Air pipes

Thousands of Tempe homes could have badly deteriorated sewer lines

TEMPE (AP) — A recent pipe break that spilled about 8 million gallons of water and closed a major Phoenix-area freeway has put Tempe’s water infrastructure back in the news.

Checking water mains has become a priority for Tempe officials since the incident, but Tempe residents should turn their attention to another type of water infrastructure: sewer lines.

According to a map provided by the city, thousands of Tempe homes may have severely deteriorated sewer pipes underneath. An expert said the problem could affect up to “nine out of 10 homes” in the area.

The pipes could cause massive sewage backups, repair bills and headaches for homeowners if they aren’t enrolled in a program to minimize the pain on residents’ wallets and fix mistakes in the past, reported 12 News.

The pipes, called “Orangeburg Pipe”, are made of paper with an inner layer of tar. They were used to connect homes to the city’s public sewer between 1940 and 1970.

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 the pipes should be badly deteriorated today, even according to the most lax estimates.

“You have two different things that can happen,” said Samuel Ariaratnam, professor and director of the construction engineering program at ASU’s School of Sustainable Engineering and the Built Environment.

“You could have a crack, where you have sewage leaking onto your property, or you could have a collapsed pipe, where you would see (sewer) backups.”

Tempe has no idea where the piping is because former city officials did not keep records of where the pipes were installed, the city’s website said.

Plumbing professionals have seen how widespread the pipe problem is.

“The city of Tempe is plagued by Orangeburg…it’s almost like the whole city was built with it,” said Mason Cruz, master drain cleaner and sewer line repair specialist at Roto-Rooter.

“Nine out of 10 homes we go to in the city of Tempe have an Orangeburg pipe under them…I can’t count how many times we’ve had blown sections or oval pipes of this Orangeburg.”

Cruz said that while Tempe’s program helps owners change the Orangeburg hose, he’s seen the hose all over the valley.

“Phoenix, Sun City – You’ll find it in older neighborhoods in Chandler, Gilbert, things like that,” Cruz said.

12 News contacted various municipalities in the valley to see if officials knew if the Orangeburg pipe was in their town.

Glendale building official Djordje Pavlovic said the pipe was used in the city until 1982 and is not allowed to use it in construction now.

Municipalities like Scottsdale and Goodyear said there was very limited use in their cities.

Avondale officials told 12 News that crews encountered him while replacing sewer service in the oldest historic part of their town. Adding that it appears to have been used similarly to Tempe, to connect a house to the main sewer line.

Phoenix crews also encountered some sections of Orangeburg pipes in areas the city deals with and also replaced them when they encountered them.

City of Mesa and City of Peoria spokespersons said they did not appear to have the pipe in their lines.

As a general rule, residents must pay for repairs to their drains themselves, whether the repairs are based on a systemic lack of long-term infrastructure planning or not.

Ariaratnam says that’s the wrong approach when it comes to Orangeburg.

“The best approach would be for the neighborhood or city to help coordinate this with a replacement program,” Ariaratnam said. “That’s the best approach if you want to get rid of as much Orangeburg as you can.”

The good news is that Tempe officials are doing just that.

A recently created “SLWA” program, run in partnership with Tempe and Service Line Warranties of America, covers residential repairs up to $8,500 for service line repairs, including the Orangeburg hose.

The program is open to Tempe homeowners and costs $9.88 per month for the first year and $10.98 per month after the first year, according to the city’s webpage.

“SLWA plan holders have access to a 24-hour, 365-day-a-year repair hotline, and repairs are performed by local, licensed, and insured contractors SLWA has identified in the area,” the webpage reads. .

“Tempeans can learn more about these optional plans by visiting or calling toll-free 1-844-257-8795.”

The SLWA program began on February 1, 2022 and was an update to Tempe’s previous program called “SLiPP”.

Cruz, who has been hired several times in the city, said residents shouldn’t be afraid to take advantage of the program because it’s a huge step in the right direction to address the drain problem.

“It’s a really good program for Tempe owners, for sure,” Cruz said. “Some people take advantage of it, some people think it’s not real, but…they’re trying to fix the mistakes they made many years ago.”

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