The city of Tempe says the Orangeburg pipe is widespread and beginning to exceed its life expectancy.
TEMPE, Ariz. — It can be a homeowner’s nightmare: broken or clogged sewer lines can cause damage throughout the home.
The problem may become more common.
The pipes called “Orangeburg” are made from paper with an inner layer of tar. They were used to connect homes to the city’s public sewer between 1940 and 1970.
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The average lifespan of Orangeburg pipes is around 50 years, but they have been known to fail in as little as 10 years.
The vast majority of pipes are expected to be badly deteriorated today, even by the softest estimates.
“You have two different things that can happen,” said Samuel Ariaratnamprofessor and director of the construction engineering program at ASU School of Sustainable Engineering and the Built Environment.
“You could have a crack, where sewage is leaking onto your property, or you could have a collapsed pipe, where you would see [sewage] backups.”
Tempe has no idea where the pipes are because former city officials didn’t keep track of where the pipes were installed, says the city’s website.
Two houses that had Orangeburg pipes belong to Olivet Hardiman in Mesa and Nicole Fehr in Tempe.
“It was backed up in my shower,” Hardiman said.
“We noticed there were little brown specks of what we don’t know what,” Fehr said.
Both families called plumbers, and what they found was more than a back-up of water.
The Fehrs had just moved into the house when they learned that the pipes on their property were blocked and broken. Waste from waste and pipes flowing into the water they used to take their baths.
“He tested positive for E. coli. So what was in the tub with us was toilet paper and trash,” Fehr said.
The pipes weren’t supposed to last that long. They are made from a tar coated wood pulp type material.
“Think of it almost like a paper pipe that has tar to stiffen it up,” Samuel Ariaratnam Explain.
“You think about anything paper-related, and you don’t think long-term and stable,” Fehr said.
Hardiman and the Fehrs saw their homes go through months-long repairs. Holes were dug in the middle of their homes, the cost amounting to tens of thousands of dollars.
So what can you do?
If you are in an older house, you can ask a plumber to check the composition of your pipes and their condition.
“Knowledge is power, and I know what my pipes are doing,” Hardiman said.
Based on this information, you can decide what is best for your home and not be caught off guard by pipes failing.
“You can make a preemptive effort before it explodes in your face, underneath you,” Fehr said.
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