Learning New Things: Orangeburg Sewer Pipes

orangeburg
From Balkan Plumbing

Buying and selling houses is always a learning process. We’ve been through it a few times, and we’re far more detail oriented about it than we used to be.

Because of the wacky timing of things, we spent the money to have the house we are hoping to buy inspected before we found out if the appraisal on our farm came in.

(We still don’t know anything about the appraisal. We close two weeks from today. I suppose I have to start packing without knowing if it’s going to appraise. I had been hoping to avoid that.)

Anyway, the disclosures said something about clogged sewer lines, so we paid roto-rooter to come scope the sewer pipes. We were expecting clay pipes with roots in them, or some normal thing. But what we have is Orangeburg.

Orangeburg was developed during the depression and became widely used as sewer pipe during WWII, when cast iron and clay were heavily taxed because of the war effort. Basically, orangeburg is tarpaper wrapped around itself and compressed until it’s about 3/8 of an inch thick to make a pipe.

I mean, it’s a little better than cardboard, but not much. It’s certainly worse than clay. On the scope monitor our roto-rooter guy pointed out that the orangeburg at our home is being warped by rocks below it and, in places, has acquired an oval rather than round shape.

Orangeburg sewer pipes have a life expectancy of about 50 years before they start just collapsing underground. Our potential future house was built in 1948. We are not bad at math.

There are entire cities, notably, Ann Arbor, Michigan, that have webpages devoted to warning citizens about the expensive mess that is orangeburg sewer pipes.

To dig them up and replace them is many thousands of dollars.

Add this to the fact that most of the electric in the house has not been updated and is not grounded, and that the home needs egress windows and radon mitigation, and it becomes far less clear that this is a good decision.

We love the house. We love the neighborhood. It is unclear that the seller will want to address these issues, and we’re not sure we should proceed without some concessions.

I mean, honestly, for the same price, we could buy a newer home with updated electric and no orangeburg pipe. For the same price, we could buy brand new construction nearby.

We just love sweet old houses built in the 1940s.

It’s a dilemma.

No matter what happens, I’m happy to have learned about orangeburg pipes. Fascinating stuff, really.

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