Definitions of Septic System Failure
- SEPTIC FAILURE CRITERIA - CONTENTS: How do we define septic system failure ? When is a septic system considered "in failure" ?Here is a list of Types of septic system drain field failure. Cause of septic system component failures. Definitions of septic failure for each component
- POST a QUESTION or READ FAQs about the definition of septic system failure or drainfield failure
Criteria for defining septic system failure: this septic system inspection and test article discusses the Definition of Septic System Failure - septic system failure criteria - the types of septic system failure in the drain field, leach field, seepage bed, or similar
component. We list the causes of each type of septic component failure, and list the septic component failure criteria
or in other words what conditions are defined as "failure"?
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Onsite Waste Disposal System Septic System Failure Criteria
How can you distinguish between a blocked pipe, a septic tank that
needs pumping, and a clogged drainfield that needs replacement? This is an important question as it distinguishes between relatively
low cost maintenance or repair task and a costly septic leach field replacement.
We also discuss what can be planted over and near a septic drainfield and what should be avoided.
Massachusetts Title 5 lists specific failure criteria and serves as
a good model for septic inspections anywhere.
- Backup anywhere in the system
- Discharge of effluent to the surface, stream, etc. regardless of
whether or not septic dye is observed
- Static effluent level above outlet in the D-box
- System has to be pumped more than four times a year
- Metal septic tanks (municipality dependent; note that in special
site conditions small metal tanks may be the "only" solution and
may be approved by local officials. An owner/buyer must be informed of the
implications of such installations.)
- Soil Absorption System (or cesspool, etc) is at a depth exposing
it to the maximum groundwater level - as shown in our illustration, above-left.
Cesspool failure criteria
than 6" of freeboard (free area between top of the effluent in the cesspool and top of the cesspool container)
- Less than 1/2 day's storage
- Within100 feet of a pond or dug well (surface water supply)
- Within 50 feet of a private well (modern sanitary well)
- Between 50 and 100 feet from a private well if well fails bacteria test
- In Massachusetts, within Zone 1 of a public well
- BOH (board of health) evaluation is required if septic system components or evidence of failure are within 50 feet of any surface water
For details see CESSPOOL FAILURE CRITERIA.
Soil Absorption System Failures (leach fields, drain fields, seepage pits)
- Breakout of effluent observed (& I consider odors as well)
- BOH evaluation in MA if within 100 ft of surface water supply
- within Zone 1 of a public well
- within 50ft of a private well
- between 50ft and 100ft of a private well if well fails bacteria test.
FAILURE CRITERIA - Soil Absorption System Failure Criteria - Drainfield Failure Standards
Since homeowners may receive vague advice about the condition of their septic system, here we present
specific failure criteria for septic systems. For alternative septic system designs or advanced septic
systems using more specialized equipment, a failure of that equipment is more often a needed repair
than a total system failure.
The most basic definition of septic system failure would be a septic system that will no longer treat and
dispose of septic effluent. A "blocked" septic system may or may not be a "failed" system - it depends
on the cause of blockage. Is it a blocked pipe, a clogged septic filter, or is the drainfield saturated
and no longer accepting effluent?
Here are some of the specific criteria that can reliably be taken to describe a failed or non-functional septic system:
- Breakout of septic effluent observed at the property surface (& I consider odors as well)
- Appearance of septic effluent, for example seen by use of a tracer dye, in nearby waterways, streams, lakes, or drainage catch basins
- Too close to water supply or other boundaries: Board of Health evaluation in Massachusetts defines a septic system as unacceptable (technically not working"
if a septic system (or in some cases its drainfield) is located within 100 ft of surface water supply or any of the next three locations:
- A septic system (or in some cases its drainfield) located within Zone 1 of a public well
- A septic system (or in some cases its drainfield) located within 50ft of a private well
- A septic system (or in some cases its drainfield) located between 50ft and 100ft of a private well if well fails bacteria test.
Also see SEPTIC FAILURE SIGNS: what can we see that indicates a septic system is failing, Septic Failure Causes in our septic inspection online book, and see SEPTIC DRAINFIELD LOCATION: how to find the septic drain field or leaching bed.
