septic dye breakout at a basement entry from a failed septic system buried below a driveway during conduct of a septic loading and dye test
- an expert can find clues and perform tests that reduce risk of a costly surprise Outdoor Steps in the Septic Inspection & Dye Test Procedure

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This septic dye test procedure article provides the outdoor checks to be made during a Septic Loading and Dye Test of the function of a septic system, focused on condition of the effluent disposal section, also known as a leach field, seepage pits, drainfield or drainage field.

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OUTSIDE SEPTIC INSPECTION & TEST STEPS - What to Do Outside the Building

What should we look for, do, & report about outdoor conditions during and after a septic inspection, loading & dye test?

  • Record weather conditions (heavy rain, snow cover, frozen snow, flooding, drought, etc.).

  • Trace the sewer pipe, if possible, from the point of apparent exit from building to locations of apparent or plausible septic tank and absorption system. Clues such as depressions, rectangular or circular tank outlines, mature trees crowded together and larger open areas may indicate where components could possibly have been installed. (Excavating equipment may not fit among large old trees; very rocky areas may not hold septic components.)

  • Examine the absorption area for signs of trenches, such as sunken parallel lines. Do this before starting the test, during the test, after the test, and up to five days after the site inspection (an added service or an admonition to the client) since it is possible in odd cases for effluent to appear on a property days after the initial test. Fortunately, in cases of a failed or marginal system this procedure often shows breakout in 20-30 minutes.

    Dyed effluent usually appears in 20-30 minutes on a failed system but can take up to five days to show up.

    If at a building inspection suspect wet areas are observed I recommend a dye test even if one was not previously requested. When wet areas are not found (or created by running water into the septic system) on the property being inspected, dye tests may still be performed to meet requirements of some lenders.

  • Note the locations of and distance to well, trees, pools, additions to the building, driveways, etc. that might infringe on the tank or absorption area.

  • Examine all site areas including property boundaries that could reasonably be reached by drainfield extensions, nearby streams, ponds, storm drains, edges of mound systems, edges of banks, rocky areas, steep slopes near the septic fields
Septic leak into storm drain
  • Check storm drains and site drains at the property - sometimes septic effluent is leaking into or has even been directed into these improper septic effluent disposal destinations, such as we found in this driveway drain

  • Do not probe the soil over suspected septic tank locations by using methods that could damage the equipment. Heavy wrecking bars, for example, can puncture a steel or fiberglass tank cover or break a plastic drainfield line.
septic dye appearing in snow

When the ground is snow-covered, walk a grid pattern across the drainfield area to watch for septic dye appearing just at the bottom layer of the snow cover.

Here you can see our red septic dye appearing in the snow where we scuffed the surface of the snow-covered area.

septic failure in snow

When the ground is snow covered and near a wet or swampy area, check the wet area for the appearance of septic dye - actually check here in all weather conditions, but snow cover can actually make it easier to find septic dye breakout provided the ground is not frozen solid.

These pages are part of our SEPTIC DYE TEST PROCEDURE for testing septic system function. Technical review by industry experts has been performed and is ongoing - reviewers are listed at REFERENCES. Comments and suggestions for content are welcome.


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OUTSIDE SEPTIC DYE TEST STEPS at - online encyclopedia of building & environmental inspection, testing, diagnosis, repair, & problem prevention advice.

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