Manufactured from the 1940s to the 1970s, Orangeburg sewer tile was installed at hundreds of home sites in Ann Arbor as a lateral sewer pipe. Made of ground wood fiber impregnated with coal tar, Orangeburg came into use after World War II as an alternative to cast iron or glazed clay tiles due to the shortage of metal for those products. Over many years, Orangeburg absorbs water, causing deformation and collapse, as well as sewer water seepage at the joints. Like other sewer pipes, Orangeburg can also be damaged by tree and plant roots, as well as by auger used to clean out clogged pipes.
Life expectancy of Orangeburg is 30-60 years, thus the rise in incidents of homeowners with expensive sewer pipe removals to pay for.
Orangeburg tends to be found grouped in particular neighborhoods. However, some homes within problem neighborhoods were mysteriously spared.
Testing for Orangeburg is done by local sewer experts, as well as several excavation companies. A line with a camera on the tip is snaked from the interior connection through the lateral tile to the connection with the main truck line in the road. Cost is generally $300 - $400.
Repair of Orangeburg is rare, and, at best, difficult. Larger Orangeburg lateral lines can be lined with a product to create a new sewer line without excavating the original tiling. Most experts in the field discourage this even when it can be done because it is a difficult process that is harder to guarantee.
The usual solution is to dig a trench through the lawn to remove Orangeburg and replace it with PVC pipe. Cost depends on the length of trenching required, as well as obstacles such as trees, sidewalks, driveways, etc.
Where to find help
For testing consult a local sewer or excavation expert. For replacement it is recommended to get multiple bids as prices vary considerably.
To see all houses in Ann Arbor with Orangeburg replaced since 1980 visit the City of Ann Arbor site.