Problems Orangeburg Pipes Can Cause To Your Plumbing System


Problems Orangeburg Pipes Can Cause To Your Plumbing System

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Orangeburg pipe, also known as fibre conduit pipe or "bituminous fiber pipe", is a type of pipe commonly used for sewer lines between houses and the street. Named for the upstate New York town where it was originally manufactured, this unique material composed of pitch and wood pulp was once a popular choice for homebuilders in the mid-twentieth century. However, issues with durability and longevity have since led homeowners and contractors alike to seek out alternative solutions.

History of Orangeburg Pipe

The Orangeburg pipe was first made in the 1860s and saw widespread use from World War II, up to the 1970s. The pipe got its name from the town where it originated, Orangeburg, New York. The company that produced it, the Orangeburg Manufacturing Company, actually used to manufacture bituminous fibre pipes for conducting electrical cables. The demand for Orangeburg pipe as sewer pipes increased after World War II when there was a housing boom and need for inexpensive building materials.

Features of Orangeburg Pipe

Orangeburg pipes are known for their lightweight and easy-to-cut features. Here are a few characteristics of the Orangeburg pipe:

  • Material: The pipe gets its flexibility from its unique mixture of wood pulp and pitch. This composition lets it resist displacement by tree roots.

  • Size: Orangeburg pipes usually measure between 2-18 inches in diameter. Proper installation of these pipes was crucial in order to avoid any premature issues.

  • Life span: Due to its material and manufacturing process, Orangeburg pipes typically have a short lifespan of roughly 30 to 50 years, significantly less than other types of pipes.

Why Orangeburg Pipe Fell out of Favour

Despite the initial popularity, Orangeburg pipe did start to fall out of favor because of its many drawbacks. Over time, the wood pulp content of the pipe starts to let it dry out and become compressed, leading to damage and eventual failure. The lifespan of Orangeburg pipes is also significantly shorter compared to other types of pipes, leading to increasing repair and replacement costs.

Common Issues with Orangeburg Pipe

Orangeburg pipe, also known as "fiber conduit," was popular from the 1940s to the 1970s due to its low cost and easy installation. Made from layers of wood pulp and pitch, it was a widely used alternative before more durable materials became the norm. However, the inherent limitations of Orangeburg pipe have led to numerous issues, making it notorious among modern plumbers:

  • Deformation Under Pressure: Unlike more robust materials like PVC or cast iron, Orangeburg pipe is highly susceptible to deformation under pressure. Ground pressure, especially in areas with heavy soil or traffic, can compress the pipe. This compression often leads to "belly" or bulge formations within the pipe, which disrupt normal water flow and lead to blockages. These deformations hinder the pipe's ability to convey wastewater efficiently, resulting in slow drainage and backups.

  • Internal Collapse: The structural integrity of Orangeburg pipe is compromised over time because it lacks the rigidity of other materials. The soft, bituminous content of the pipe can lead to internal collapse, particularly under environmental stress or increased external loads. This collapse not only impedes wastewater flow but can also completely halt it, requiring extensive repairs or replacement.

  • Limited Lifespan: Orangeburg pipe was never intended to last as long as other plumbing materials. Its lifespan is typically rated for only 50 years under optimal conditions, which means many installations from its era of popularity are now failing. As these pipes age, the material becomes even more brittle and prone to cracking, leading to frequent and sometimes severe plumbing emergencies.

  • Vulnerability to Tree Roots: The porous nature and relatively weak structural integrity of Orangeburg pipe make it particularly susceptible to invasions by tree roots. Roots are naturally drawn towards the moisture in sewer lines and can enter Orangeburg pipes through even small seams or cracks. Once inside, they can grow and expand, obstructing the flow or even crushing the pipe entirely. This intrusion often results in consistent backups and costly blockages that necessitate immediate attention.

  • Chemical Sensitivity: Orangeburg pipe is also sensitive to various chemicals found in normal sewer waste. Over time, exposure to these chemicals can deteriorate the pipe's material, exacerbating its tendency to deform, collapse, or break apart. This sensitivity makes the pipe less ideal for areas where industrial waste or high chemical use is common.

Given these significant issues, many homeowners and municipalities with Orangeburg piping are now undertaking the costly but necessary process of replacing them with more durable alternatives. This upgrade is essential for maintaining efficient and safe sewer systems.

