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Posted on Fri, Aug 23, 2013 : 5:59 a.m.

Neighbors unite to replace Orangeburg sewer lines while city repaves street

By Ryan J. Stanton


Crews from Ann Arbor-based Perimeter Engineering LLC work on the replacement of Orangeburg sewer lines with plastic piping outside a home on Mark Hannah Place. Orangeburg is the brand name for a type of bituminous fiber pipe that was used by developers in the Ann Arbor area throughout the 1950s and 1960s. The pipes have proven to be prone to failure.

Ryan J. Stanton |

Before the city sends crews to repave Mark Hannah Place — a neighborhood street on Ann Arbor's west side — residents on the street are jumping at the chance to save a few bucks.

Well, more than a few bucks.

A majority of the households on the street are paying a discount rate to have a contractor replace the decades-old Orangeburg sewer lines in front of their homes with new plastic piping.

What sometimes might cost up to $10,000 is instead costing residents about $7,500 each, neighbors and the contractor told this week as the work was being done.


A worker from Perimeter Engineering LLC holds up a piece of Orangeburg piping removed from the ground in front of a home on Mark Hannah Place. Per city code, repair and replacement of sanitary sewer leads from the house to the sewer main is the responsibility of the property owner.

Ryan J. Stanton |

The savings come as a result of the contractor, Ann Arbor-based Perimeter Engineering LLC, not having to repave the street in front of each home after ripping up the asphalt.

As part of the city's annual street resurfacing program, Mark Hannah Place and Arbana Drive from Linwood to Huron already was scheduled for repaving this summer.

Brian Steglitz, a senior utilities engineer for the city, lives on Mark Hannah Place and initiated the effort to coordinate the Orangeburg pipe replacement with the street repaving project.

"I think it's worked out well for everybody," he said.

Orangeburg is the brand name for a type of bituminous fiber pipe that was used by developers in the Ann Arbor area throughout the 1950s and 1960s.

It became popular for sewer leads — the underground pipes that convey wastewater from homes to the sewer main in the street — in the post-war housing boom due to its lower cost and lighter weight, but the pipes have proven to be prone to failure and tree-root penetration.

Per city code, repair and replacement of sanitary sewer leads from the house to the sewer main is the responsibility of the property owner.

Liz Rolla, senior project manager for the city, notified residents in March it had come to the city's attention that many of the sanitary sewer leads in the neighborhood were originally constructed with Orangeburg sewer piping, some of which already had been replaced.


Residents on Mark Hannah Place are saving money by not having to pay a contractor to fully repave the portion of the street in front of their homes after doing the Orangeburg replacement work.

Ryan J. Stanton |

Having Orangeburg pipes doesn't necessarily mean homeowners will have problems with their sewer leads in the near future, Rolla said, but if any homeowners were thinking about replacing the lines at some point, the city recommended doing the work prior to the street repaving.

Permit fees for making cuts into newly repaved streets are more expensive than for older streets, city officials said, so there also are savings to be found there for residents.

The street repaving project started Aug. 7 and is expected to finish by late September. The schedule has been delayed slightly while the city waits for remaining sewer lead work to be done.

Steglitz said the Orangeburg pipe replacement has been ongoing since May or June. He said a total of about 17 households on the street have contracted with Perimeter.

Steglitz had a sewer backup problem earlier this year and discovered his home had Orangeburg piping. Realizing many of his neighbors could find themselves in the same situation, and knowing the street was going to be resurfaced, he began reaching out to neighbors.

Steglitz solicited quotes from contractors. Early on, there were maybe eight or nine households that expressed interest, he said, but in the end almost everyone jumped on board.

"It was just pretty amazing," he said.

Perimeter has been using a special "pipe bursting" technique where crews dig down to the pipe connections both in front of the house and at the street, and then use cables to pull the new plastic piping through the Orangeburg pipe — bursting the old pipe in the process.

