What is Orangeburg pipe?

One of the many wonders that the nineteenth century handed down to us, Orangeburg pipe began as an experiment. One and a half miles of the stuff was laid down for a pipeline in Boston in 1867. The prototype was a tremendous success, considering how inexpensive it was to make. The only catch was that the stuff starts falling apart about 50 years after it's laid in the ground.
The Orangeburg Pipeline Revolution
But, perhaps because of the less-than-enduring materials used to craft it (wood pulp and pitch) Orangeburg pipe did not gain widespread use in sewers until the second World War, when the metals normally used for piping were in high demand by the US military. At this time, the bituminized fiber, which had gone through a number of transformations to improve its stability, seemed a fine option, and many people had it installed under their homes.
The Problem – Short Life Expectancy
That sewer pipeline revolution occurred almost 60 years ago. Having 'dug up some dirt' on this type of piping on Wikipedia, I quote: “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. It has been taken off the list of acceptable materials by most building codes.”(Wikipedia: Orangeburg Pipe).
How does Wikipedia know this untold secret about Orangeburg pipe? Probably for the same reason you do. Now that most of the sewers made with bituminized fibers are roughly 50-60 years old, these pipelines cracking, leaving Californians with serious sewer problems.
Ask Not for Whom Orangeburg Pipe Tolls...
The most common of these issues arises when a crack in the tubing allows some water to escape to the soil within close proximity of the pipe. Then roots from surrounding trees are attracted to the water, eventually growing through the cracks into the line itself.
Specific areas can be treated for root blockages (See my blog: The Gritty Truth – When to Consider Sewer Replacement); however, it is normally more cost-effective in the long run to refurbish the entire sewer line with PVC or a different material because Orangeburg pipe will only continue to cause problems in other areas, accruing additional costs each time.
There is little anyone can do to avert replacement/remodeling because the material itself is the problem. So, if there is a moral to this story, always ask what type of material the sewer lines are made of before purchasing a home, and if Orangeburg pipe has not yet been replaced, ask a plumbing company for a free estimate for replacement. The realtor should not complain about taking the cost of remodeling out of the upfront cost of the purchase.