Home builders have used many different types of building materials over the years. With updates in technology and safety concerns comes new materials and standards. One material that was used in some sewer lines is a bituminous (coal-tar) fiber conduit pipe, best known as Orangeburg. This is an interesting idea for a sewer line as it is not something you’d think of first for using in a pipe transporting liquids.
One of the earliest uses of fiber conduit pipe was a 1.5 mile pipe in Boston that was used to transport clean water for 62 years between 1865 and 1927. The Empire State Building also contains fiber conduit pipes for housing its electrical wires. The largest manufacturer of this pipe was the Fibre Conduit Company, founded in 1893, in Orangeburg, New York. The name “Orangeburg” became synonymous with the town as the pipe maker was the largest producer of the pipe. The Fibre Conduit Company embraced this new name and changed its name to Orangeburg Manufacturing Company in 1948. In the 1950s and 1960s, post-World War II America saw housing in high demand, which the company responded by making pipes for these construction projects. It was relatively easy to make and lightweight so it could be shipped all across the country to meet the demand. It wasn’t until the 1970s when plumbing codes changed and fiber conduit pipe was no longer used for plumbing lines.
A fiber conduit pipe is made from wood pulp and tar, then shaped into a pipe. When thinking about the options for pipe materials, not many would consider wood pulp (a common ingredient in paper, toilet paper, cardboard, etc.) as a component to make a sewer line. While the tar is meant to seal the pipe and prevent it from leaking, it will break down over time. Once the tar starts to break down, roots will easily start to weave their way into the pipe. The pipe also will lose its round shape and become compressed which can cause restrictions in the flow. The suggested lifespan of a well-maintained Orangeburg pipe in perfect ground conditions is about 40 to 50 years.
The below images show a joint compression into an oval shape and the line warping and losing its original round shape.
Since Orangeburg and other fiber conduit pipes were used across the country in the 1950s and 1960s, there are potentially millions of homes that have this pipe for sewer lines. Unfortunately, these sewer lines are now on the brink of failure. If homeowners of houses built during this time are having frequent backups and slow drains, it is possible roots have entered the line, whether it is made from fiber conduit or clay. We’re always happy to help determine what kind of sewer line you have and figure out next steps to get you flowing again!