That means crews don't have to dig a deep trench through the entire front yard and there's minimal impact on landscaping. Steglitz said he appreciated that when he had the work done.

Chris Lynch said he lives around the corner on Arbana, so he's not having the work done, but he's still inspired by the neighborhood effort.

"I thought this was a great idea on the part of the Mark Hannah residents," he wrote in an email to, "and it may be something that can be repeated throughout the city as road work is scheduled in those areas with Orangeburg sewer lines."

Ryan J. Stanton covers government and politics for Reach him at or 734-623-2529. You also can follow him on Twitter or subscribe to's email newsletters.



Sat, Aug 24, 2013 : 3:18 p.m.

Was rather wondering why anytime repairs need to be done they cost so much more in Ann Arbor? Seems contractors charge more just for the name of the area, same work gets done. Guess Ann Arbor people are just generous, or being taken for suckers.

Sam S Smith

Sat, Aug 24, 2013 : 11:52 a.m.

How can a person tell if they have orangeburg pipe or not? When the city dose extensive work work, do they tell the home owners about it so that they can replace it?

This Post Doesn't Have A Name

Mon, Aug 26, 2013 : 1:40 a.m.

Sam--The article says, "Orangeburg is the brand name for a type of bituminous fiber pipe that was used by developers in the Ann Arbor area throughout the 1950's and 1960's." So if your property was build within that time frame, you probably have it leading from your property to the sewer main in the street.


Sat, Aug 24, 2013 : 6:07 a.m.

Many "experts" will tell you that Orangeburg was a problem in the 50's. As a home inspector I just had a client who took my advice to be conservative and had a camera inspection of the 1966 house he was buying. Tanner Excavating found O=berg and said it was in quite poor shape. It can be in homes from the late 40's until about 1970. One other caveat, if the house is older, but added a sewer line when converting to city water from septic, from the late 40's to 1970, same possibility. By the way, the first bid for replacement was $5,000. Did not need to dig up the street. Bobby Frank RJ Frank Home Inspections


Sat, Aug 24, 2013 : 2:55 a.m.

Over 25 years ago, I tried to sue the City over the Orangeburg sewer collapse and basement flooding problems at my house on Briarcliff, but lost because the City argued that even though the pipe failed to meet City code, it did meet State code. The State code was for drain tile, not sanitary/sewage tile. The effect of hot water on the tar was the cause of all the failures. The hot water just eroded the tar away until al you had left was cardboard. Any plumber who ran a snake through it to clear the collapsed drain usually punctured the sewer line and the flooding begins. You can tell all the collapsed sewers on a city block because the sidewalks all have dips in them where the storm and sewer water has eroded the soil away from underneath the concrete. The leakage of storm water into the sanitary sewers is a major cause of the basement flooding problems the City is experiencing. Its funny how every time I have mentioned the Orangeburg tile subject at meetings, forums and other public discussions on flooding of basements, the News, the City and the readership goes into denial mode. How is it that this time, the News sides with homeowners? Yes the city code demanded the pipe be encased in concrete. Brown Building co. who built all the NE side houses paid off all the inspectors with money and alcohol. I had the documents and sworn statements in order, but the court ruled that the State building code said it was OK so that was the end of it. Yeah, the State approved it FOR FARM DRAIN FIELD TILE, not sewage tile. My bill was $5000 at that time.


Sat, Aug 24, 2013 : 12:11 a.m.

When my road in Ypsi was repaved in 2010 I learned my sewer line was Orangeburg. It was recommended I take the existing opportunity to replace it while the road was already being torn up. I got two bids, one about $3000 and the other $2500. I took the lower bid. This was coordinated with the road construction, who I believe is the same company that's doing the work mentioned in this article. I took pictures of the work as it was being done for future reference. The only thing I regret about having chosen the lower bid was that they left my front yard a mess. The other company (I learned later) would have put the dug up soil on tarped pallets (or something) to preserve and not disturb the surrounding ground. I ended up personally spending hours and hours over many, many days trying to smooth out the mostly clay soil that had been left on the surface. I ended up hiring someone to add top soil, and using a backhoe, smoothed it out for me. As the soil continues to pack down for next 3 years I wanted a mound left where the original dig was, but that didn't happen, so now I have a sunken area there.