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Technical Reviewers & References
Publisher's Google+ Page by Daniel Friedman
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- New York State Department of Health, "Appendix 75-A Wastewater Treatment Standards - Individual Household Systems", [PDF] New York State Department of Health, 3 February 2010, retrieved 3/1/2010, original source: https://www.health.ny.gov/regulations/nycrr/title_10/part_75/appendix_75-a.htm
- SEPTIC FAILURE CRITERIA how do we define a septic system as "failed"
- Septic Failure Causes in our septic inspection online book
- SEPTIC FAILURE SIGNS Signs of Septic System Failure: A First Step in Septic Diagnosis
- Cesspool Safety Warnings include dangers of cave-in and fatality
- Failure Causes - Septic Systems for Septic Systems, septic tanks, septic drainfields, cesspools, drywells, distribution piping
- Failure Causes - Drainfields: how to inspect septic leach fields & what causes septic field failure
- SEPTIC FAILURE SPOTS - Where septic system trouble is likely to show up regardless of septic dye testing
- The Septic System Information Website home page for this topic
- Septic Systems Inspection, Testing, & Maintenance - online textbook. Detailed how to inspect, maintain, repair information
- The Home Buyer's Guide to Septic Systems
- Septic Tank Pumping Guide: When, Why, How to pump the septic tank
- Home & Outdoor Living Water Requirements
- Septic Tank Capacity vs Usage in Daily Gallons of Wastewater Flow, calculating required septic tank size, calculating septic tank volume from size measurements
- Septic Tank/Soil-Absorption Systems: How to Operate & Maintain [ copy on file as /septic/Septic_Operation_USDA.pdf ] - , Equipment Tips, U.S. Department of Agriculture, 8271 1302, 7100 Engineering, 2300 Recreation, September 1982, web search 08/28/2010, original source: http://www.fs.fed.us/t-d/pubs/pdfimage/82711302.pdf.
- How Big Should the Leach Field Be? - table of soil percolation rate vs. field size
- Septic System Drainfield Absorption System Biomat Formation - what leads to drain field clogging and expensive drainfield repairs
- Table of Required Septic & Well Clearances: Distances Between Septic System & Wells, Streams, Trees, etc.
- Ten Steps to Keeping a Septic System Working, suggestions from the U.S. EPA, edits and additions by DJF
- Pennsylvania State Fact Sheets relating to domestic wastewater treatment systems include
- Pennsylvania State Wastewater Treatment Fact Sheet SW-161, Septic System Failure: Diagnosis and Treatment
- Pennsylvania State Wastewater Treatment Fact Sheet SW-162, The Soil Media and the Percolation Test
- Pennsylvania State Wastewater Treatment Fact Sheet SW-l64, Mound Systems for Wastewater Treatment
- Pennsylvania State Wastewater Treatment Fact Sheet SW-165, Septic Tank-Soil Absorption Systems
- Document Sources used for this web page include but are not limited to: Agricultural Fact Sheet #SW-161 "Septic Tank Pumping," by Paul D. Robillard and
Kelli S. Martin. Penn State College of Agriculture - Cooperative Extension, edited and annotated by
Dan Friedman (Thanks: to Bob Mackey for proofreading the original source material.)
Books & Articles on Building & Environmental Inspection, Testing, Diagnosis, & Repair
- Inspecting Septic Systems: Online Book, Inspection, Test, Diagnosis, Repair, & Maintenance: our Online Septic Book: Septic Testing, Loading & Dye Tests, Septic Tank Pumping, Clearances, details of onsite waste disposal system inspection, testing, repair procedures.
- Advanced Onsite Wastewater Systems Technologies, Anish R. Jantrania, Mark A. Gross. Anish Jantrania, Ph.D., P.E., M.B.A., is a Consulting Engineer, in Mechanicsville VA, 804-550-0389 (2006). Outstanding technical reference especially on alternative septic system design alternatives. Written for designers and engineers, this book is not at all easy going for homeowners but is a text I recommend for professionals--DF.
