Hidden beneath your home is a sewer pipe that, if all is going well, usually goes unnoticed. But, depending on the age of your home, you may be dealing with a problem lurking underground. That problem is Orangeburg pipes. If your home has these pipes, you’re looking at a potentially headache-inducing plumbing emergency. Here’s everything you need to know about Orangeburg pipes and what you can do as a homeowner.
In the years following World War II, homebuilders clamored to meet the demands of the housing boom. Inexpensive building materials became increasingly popular as more and more homes were needed to accommodate growing post-war families. Orangeburg pipes were one such building material.
Manufactured by Orangeburg Manufacturing Company, Orangeburg pipes are a brand of bituminous fiber sewer pipe material. The pipes were manufactured from wood fibers bound with a water-resistant adhesive and filled with liquified coal tar pitch. Lightweight and easy to cut, many plumbers of the era held Orangeburg in high regard. It was commonly used in home construction between the 1940s and 1970s.
Even in the best cases, Orangeburg pipes have a lifespan of no more than 50 years. Today, most homes with Orangeburg pipes have installations that are either malfunctioning or about to malfunction. The most common problems associated with Orangeburg pipes include:
As Orangeburg pipes age, they deform and lose their circular cross-section, giving tree roots easy access. Nourished by moisture in the pipe, these roots can grow large and cause major obstructions and sewage backup. Leaks can also occur, potentially creating dangerous sinkholes in your yard.
Slow drains are often the first noticeable sign of a plumbing blockage. As previously stated, Orangeburg pipes are prone to obstructions from tree roots. These obstructions can slow down your drains and leave you with sinks and showers that hold water long after you’re done with them. Orangeburg pipes also flatten and disintegrate over time, creating permanent blockages.
Normally, a drain cleaning is all you’d need to remove blockages and fix slow pipes. But this is only a temporary fix if you have Orangeburg pipes. The obstructions will reoccur as the pipes degrade and remain an easy target for tree roots.
With sewage backup comes foul smelling sewer odors throughout the home. These smells resemble rotten eggs, spoiled milk, and other unpleasantly sulfuric stenches. You’ll catch a whiff of them when passing by your toilets and sinks. Long-term exposure to hydrogen sulfide, or sewer gas, can cause nausea, dizziness, and even death in very extreme cases. To keep yourself and your family safe, contact an emergency plumber if you suspect you may be breathing in hydrogen sulfide.
One of the most common signs of a sewer backup caused by Orangeburg pipes is a toilet not flushing like it should. You may notice bubbling or gurgling noises after you flush, which are definitely not normal. Or, the toilet may not flush completely, even after plunging.
A clogged sewer line can also cause toilet water to back up into your bathtub. This occurs because all your plumbing fixtures feed into the same sewer line. When there’s a clog in one place, the water gets redirected to the next opening.
With Orangeburg pipes, sewer line collapse isn’t a “worst case scenario”. It’s inevitable. A sewer line collapse is a major plumbing emergency. It causes pools of foul-smelling sewer water to form in your yard, driveway, or home, depending on the location of the break. To make matters worse, most homeowner’s insurance policies will not cover any of the damages that result from sewer line flooding inside your home or in your yard.
There are several ways to determine if your home has Orangeburg pipes. First, ask your neighbors if they’ve encountered problems with their pipes or had them replaced. If they had Orangeburg pipes, and your home was built around the same time as theirs, you likely do too. In general, if your home was built between the 1940s and the 1970s, there’s a good chance your home has Orangeburg pipes.
If you experience frequent clogs or notice indentations in your yard that line up with the location of your sewer line, you may have Orangeburg pipes that are deteriorating. When in doubt, contact a plumber to determine the state of your pipes.
It’s not easy, it’s not cheap, and it’s not pretty, but the best course of action for a home with Orangeburg pipes is a full sewer line replacement. Replacing only a small section of the line is a temporary solution that likely won’t buy you much time in the long run. You’ll also run into the issue that Orangeburg pipes are not approved by any current building codes, which may impact your ability to sell your home, or to do certain renovations.
If a total replacement isn’t in the budget, there are still steps you can take to make sure you stay aware of the state of your pipes. An annual video drain inspection can monitor the pipe’s integrity and give you a sense of how long you have to prepare for total deterioration. You can also be mindful of what you flush or put down your toilets, sinks, and garbage disposal, to avoid causing additional problems.
Orangeburg pipes are just the beginning. Your home’s plumbing and sewer system is complicated, and many problems can lurk undetected until it’s too late. Fortunately, there are steps you can take now to protect your home (and your wallet) from the impact of a plumbing emergency. Whether you’re dealing with a stubborn leak or clog, looking for a drain cleaning, or considering a custom plumbing installation, our expert plumbers are here to help. Contact us for all your plumbing needs.