Sat, Aug 24, 2013 : 12:23 a.m.

I was's not the same company.


Fri, Aug 23, 2013 : 8:10 p.m.

Had an old plumber friend, who used to do this work back in the 1950's. what he told me ,was that the lines were supposed to be encased in concrete. The inspector would come out while they were pouring the concrete in the beginning. As soon as it was approved, they would backfill, and stop encasing It

Alan Goldsmith

Fri, Aug 23, 2013 : 5:55 p.m.

"Brian Steglitz, a senior utilities engineer for the city, lives on Mark Hannah Place and initiated the effort to coordinate the Orangeburg pipe replacement with the street repaving project." Can you explain to me the process a City employee involved in this area can personally arrange price quotes from a City used contractor for the benefit of himself and others? Was more than one company solicited? Did it goes through the City? Are their any published City conflict of interest guidlines for employees that address this? Just curious because with the origanization I work for, it's a potential conflict of interest.


Tue, Aug 27, 2013 : 1:02 a.m.

I have heard that Perimeter, the company Brian Steglitz arranged for us to replace our sewer pipes on Mark Hannah, is owned by former City of Ann Arbor employees. I also heard that Brian Steglitz received a discount (unknown amount) on his sewer pipe replacement for arranging the deal. So all of us on Mark Hannah that paid what now sounds to be an inflated price for work by Perimeter have helped Brian Steglitz pay for his sewer pipe replacement. Thanks Brian, glad we could help you. I hope you can sleep at night after this "conflict of interest" Brian.

Basic Bob

Sat, Aug 24, 2013 : 11:38 a.m.

It's good to know people in the business. But it's not a conflict. It would be nice if they allow other neighborhoods the same opportunity to plan ahead and find their own contractor.


Fri, Aug 23, 2013 : 5:48 p.m.

Smart to replace it, especially if you ever want to sell your home. However, $7,500 sounds steep. We had ours done in 2006 for less than 5k.


Fri, Aug 23, 2013 : 5:47 p.m.

I had my orangeburg tile replaced 6 years ago on South Revena for $4500. The company that did the work said the price would be between $4000 and $8000 depending on where the street connection was. The connection was on my side on the street. The company was recommended by my realtor and I was very satisfied with their work but I don't remember their name.


Fri, Aug 23, 2013 : 5:19 p.m.

It was made in Orangeburg Pa. If you have a home with a basement, the weight pressure on the orangeburg when buried 8-12 feet below the surface is also hastens the collapse of the fiber material. Also years of roto rooting using sharp scraping tools will increase the wear on the inner wall surface of the orangeburg which creates internal weak spots. It was nothing more than layers of tar paper rolled up and soaked in more tar. It was cheap to purchase.


Fri, Aug 23, 2013 : 5:39 p.m.

Orangeburg, NY I thought. My father is from the NY one.

harry b

Fri, Aug 23, 2013 : 5 p.m.

I think that is just swell.


Fri, Aug 23, 2013 : 3:56 p.m. Sorry, I had to do it.


Fri, Aug 23, 2013 : 3:45 p.m.

I don't think it's true that these pipes were supposed to be encased in concrete. Here's an article about their history that includes ads from the time, and there's no mention of casing them. The city has an information sheet about the piping, and it refers to the plumbing codes of the time, and again, no mention of casing If residents or potential home buyers in Ann Arbor want to know if a house had this piping replaced, they can find out from the city Construction/Building Services unit: By the way, "Orangeburg" is the name of one the companies that made the stuff. Another is Bermico. The generic name for it is bituminous fiber piping.


Fri, Aug 23, 2013 : 5:43 p.m.

