Excavation photo digging up the septic systemHow & When to Dig (Excavate) to Locate Septic Tank or Drainfield
     


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When to dig to find the septic system: we would prefer not to have to dig up the whole yard to find the septic tank or other septic components, right?

This article and our accompanying septic system location videos explains how to find the leach field or drainfield portion of a septic system including cases when digging or exploratory excavation are in fact needed and justified. We include sketches and photos that help you learn what to look for, and we describe several methods useful for finding buried drainfield components. (Septic drain fields are also called soil absorption systems or seepage beds.)

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How to use Excavating to find Drainfield Trenches & Their Condition

A Guide to Finding the Drainfield - Part 7

A homeowner might dig a test hole where s/he thinks a leach line is present based on the site observations above.

The depth of a leach line may vary by site conditions but normally would be 24" or so.

A septic contractor might take a different approach and simply dig a trench across the property, figuring that the soil cut will come across the buried line.

The dig-across-the-whole-property approach might be reasonable only if we already know that the system has to be replaced, since the backhoe is likely to destroy the buried piping when it "finds" it.

Why we Like Digging by Hand First and Excavating by Backhoe Second

Most people prefer to use equipment to dig at building sites - it's faster, physically easier (to operate a machine than to wield a shovel), and it is probably more profitable. Certainly in many instances a backhoe is the only reasonable way to dig. But we prefer to try digging first by hand whenever possible. Hand excavation does the least damage to a building site when looking for septic components because:

  • Hand excavation does the least damage to the site, yard, plants, etc.
  • Hand excavation can begin gently, right by the building wall, without even waiting for equipment to show up
  • Hand excavation can be done by an energetic owner or her friends (but see SEPTIC & CESSPOOL SAFETY first)
  • Hand excavation avoids destroying steel septic tanks and covers (but see SEPTIC & CESSPOOL SAFETY first)
  • Hand excavation (or a careful backhoe operator) won't leave you with a newly "explored" but now totally destroyed septic system - so you cannot use the building plumbing and are pressured to accept whatever repair bid the contractor offers. (Trying to get septic repair cost estimates before any excavating is tough because the contractor knows that there are too many unknowns - but press for upper reasonable limits on cost)

Where to Excavate to Look for Septic or Sewer Components

But eventually, it's time to excavate - because your hand digging was fruitless or because you've found that extensive exploration and septic repair are probably needed. Usually an experienced excavation contractor has a pretty good eye for guessing at where another excavator would have dug to place a drainfield trench, D-box, or other septic system component. Walking the site and ruling in or out probable areas can significantly reduce the extent of excavation necessary.

How to Think First and Dig Second - Narrowing the Search for the Drainfield

PHOTO of a back hoe being used to dig up and locate septic system components during a sewer line repair.


See VISUAL CLUES LOCATE the SEPTIC TANK ,  
Areas Not Likely
, and  
Visual Clues to Location
for details on narrowing down the search for septic components before you dig.

Septic Excavation Case Illustrated - step by step excavation to replace a sewer line

Our sewer line case study shows the steps in finding and excavating septic components in detail at Sewer Line Replacement Procedure - details of when, how, and why to replace a buried drain line between a house and septic tank

Digging up a Failed Drainfield

Of course, if the leach field already needs replacement, one can probably find the end of a leach line by noticing where effluent is breaking out to the surface.

Also see How to Find the Septic Tank. More videos on septic system location & maintenance are at SEPTIC VIDEOS..

 

Continue reading at REASONS to FIND THE DRAINFIELD or select a topic from the More Reading links shown below.

or see SEPTIC COMPONENT LOCATIONS for help finding the septic tank, distribution box, drainfield, soakaway bed

Suggested citation for this web page

EXCAVATE to LOCATE DRAINFIELD at InspectApedia.com - online encyclopedia of building & environmental inspection, testing, diagnosis, repair, & problem prevention advice.

More Reading

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