Understanding Plumbing Basics
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Understanding Plumbing Basics

As a new homeowner, I can tell you that things aren't always as simple as they appear. I started thinking about it a few years ago, and I realized that there were some serious problems with our plumbing system. We had issues with drains working correctly and toilets flushing like they should, so I started focusing more heavily on understanding the basics of our plumbing system. Within a few short months the entire system was operating more fluidly because of a few changes that I made, so I wanted to create a blog all about my journey. Check out these articles to learn more about the plumbing basics.


Understanding Plumbing Basics

An Overview Of Sewer Pipe Materials

Jorge Alexander

There are a variety of materials used to make sewer pipes, each with its pros and cons. Below is an overview of these materials.



Orangeburg is a material manufactured from wood fibers, adhesive, and coal tar pitch. The adhesive is mostly for holding the different materials together. The result is a fiber material that was widely used in septic pipes in the past, but it is rare to find in contemporary homes.

The main advantage of Orangeburg (named after the New York town in which it was first produced) is that is easy to use. The material is relatively light and easy to cut. That means plumbers can work fast and carry many pieces of the material at a time. Unfortunately, most were hurriedly installed and could not withstand the weight of overlying materials, leading to frequent pipe collapses.  



If there is one material that has taken the contemporary construction industry by storm, it is plastic in all its various forms. Be it roofing, ceilings, or plumbing, plastic is everywhere. For septic pipes, the main forms of plastic are PVC (polyvinyl chloride) and ABS (acrylonitrile butadiene styrene). These two forms of plastic have many similarities and a few differences.

For example, both PVC and ABS are rustproof, inexpensive, and smooth. However, ABS is both relatively easier to install and more susceptible to deformation than PVC, among other differences.


Whereas plastic belongs to the modern era and Orangeburg is confined to the past, there are materials that were used in the past, and are still in use today, for making septic pipes. The two classic examples include cast iron and clay.

Cast Iron

Cast iron is a variant of iron metal with a relatively high content of carbon than other iron variants. Cast iron is mainly used in making plumbing pipes due to its machinability, resistance to deformation, resistance to wear, and relatively low melting point, among other qualities.

Although cast iron is heavy and difficult to cut, it is extremely strong. This means your cast iron sewer pipes are unlikely to collapse even when subjected to heavy overlying materials. This is one reason cast iron was widely used in the past, and is still used today, for septic pipes.


Clay septic pipes are typically manufactured from a mixture or blend of clay and shale – both natural materials. The material is environmentally-friendly and inert (doesn't react easily). The inertness of clay septic pipes is one of the reasons it has survived use in the plumbing industry for such a long time. The pipes cannot be affected by corrosive substances, such as acids. However, clay pipes are relatively brittle and can crumble under extreme pressure.  

You should know which materials are used in your house so that you can know their vulnerabilities. This is especially true if you live in an aging house with original plumbing, in which case you might need to upgrade your drainage pipes. Talk to your plumbing contractor to learn more.