I may be incorrect on that concrete requirement, but prior to replacing my Orangeburg sewer line 15 yrs. ago, multiple plumbing contractors I consulted gave me that info.


Fri, Aug 23, 2013 : 3:38 p.m.

Man oh man I hate that Orangeburg pipe! The description "bituminous fiber pipe" makes it sound as if it were a viable product. In layman's terms, it's construction is nothing more than cardboard tube soaked in tar. One would think there would be a massive class action law suit over such a defective "product" that basically has a 100% failure rate. The fact a new CPVC pipe of the same diameter can be pulled through it speaks volumes!

retired dirt guy

Fri, Aug 23, 2013 : 3:09 p.m.

A deal at $7,500?? A deal if you start out with an inflated price then discount it 25%. I have done over 100 sewer line replacements in local communities during the past 20+ years. Maybe I haven't charged enough money, but my math always gave me plenty of profit. A typical 8' deep dig, 30' long, would be completed for about $3,500. Dig it up, replace with PVC pipe (including cleanout, connecting to existing at house and street lead, backfill, grading, reseed/straw. One day of work (or less), including equipment time, materials, labor. I retired too soon if the going rate is $10K, but doing the work in AA was never fun. Mr. Picker is correct. If you are not one of the favorite children in AA, working in the city is difficult at best. Across the board: Inspectors, motor carrier cops, parking, utilities. Much easier to deal with all of the remaining communities in the county.

The Picker

Sat, Aug 24, 2013 : 1:02 a.m.

Thanks DG (retired) Great arms length information. Perhaps some pencil sharpening will take place on future contracts in this neighborhood !


Fri, Aug 23, 2013 : 2:08 p.m.

it only makes good sense to replace the pipe BEFORE repaving the street.why rip the street up part is property owners save money.


Fri, Aug 23, 2013 : 2:07 p.m.

This is a very interesting discussion. Lots of information from commenters here. It's good to get all views on this. It sounds like Bob Knight (long time area contractor) is the go to guy. And it sounds like the Orangeburg was supposed to be encased in concrete in the beginning. Sometimes there are perks to living in the water bills or costs to replace old sewer pipes. But we have replaced septic systems and wells/pumps in the past.

The Picker

Sat, Aug 24, 2013 : 12:56 a.m.

Thanks Bob!


Fri, Aug 23, 2013 : 2:47 p.m.

septics also used orangeburg


Fri, Aug 23, 2013 : 1:30 p.m.

One reason Orangeburg is prone to failure is because it was supposed to be encased in concrete, but AA inspectors back in the day did not enforce that. Homeowners all over AA are paying the price.

The Picker

Sat, Aug 24, 2013 : 12:55 a.m.

Gyre, There's no accountability in any form of government ! Haven't you noticed ?


Fri, Aug 23, 2013 : 2:44 p.m.

If the cement casing was identified as a requirement and the city approved the installations without the cement casing, I would think the city would be liable for the replacement of the pipe since city inspectors approved the installation without meeting all requirements. Any lawyers out there?

Ryan J. Stanton

Fri, Aug 23, 2013 : 2:29 p.m.

We're also paying the price for city officials years ago allowing development without appropriate stormwater management. I suppose hindsight is 20-20.


Fri, Aug 23, 2013 : 1:20 p.m.

I was under the impression that the orangeburg was designed to be a form that was suppose to be incased in concrete, however this was not enforced/inspected thus the high failure rate. However 50 years is not a not a terrible life for a sewer line of any material available at the time.

Ichibod Crane

Fri, Aug 23, 2013 : 1:14 p.m.

