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McGarry and Madsen's home inspection blog for buyers of
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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.
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Here’s links to a collection of our other blog posts about PLUMBING PIPES:
Photo of old Orangeburg pipe - Wikipedia
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