- Builder's Guide to Wells and Septic Systems, Woodson, R. Dodge: $ 24.95; MCGRAW HILL B; TP;
Quoting from Amazon's description: For the homebuilder, one mistake in estimating or installing wells and septic systems can cost thousands of dollars. This comprehensive guide filled with case studies can prevent that. Master plumber R. Dodge Woodson packs this reader-friendly guide with guidance and information, including details on new techniques and materials that can economize and expedite jobs and advice on how to avoid mistakes in both estimating and construction. Chapters cover virtually every aspect of wells and septic systems, including on-site evaluations; site limitations; bidding; soil studies, septic designs, and code-related issues; drilled and dug wells, gravel and pipe, chamber-type, and gravity septic systems; pump stations; common problems with well installation; and remedies for poor septic situations. Woodson also discusses ways to increase profits by avoiding cost overruns.
- Country Plumbing: Living with a Septic System, Hartigan, Gerry: $ 9.95; ALAN C HOOD & TP;
Quoting an Amazon reviewer's comment, with which we agree--DF:This book is informative as far as it goes and might be most useful for someone with an older system. But it was written in the early 1980s. A lot has changed since then. In particular, the book doesn't cover any of the newer systems that are used more and more nowadays in some parts of the country -- sand mounds, aeration systems, lagoons, etc.
Design Manuals for Septic Systems
US EPA Onsite Wastewater Treatment Systems Manual [online copy, free] Top Reference: US EPA's Design Manual for Onsite Wastewater Treatment and Disposal, 1980, available from the US EPA, the US GPO Superintendent of Documents (Pueblo CO), and from the National Small Flows Clearinghouse. Original source http://www.epa.gov/ORD/NRMRL/Pubs/625R00008/625R00008.htm Onsite wastewater treatment and disposal systems,
Richard J Otis, published by the US EPA. Although it's more than 20 years old, this book remains a useful reference for septic system designers.
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Office of Water Program Operations; Office of Research and Development, Municipal Environmental Research Laboratory; (1980)
- Eco John® Innovative Toilet Solutions, Global Inventive Industries, Fountain Valley CA, PDF, product brochure
- "International Private Sewage Disposal Code," 1995, BOCA-708-799-2300, ICBO-310-699-0541, SBCCI 205-591-1853, available from those code associations.
- "Manual of Policy, Procedures, and Guidelines for Onsite Sewage Systems," Ontario Reg. 374/81, Part VII of the Environmental
Protection Act (Canada), ISBN 0-7743-7303-2, Ministry of the Environment,135 St. Clair Ave. West, Toronto Ontario M4V 1P5 Canada $24. CDN.
- Manual of Septic Tank Practice, US Public Health Service's 1959.
Onsite Wastewater Disposal Books
- Onsite Wastewater Disposal, R. J. Perkins;
Quoting from Amazon: This practical book, co-published with the National Environmental Health Association,
describes the step-by-step procedures needed to avoid common pitfalls in septic system technology.
Valuable in matching the septic system to the site-specific conditions, this useful book will help you install a reliable system in
both suitable and difficult environments. Septic tank installers, planners, state and local regulators, civil and sanitary engineers,
consulting engineers, architects, homeowners, academics, and land developers will find this publication valuable.
- Onsite Wastewater Treatment Systems, Bennette D. Burks, Mary Margaret Minnis, Hogarth House 1994 - one of the best septic system books around, suffering a bit from small fonts and a weak index. While it contains some material more technical than needed by homeowners, Burks/Minnis book on onsite wastewater treatment systems a very useful reference for both property owners and septic system designers.