I had Perimeter replace my Orangeburg about 6 years ago. The original quote was about $6500 back then. The only thing I heard that was cheaper was a epoxy lining fix that cost $4500. That method required no digging, but the old pipe couldn't be failing in any way. Orangeburg tends to collapse slowly. My contract with Perimeter had a clause that upped the charge if they encountered problems and had to dig instead of 'bursting the old pipe'. Unfortunately they discovered my water main coming into the house was installed right next to the sewer line. They feared if they burst the sewer pipe, it might squash the ductile copper water main next to it. They started digging and replacing the sewer from the house hoping the two pipes might diverge sooner than later. They finally moved apart about halfway to the connection in the street. They used the bursting method from that point on. I think it cost me another $800. But I think the way Perimeter was so careful was worth the money. They did a fantastic job. I'd like to figure out who was the idiot that got the stupid idea that tar paper rolled into a tube and covered with more tar would make a good sewer pipe. I'd say at least 50% of the houses on my street have had to replace that Orangeburg. A few people lucked out and have found they have metal sewer pipes.

Ichibod Crane

Fri, Aug 23, 2013 : 6:17 p.m.

My house was built in 1954, so I guess I was lucky to get 52 years out of that crappy pipe.


Fri, Aug 23, 2013 : 5:27 p.m.

Ichibod Crane, Orangeburg pipe was originally designed to be used as electrical conduit in underground and below-grade applications. Post WWII, the demand for housing materials was very high, but the supplies of traditional materials were low. The company that made the pipe beefed up their conduit for use in sewer/waste pipe applications. A 50-year lifespan isn't terrible for a buried material that's subjected to the conditions that sewer lines are. (Unless, of course, you own the property at Year 50.) Caveat emptor.


Fri, Aug 23, 2013 : 12:06 p.m.

Why does every orangeburg bid in the city of Ann Arbor cost $10,000 no matter how far the distance covered? That was the price for three bids we got for our house, which was about 50 feet of replacement, but it was the same price for our friend's house which was about 125 feet of replacement. Furthermore, why does it cost so much? An new septic field install costs $10,000.


Fri, Aug 23, 2013 : 7:55 p.m.

hey,be carefull pick,or you will be censored for speaking the truth.(see conversation guidelines)

The Picker

Fri, Aug 23, 2013 : 12:46 p.m.

If you try to hire an out of town contractor, which can be less expensive, the city building dept. will torture them so they never return ! Perimeter has a lock, since they're principals are former city employee's. That's how it works in A2 !!!


Fri, Aug 23, 2013 : 11:38 a.m.

smart to all band together. But... Either these lines are very VERY deep/are very far from the road, or they're getting a bad deal. The pipe bursting method should cost 3-5k. Trenching runs around 7k. We have orangeburg and get our line inspected every two years to stay on top of it.


Fri, Aug 23, 2013 : 3:54 p.m.

I should add that a cleanout was also added at the front of the house, included in the job I described above.


Fri, Aug 23, 2013 : 3:49 p.m.

Proactive. The pipe was not failing, but visibly delaminating on the bottom in some places. Discovered by camera inspection while home was for sale. Was able to get seller and selling agent to cover most of the cost of replacement. I would advise anyone out there to spend a little $ to have the inspection done prior to buying a home in Ann Arbor. The city used to keep track of which homes have had the pipe replaced, but unfortunately the list is gone. Even when it was available a few years ago, the list was way outdated.


Fri, Aug 23, 2013 : 2:32 p.m.

Wow, thanks for the info BCell. Did you have an issue with yours or did you do it proactively?


Fri, Aug 23, 2013 : 1:06 p.m.

I had my Orangeburg on Mt Pleasant Ave replaced by via trenching method. This included digging out 40 feet of front yard, removing 2 sidewalk slabs, cutting out pavement to the middle of the street, and replacing everything. The contractor (Bob Knight) also removed an unwanted tree, roots and all, that was in the way of the job, and replaced 2 extra sidewalk slabs that the city had marked for replacement. The entire job was done in 2 days by 2 workers for $7800. They also seeded the yard and covered it with hay. I don't think Mark Hannah residents are getting a deal at all.


Fri, Aug 23, 2013 : 11:37 a.m.

What a good deal! The Orangeburg pipes have all failed on our street over the years, and we've all had them replaced.


Fri, Aug 23, 2013 : 10:49 a.m.