most of the time if Orangeburg is having a problem it's time to look at replacing the line with schedule 40 PVC."

    If your home was built between 1945 and 1973, or the sewer line (lateral) to the house was replaced during that time, you can find out if you have Orangeburg two ways:

  • Have your plumber do a video scan of the drain line, which will give you a definite answer but costs a couple of hundred dollars, or 
  • If you live in a housing development built post-WW2 to the early 1970s, it’s likely that all the homes around you have the same type of original lateral pipe connection to the sewer at the street or the septic tank. Ask your local plumber or your neighbors if they know anything about it. Also, some cities keep records of which neighborhoods have Orangeburg installed. 

    Also, see our blog posts What is the difference between water pipe and sewage (waste) pipe? and What is the difference between green and white sewer drain pipes?

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Here’s links to a collection of our other blog posts about PLUMBING PIPES:

How can I protect my pipes to keep them from bursting during a hard winter freeze in North Florida?

Can galvanized steel pipe still be used for new water lines in a house? 

How can I tell if I have cast iron pipes in my house? 

Why can't a sanitary tee be used for a horizontal-to-horizontal drain pipe connection? 

What is the difference between green and white sewer drain pipes?

Is a washing machine drain hose required to be secured at the standpipe?

What are the abandoned pipes sticking out of the wall in my house?  

What are the code requirements for plumbing vent terminations?

What are the code requirements for layout of drain piping under sinks?

What causes a gurgling sound when a bathtub or sink drains? 

What is a "combination waste and vent" in a plumbing system? 

What is a building trap?  

What is a galvanized nipple?

What are the pipes sticking out near my water valves?

How do you accurately find a broken water pipe leak under the floor slab?

What is the difference between water pipe and sewage (waste) pipe? 

Are plastic pipes (PVC, CPVC, and PEX) safe for drinking water? 

Is a hot water faucet handle required to be on the left? 

What is a dielectric union? 

What's that powdery crust on the pipe connections at the water heater? 

If all the plumbing drains have water in them and you can still smell sewer gas, what's causing the problem?  

How can I tell what type of plumbing pipe I have?

Why is there a flexible accordion pipe under the sink? 

What is the difference between PVC and ABS plumbing pipe?

What is the difference between water service pipe and water supply pipe? 

What are the pipes on my roof? 

What is a P-trap?

Why is old galvanized steel water pipe a problem for homebuyers?

What does polybutylene pipe look like? Why is it a problem? 

• Which water pipes are an insurance problem and possibly uninsurable?

• Can you connect CPVC pipe directly to a gas water heater? 

    Visit our PLUMBING page for other related blog posts on this subject, or go to the INDEX for a complete listing of all our articles. 

Photo of old Orangeburg pipe - Wikipedia

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