The Peril of Orangeburg – Yes, Cardboard Crumbles

Neighbors in Lake Oswego have been educating each other about something called Orangeburg pipe, so I thought it might be something you’d like to know about. Orangeburg is a kind of sewer piping that was manufactured and used throughout the country between 1940 and approximately 1972, until ABS plastic piping was introduced and replaced its use.

Orangeburg PipeThe Fibre Conduit Company of Orangeburg, N.Y. was a major manufacturer of this kind of pipe, and with its widespread use, changed its name to the Orangeburg Pipe Co. — thus the common name of the product. If your home was built during this period, there is a good chance that you have this kind of sewer pipe lurking underground, so it is good to know what this could mean to you as either a homeowner, or someone contemplating a purchase.

Orangeburg pipe is actually “bituminized” fiber drain and sewer pipe 2” – 18” in diameter. Basically it was made of cellulose fibers impregnated with hot coal pitch and treated under pressure with a water-resistant adhesive. The joints of this pipe are gasket-less, and the pipe often softens and deforms with age which allows for root intrusion and general breakdown with time. Its lifespan is approximately 50 – 60 years, and so it is, generally speaking, at the end of its life cycle — which is why you should know about it.

On my block, it became an issue and a hot topic of conversation a few years back. Since then, when I bring it up, I often find it is a subject with which people are unfamiliar unless their lives have been directly affected. One set of neighbors had their sewage back up into their basement… not a pretty picture, and had to replace their sewer line in a hurry and under duress. Other neighbors have investigated their pipes and ordered their preemptive replacement in order to avoid the unpleasant fate of the aforementioned neighbors. One had sewer pipes replaced as a part of closing a real estate sale, and another decided on a preemptive replacement only to discover that their sewer pipe was NOT Orangeburg after opening up a big hole in their front yard.

So, if you decide you’d like to have a definitive answer to the Orangeburg question, you may wish to call a company that works with sewer lines to come perform a “sewer scope” at a cost to you of approximately $100. – $150. They will insert a camera down into the line, and be able to tell the condition of the pipes, whether there is root intrusion, and yes, whether you have Orangeburg pipes getting ready to collapse. AND, to top it off, they’ll leave you with a DVD which you may view from time to time for your entertainment… or not.

If you are a prospective home buyer, you will want to assess whether the home you are purchasing is a candidate for possible Orangeburg sewer pipes, and make the sewer scope a part of your home inspection process.

Photo courtesy of Mike Butkus.

7 Replies to “The Peril of Orangeburg – Yes, Cardboard Crumbles”

  1. Thanks Dianne and Linda,
    Great article.
    I suggested some clients of mine consider a “scope” and they found out about this stuff before they were the owners.
    It is easy to forget about what is underground. I think the excavation companies will do just fine in the future with this stuff reaching the end of its useful life.

  2. Thanks, Jim! Orangeburg is indeed a looming (lurking?) threat to many a property. It’s just a matter of finding out if it’s there, and then making the appropriate decisions depending on whether you are a homeowner or potential homeowner.

  3. Found out I have O/B pipe: 1 toilet/sewer pipe had separated at joint where concrete pipe exits house that connected to O/B pipe, leaving a gaping 2 inch opening. Kinda scary to think some creepy critter or reptile could slither it’s way up to bite my butt! Plumber repaired with PVC section/fittings, still leaving some O/B pipe (about 12-15 feet) going from there to septic system (a fix/replacement I will address in future when $$ becomes available – or I HAVE to emergency fix, which is usually the case with me).

    Original Florida house 50 years old, and 1975 house addition has this pipe problem. Original 1960 bathroom gives me NO plumbing problems (even have pink fixtures!), newer 1975 addition has problems, go figure. Have replaced toilet 3 times since 1999 (when I moved in) – gets a black slimy sediment in tank, and a crust in bowl – very very frustrating. Have very hard water, with alot of rust/minerals, etc.

    60-ft well, contaminated w/fecal coliform (septic just replaced, but all houses in neighborhood have “crappy” water – all septics toooo close to wells, dumb planning in 60’s.) Haul in 5-gal jugs bottled water, still have to bathe/launder. Water softeners don’t help much, need R/O or C/DC system. A new city line is costly, last house on road, and then when I pay big $$ to hook up, then all the other houses previous to mine can pay just minimal hookup – doesn’t seem fair!?

    Info on O/B informative, confirmed what plumber said. Quoted me $950 to replace the remaining 12-15 feet. Will get additional quotes if possible, seems like alot of $$ to dig up around pipe, cut the old out/off and put in some PVC.

    If you have any comments (welcomed), send to Thanks. mkh

  4. Thanks for the great info! We’re looking at a home right now that was built in the late ’40s and has had some prior root intrusion (noted in the disclosure form). We brought in an inspector to scope it, and he couldn’t get his instrument (bullhead, he called it) down through the maze before it goes in a straight B-line for the street. So we’re bringing in another company, the one that did it last year before the sellers decided to sell, to scope it. If it’s Orangeburg pipe, we will ask them to credit the home sale price with the replacement estimate (and we’ll give them the benefit of the doubt and credit them for the cheapest estimate, if they’re within reason) for replacement. When we sold our rural home last summer, we had hoped to leave the melodrama of a house with a well and septic system onsite in our past. But with the cost of excavating a new sewer line out to the street, this is a potentially ten to fifteen thousand dollar consideration. More than the cost of a roof. Thanks again, and it’s important, as you note, to consider this issue now, as orangeburg pipe gets to the end of its life estimate.

  5. Good info here. My sewer lateral goes from PVC to Orangeburg across the front yard and then transitions to clay pipe before going under the road to the city main. The Orangeburg has failed and the entire system needs to be replaced. The total run that needs to be replaced is about 120′ from the front corner of the house to the city main. Depth at the corner of the house is 4′ and the city main is at 10′. For anyone wishing to compare to their situation, I have gotten two quotes that range between $14,000 to $15,000.

  6. Thanks for the Orangeburg pipe photo credit. I was just updating my sewer page with a weird problem with my sink. I added it to my Ornageburg page. Somehow two half walnuts got into a cast iron pipe drain catching all kinds of other stuff, just before the 4″ pipe causing a slow drain. Photo of what finally came out.
    I added my site to Wikipedia Orangeburg pipe to show the problem of this once wonderful invention. I Googled Orangeburg photos, your site came up !
    P.S. my replacement plastic 4″, no problem in 10 years.

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