Replacement Options for Orangeburg Pipes

If you’re faced with replacing Orangeburg pipes, consider these more durable materials:

  • PVC Pipe: PVC (polyvinyl chloride) pipes are economical and offer excellent durability, chemical resistance, and ease of installation. They are well-suited for both residential and commercial plumbing needs.

  • ABS Pipe: ABS (acrylonitrile butadiene styrene) pipes are known for their toughness and flexibility, making them ideal for environments with temperature fluctuations and soil movement.

  • Cast Iron: Cast iron pipes provide superior durability and noise reduction. Although heavier and more expensive, they are an excellent choice for high-traffic areas and underground installations.

  • HDPE: High-Density Polyethylene (HDPE) pipes are corrosion-resistant, have a smooth interior for optimal flow, and feature seamless joints. They're especially suitable for earthquake-prone areas due to their flexibility.

Each material has specific benefits, so consider your local environment, plumbing requirements, and budget when choosing. A consultation with a professional plumber can help guide your decision.

How to Confirm Your Home Has Orangeburg Pipe

If your home was built between the 1940s and 1970s, there’s a likelihood that it might have Orangeburg pipes. The most certain way to confirm this is by calling a professional plumber to inspect your sewer line. Modern technology, like video camera inspections, can help determine if your sewer line is Orangeburg and if so, the current condition of the pipe.

While Orangeburg pipe played a significant role in home construction during its day, its many issues have led to a decline in its use today. If you suspect you have Orangeburg pipe in your home or have been experiencing sewer line issues and your home was built between the ’40s and ’70s, consider reaching out to a plumbing professional. They can examine your system, determine the current condition of your pipes, and offer advice on next steps including potential pipe replacement options.

Frequently Asked Questions About Orangeburg Pipe

What is the History of Orangeburg Pipe?

Orangeburg pipe, also known as "fiber conduit pipe," was named after the New York town where it was initially manufactured, Orangeburg. These pipes were extensively used in residential and commercial construction from the 1860s through the 1970s. The production stopped once PVC became a more common material for pipes.

Why was Orangeburg Pipe Chosen for Construction?

Orangeburg pipes were lightweight, inexpensive, and easier to install compared to metal pipes making them an appealing choice for builders and homeowners. These characteristics resulted in increased usage until the mid-20th century.

What Materials are Orangeburg Pipes Made Of?

Orangeburg pipes are composed of layers of wood pulp and pitch pressed together. The end product is a pipe that’s both light and easy to handle. Its inner diameter can range from 2 inches to 18 inches with varying wall thicknesses depending on the intended use.

Are Orangeburg Pipes Still in Use Today?

While Orangeburg pipes are no longer manufactured, they can still be found in older homes and buildings. It's not uncommon for buildings constructed before the 1970s to still have Orangeburg pipe systems in place.

How Long Do Orangeburg Pipes Typically Last?

The expected lifespan of an Orangeburg pipe is around 50 years under ideal conditions. However, due to their composition, these pipes can deteriorate and fail earlier than expected. Regular inspection is suggested to prevent any severe damage.

What are the Common Problems with Orangeburg Pipes?

The inherent structural weakness of Orangeburg pipes can lead to numerous problems over time. They tend to deform under pressure, leading to a 'egg-shaped' appearance. The susceptibility to root intrusion, collapsing and bubbling or blistering of the pipe material are other common issues associated with Orangeburg pipes.

How Can I Tell if I Have Orangeburg Pipes?

Since Orangeburg pipes have been out of production for decades, your home might have them if it was built between 1945 and 1972. Orangeburg pipes, unlike metal ones, are less likely to ring when struck and have a tar-like odor. Accredited plumbers can use a sewer camera to inspect your pipes directly.

Can Orangeburg Pipes be Repaired?

While minor damages to Orangeburg pipes can sometimes be repaired, most plumbers recommend replacement due to the pipe's shortcomings. Trying to repair a severely damaged Orangeburg pipe is usually a short-term solution, and complete replacement is often more cost-effective in the long run.

What is the Replacement Cost for Orangeburg Pipes?