- Septic Tank/Soil-Absorption Systems: How to Operate & Maintain [ copy on file as /septic/Septic_Operation_USDA.pdf ] - , Equipment Tips, U.S. Department of Agriculture, 8271 1302, 7100 Engineering, 2300 Recreation, September 1982, web search 08/28/2010, original source: http://www.fs.fed.us/t-d/pubs/pdfimage/82711302.pdf
- Soil Percolation Tests soil perc testing guide and instructions
- Percolation Testing Manual, CNMI Division of Environmental Quality, PO Box 501304, Saipan, MP 96950
- Planting Over Septic System Component", Daniel Friedman (author/editor, InspectAPedia.com), The Innovator, Winter/Spring 2008, BCOSSA, British Columbia OnSite Sewage Association, 201-3542 Blansard St., Victoria BC V8X 1W3 Canada
- Save the Septic System - Do Not Flush These Items Down the Toilet, Daniel Friedman, InspectAPedia.com - PDF document, printable
- SEPTIC STANDARDS
- SEPTIC MAGAZINES
- Septic System Owner's Manual, Lloyd Kahn, Blair Allen, Julie Jones, Shelter Publications, 2000 $14.95 U.S. - easy to understand, well illustrated, one of the best practical references around on septic design basics including some advanced systems; a little short on safety and maintenance. Both new and used (low priced copies are available, and we think the authors are working on an updated edition--DF.
Quoting from one of several Amazon reviews: The basics of septic systems, from underground systems and failures to what the owner can do to promote and maintain a healthy system, is revealed in an excellent guide essential for any who reside on a septic system. Rural residents receive a primer on not only the basics; but how to conduct period inspections and what to do when things go wrong. History also figures into the fine coverage.
- Test Pit Preparation for Onsite Sewage Evaluations, State of Oregon Department of Environmental Quality, Portland OR, 800 452-4011. PDF document. We recommend this excellent document that offers detail about soil perc tests, deep hole tests, safety, and septic design. Readers should also see Soil Percolation Tests and for testing an existing septic system, also see Dye Tests
- Grass is Always Greener Over the Septic Tank, Bombeck, Erma: $ 5.99; FAWCETT; MM;
This septic system classic whose title helps avoid intimidating readers new to septic systems, is available new or used at very low prices.
It's more entertainment than a serious "how to" book on septic systems design, maintenance, or repair. Not recommended -- DF.
- US EPA Onsite Wastewater Treatment Systems Manual Top Reference: US EPA's Design Manual for Onsite Wastewater Treatment and Disposal, 1980, available from the US EPA, the US GPO Superintendent of Documents (Pueblo CO), and from the National Small Flows Clearinghouse. Original source http://www.epa.gov/ORD/NRMRL/Pubs/625R00008/625R00008.htm
- Water Wells and Septic Systems Handbook, R. Dodge Woodson. This book is in the upper price range, but is worth the cost for serious septic installers and designers.
Quoting Amazon: Each year, thousands upon thousands of Americans install water wells and septic systems on their properties. But with a maze of codes governing their use along with a host of design requirements that ensure their functionality where can someone turn for comprehensive, one-stop guidance? Enter the Water Wells and Septic Systems Handbook from McGraw-Hill.
Written in language any property owner can understand yet detailed enough for professionals and technical students this easy-to-use volume delivers the latest techniques and code requirements for designing, building, rehabilitating, and maintaining private water wells and septic systems. Bolstered by a wealth of informative charts, tables, and illustrations, this book delivers:
* Current construction, maintenance, and repair methods
* New International Private Sewage Disposal Code
* Up-to-date standards from the American Water Works Association
- Wells and Septic Systems, Alth, Max and Charlet, Rev. by S. Blackwell Duncan, $ 18.95; Tab Books 1992. We have found this text very useful for conventional well and septic systems design and maintenance --DF.
Quoting an Amazon description:Here's all the information you need to build a well or septic system yourself - and save a lot of time, money, and frustration. S. Blackwell Duncan has thoroughly revised and updated this second edition of Wells and Septic Systems to conform to current codes and requirements. He also has expanded this national bestseller to include new material on well and septic installation, water storage and distribution, water treatment, ecological considerations, and septic systems for problem building sites.
- The NSFC Products List has an excellent list of design manuals/modules available from their website or by telephone 800-624-8301
- Submissions welcome. send us a suggested document link or request an exchange of website links