Septic tanks and drainfields, what to watch for before you buy: this septic system inspection article discusses other things that can go wrong with a septic tank or septic system, of special concern to home buyers.
Septic backups, failures, breakouts, odors:
This document provides advice for home buyers who are buying a home with a private septic system:
homes using a septic tank and drainfield or similar soil absorption system. Here we describe what goes wrong with septic systems and their various components.
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Other signs of trouble with a septic system
Slow Building Drains can indicate septic system trouble
The following section of our buyer's guide to a property with a septic tank recommends and describes septic inspection
and test methods in more detail, explains how to be sure your septic inspection and septic test are conducted properly,
tells you where to get more septic system information about a given property,
and warns of unsanitary or dangerous site conditions.
Slow or sluggish fixture drains: Slow flushing toilets (such as shown in this photo), shower or tub or sink drains, can indicate a developing septic
system problem, though it could also be a partial drain blockage.
That is, slow fixture drains may be system-related but it could also indicate just a clog in the interior
piping or sewer line.
You should have the interior piping checked before proceeding with an investigation of the sewage disposal system.
See Diagnosing Clogged Drains: A First Step for Homeowners for
a guide in how to determine if a slow drain is a clogged pipe or a septic system problem.
Washing Machine Backups can mean septic system or drywell trouble or even a public sewer line problem
Washing machine backups: Large volume wastewater discharges (such as, washing machines, dishwashers and bathtubs) may cause either a backup,
as noted above, or, an overflow of sewage above the septic tank or leaching field.
If this condition is usually at its worst during and/or directly following a heavy rain event, then
the septic system is indeed suspect.
If backup alone occurs independent of wet weather, you might first check for a partial blockage of the main drain that
has occurred some distance from the house.
In such cases a small discharge will simply be held by the main waste pipe, draining slowly past the blockage, while
a large discharge will cause a backup.
Septic or sewage odors can indivcte septic system trouble
Septic or Sewage Odors: Foul septic odors in storm drainage piping, catch basins, footing drain piping or curtain drain discharges may indicate that sewage from your property or an adjacent one is entering these ground water systems.
Curtain drains or intercept drains can protect septic drainfields in areas of wet soils or surface and subsurface groundwater
See "Sewer Gas Odors diagnosing, finding, and curing septic tank and sewer line smells"
and if odors are occurring in wet or cold weather, be sure to see
see "Sewage Odors in Wet or Cold Weather - Septic Odors or Sewage Odor Diagnosis & Repair Guide for diagnosing and eliminating cold weather sewer gas odors"
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Technical Reviewers & References
Publisher's Google+ Page by Daniel Friedman
Click to Show or Hide Citations & References
- 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
- Portions of the original text were provided by the CT Department of Public Health and Addiction Services. Daniel Friedman (web author) has made
extensive edits and content additions to the original file.
- Sketches of the Septic System Components Private Sewage Disposal Systems - Septic Drawing Library
Septic Systems - an Engineer's View
Septic System, Septic Tank, & Cesspool Safety Warnings for Septic Inspectors, Septic Pumpers, and Homeowners.
CESSPOOLS if you don't know what they are.
Don't Flush these things into a septic system
DRYWELL DESIGN & USES if you don't know what they are.
SEPTIC SYSTEMS ONLINE BOOK 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.
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