TEMPE, Ariz. — It can be a homeowner's nightmare: sewage pipes are broken or clogged which can cause damage throughout the house.
The issue may become more common.
The pipes called "Orangeburg" are made out of paper with an inner coating of tar. They were used to connect homes to the city's public sewer between 1940 and 1970.
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The average lifespan for Orangeburg pipes is around 50 years, but they're known to fail in as little as 10 years.
The vast majority of the pipes should be critically deteriorated today even by the most relaxed of estimates.
"You have two different things that can happen," said Samuel Ariaratnam, professor and construction engineering program chair at ASU's School of Sustainable Engineering & the Built Environment.
"You could have a crack, where you have sewage leaking out on your property, or you could have a collapsed pipe, where you would see [sewage] backups."
Tempe has no idea where the piping is because previous city officials didn't keep records of where the pipes were installed, the city's website said.
Two homes that used to have Orangeburg pipes, belong to Olivet Hardiman in Mesa and Nicole Fehr in Tempe.
“It was backed up in my shower," Hardiman said.
“We noticed there were little brown flecks of what we don’t know what,” Fehr said.
Both families called plumbers, and what they found was more than a backed-up drain.
The Fehrs had just moved into the home when they learned pipes throughout their property were blocked and broken. Refuse from the waste and pipes making it into the water they used to take baths.
“It tested positive for E. coli. So what was in the bathtub with us was toilet paper and waste,” Fehr said.
The pipes were not supposed to last this long. They are made from a wood pulp-type material coated in tar.
"Think of it almost like a paper pipe that has tar to stiffen it,” Samuel Ariaratnam explained.
“You think of anything related to the word paper, and you do not think long term and stable,” Fehr said.
Both Hardiman and the Fehrs watched their homes go through months-long repairs. Holes were dug in the middle of their homes as the cost added up to tens of thousands of dollars.
So what can you do?
If you're in an older home, you can have a plumber check what your pipes are made of and their condition.
“Knowledge is power, and I know what my pipes are doing,” Hardiman said.
Based on that information, you can decide what's best for your home and not get caught off guard by pipes breaking down.
“You can make a preemptive strive before it blows up in your face, from underneath you,” Fehr said.
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