I Hate Orangeburg

userpic=plumbingI hate Orangeburg. I hate plumbing. Today has been a day from hell.

OK, perhaps I should explain that outburst. Backspace. Rewind.

How come the plumbing always goes out when you have friends coming over? Tonight, a family we’ve met through Livejournal is coming to spend the night while they visit colleges in the area. This is a good thing — these are good folks who I’d like to get to know better. So, in preparation, last night I was cleaning the guest bathroom. I noticed the toilet was a bit sluggish, but was working. Later I was working at my desk when I hear “gurgle gurgle”. I investigated, and discovered that the toilet in my daughter’s bathroom was bubbling as she was taking a shower. Bad news. I was seeing similar bubbling from our toilet. What this meant was that the line was almost clogged, and pressure was pushing back air. We found a coupon for a rooter special, and made an appointment for this morning.

This morning the plumber came out and investigated. We had a major backup — so major that rooting could no longer fix the problem. Why? It turns out that most of the piping in our front yard is a product called “Orangeburg“. Orangeburg is fiber-conduit with walls made of ground cellulose (wood) fibres bound together with a special water resistant adhesive, and, thereafter, impregnated with liquefied coal tar pitch. It was used between 1860 and 1970. It is not great under pressure situations (e.g., as water pipes), but is great for gravity drainage (e.g., sewer pipes). It was made in inside diameters from 2 inches to 18 inches, and due to the materials involved, was able to be sealed without the usage of adhesives. It was lightweight, albeit brittle, and soft enough to be cut with a handsaw.

That’s the good news. The bad news is lack of strength causes pipes made of Orangeburg to fail more frequently than pipes made with other materials. The useful life for an Orangeburg pipe is about 50 years under ideal conditions. Our house was built in 1962, and has been through two major earthquakes. Do the math. You can see a picture of Orangeburg pipe here.

The plumbers suggestion was to repipe the master bath side of the house with polyethylene pipe from the cleanout installed a few years ago to the connection with the street.  The cost for that was $4,800. We agreed it had to be done, but insisted on it being done to code with proper permits. That adds $160.

But it doesn’t end there folks. Working on this, they discovered that the work we had done to install cleanouts had only done that — install cleanouts. We still had Orangeburg crap from the cleanout to the connection under the house. That all needed to be replaced as well. Reluctantly… add $1,800.

Of course, that still left the line to the guest bathroom and kitchen. That line is almost completely infused with roots. They cannot root it clear because… you guessed it… it is Orangeburg. They are temporarily fixing that and tomorrow… will replace that segment of line. Cost… you guessed it… another $1,800.

All told, we’re having an approximately (gulp) $10,000 repair. We have to do it, because to do anything else might mean full-on trenching if the Orangeburg collapse. Of course, this doesn’t solve all the problems, as the (city-owned) tree in the parkway has created problems for the (city-owned) piping under the street. We’re going to talk to the inspector to see what the city can do about it. If we eventually have to replace that, that’s probably another $5K. [ETA: It turns out it is less expensive to fix the line to the street since they’ve already dug the hole. We’re taking advantage of that — only $3,800 — for a grand total of $12,360 (possibly a bit more, if we decide to replace two toilets at the same time — what the hell, right?]

We’ll figure out how to pay for it somehow — no other choice. That’s why you have emergency savings. But that’s also why I hate plumbing. Sigh. I guess it could be worse.



2 Replies to “I Hate Orangeburg”

    1. Actually, we’ve been told that’s what might happen if we attempt to root out the line between our property and the middle of the street. If the line in the street collapses, that’s $15K-$25K to repair.

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