The replacement cost for Orangeburg pipes can vary depending on factors like the length of the pipe, location, replacement materials used, and the local contractor's charges. As a general rule, professional replacement can start from a few thousand dollars and may go higher depending on the complexity and extent of the job.

What are some Alternatives to Orangeburg Pipes?

Today, Orangeburg pipe is no longer a preferred choice for sewer lines. Alternatives like PVC (Polyvinic Chloride), ABS (Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene), and PEX (Polyethylene) pipes are more commonly used for new installations or Orangeburg pipe replacements due to their superior durability and longer lifespans.

Pros and Cons of Orangeburg Pipe

Pros of Orangeburg Pipe

Affordable Material

One of the main advantages of Orangeburg pipe is its affordability. The material is composed primarily of layers of wood pulp and pitch, creating a product that is both inexpensive and readily available.

  • Cost-efficient: Compared to PVC or metal pipes, Orangeburg is remarkably cheaper, which can significantly reduce the overall costs associated with plumbing installations or repairs.

  • Widespread Availability: This type of pipe has been produced in large quantities since the 1860s, ensuring it is readily available in most regions.

Simple to Install

Orangeburg pipes are relatively lightweight, making them easy to handle, transport, and install. Here is how it benefits users:

  • Ease of Cutting: The softness of the material allows it to be cut and adjusted into the necessary lengths effortlessly.

  • Reduced Labor: Because of its lightweight nature, fewer crew members are needed for its installation, reducing labor costs.

Non-Conductive Nature

Being made from non-conductive materials, Orangeburg pipe is not affected by electrolysis, which can corrode metal pipes.

Cons of Orangeburg Pipe

Short Lifespan

Despite its benefits, one of the notable downsides of Orangeburg pipe is its relatively short lifespan.

  • Weathering Down: Due to its soft nature, the Orangeburg pipe tends to decompose, deform, or disintegrate over time. It is estimated that the lifespan of an Orangeburg pipe is around 50 years, though it can wear down more quickly in certain conditions.

  • Tendency to Collapse: Its tendency to deform under pressure or due to ground shifts can lead to collapses, especially with larger diameter pipes.

Susceptibility to Tree Root Intrusions

Orangeburg pipe is known to be more vulnerable to tree root intrusions. This happens when tree roots penetrate the pipe, causing blockages and severe damage.

Limited Resistance to Chemicals and Temperature Changes

  • Chemicals: Orangeburg pipe can be adversely affected by certain types of chemicals, such as petroleum and other oil-based substances, causing it to deteriorate faster.

  • Temperature Shifts: Significant temperature changes can also negatively impact its integrity and longevity. Exposure to high temperature can soften the pipe and cause it to lose its shape, while very low temperatures can make it somewhat brittle.

Obsolete Material

Orangeburg pipe is considered an obsolete material in modern plumbing. This means that it may not meet contemporary plumbing code standards. Its installation in new construction is outlawed in some areas.

  • Restricted Use: Many states and municipalities have outlawed the use of Orangeburg pipe in new construction, limiting its use to repairs of existing systems.

  • Insurance Issues: Some insurance companies do not cover damage related to Orangeburg pipe, or may charge higher premiums if a property has Orangeburg plumbing.

While Orangeburg pipe might initially appear to be a cost-effective solution, its drawbacks in terms of durability, lifespan, and current acceptability standards make it a less desirable option in the long run.


The deterioration and failure of Orangeburg pipe is a severe concern for property owners, especially because it was widely used in the mid-20th century. Its low durability has often resulted in unwanted problems like sewage backups and slow drains. Therefore, for those who own older properties, it's crucial to assess the state of your sewer system and consider upgrading from Orangeburg pipe to something more reliable.

There's no question that the installation of Orangeburg pipe was widespread due to its cost-effectiveness back in the day. However, its low lifespan has made replacing it a necessity for many homeowners. So, if you're dealing with frequent clogs and sewer issues, the culprit might very well be an Orangeburg pipe. Upgrading this vintage piping system with more durable materials could save a lot of headaches.

When replacing Orangeburg pipe, it's important to consult a professional. The old pipe can collapse or deteriorate, causing ground or structural damage. Don't let the outdated Orangeburg pipe compromise your property's value. A proactive decision today will undoubtedly pay dividends in the future, saving you from unexpected plumbing emergencies.

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