Adventures in Plumbing, Day One



A week ago, the toilet didn’t flush properly. Two hours of working with the plunger didn’t improve the situation. Matter of fact, the water was beginning to backflow into the shower. Definitely, it was not a good sign at all. Time to call for professional help. A couple hours later, the plumber arrived. At first, the problem did not present itself. On the fourth flush, the problem came out of hiding. He determined the problem to be a drain blockage of some kind. The best means to attack the problem was to run his snake through the toilet plumbing. The toilet was removed, the snake was put into action.

If there was a blockage, the hard part would be running the snake through the “double bend”.  It only made it through one bend. “Do you have clean-out valves outside?” he asked. I replied we did not. Our subdivision was built in the late 1950s, like all construction codes then, the plumbing code was different. A clean-out valve in the crawl space or basement was even rarer. The plumber said the best he could do was reset our toilet and recommend the installation of outside clean-out valves. Once that was done, the blockage could then be attacked.

The next day, an excavating plumbing contractor came to give an estimate of the job. In the utility crawl space, he measured and checked the cast-iron sewer pipe. The pipe under the house was in very good shape, no leaks between sections. He gave two estimates for the job:

  • Option 1 – Install the clean-out valves only, camera and roto-rooter the blockage. Cost $1,950.
  • Option 2 – Complete sewer service replacement, from house to street. Cost $6,700.

Due to the age of our subdivision, he said it was likely Orangeburg (aka “Orange Bird”) piping was used. While Orangeburg has been used since the early 1900s, it was mass manufactured during the World War II years for sewer use in temporary military housing. Since the war ended earlier than expected, the military auctioned their large supply of remaining Orangeburg piping. Local homebuilders of the time rushed to bid for the large quantities of piping. The one drawback of using Orangeburg, it is made of reinforced tar paper with a life span of 5-7 years. In our particular subdivision, the Orangeburg still in service has seen nearly 60 years of use. It’s a matter of time the piping would begin to fail either by root infiltration or pipe flattening or collapse.

Considering the options, I decided to go ahead with the second option. It was the better option and there would be no need to worry about the sewer line over the long term. While it’s highly advised to seek a second or third estimate on a major home repair, it is easier said than done. When your sewer or water service is out of order, you want it to have it back in service as soon as possible. We pretty much concluded it was going to be an expensive repair.

I shook hands with Dan, making him our contractor. With an A+ rating from the BBB, he was a very reputable business. He scheduled the work to begin on Thursday, February 26.


Preview – Adventures in Plumbing, Day Two

“David, you need get down here and see this,” Dan yelled … Our problem had grown larger.


6 thoughts on “Adventures in Plumbing, Day One

    • When our subdivision was built, the builder had the choice of clay or Orangeburg. The Orangeburg was a lot cheaper than clay. So when the Army at Ft Carson (known as Camp Carson at that time) auctioned their lot, the half dozen, or so, builders here in the 1950s salivated at the chance to buy inexpensive building materials. If you look at Orangeburg, it’s like a roll of tar paper you would put on your roof.

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