LARGER VIEW of a sloping bank mound system installed across a natural drainage cachment, an area where where we found effluent breakout at the ends of the septic mound - evidence of a failed septic leach fieldEasy-to-Find Visual Evidence of Septic System Failure

  • SEPTIC FAILURE EVIDENCE, VISUAL - CONTENTS: Visual evidence of septic failure can be observed in some cases with no septic loading or dye test required. What observations or conditions define septic system failure?
  • POST a QUESTION or READ FAQs about how to recognize evidence of septic system failures, impossible designs, unsafe conditions, and even septic test cheating by a direct visual inspection of the building site.

Visual evidence of septic system failures: this document describes how to look for visual evidence of septic failure without or before testing a septic system and also difficult site conditions that may require special measures to install a working septic system.

The observations described here can be performed regardless of whether or not a septic test is planned at a property, and this procedure can often find evidence of unsafe or failed septic systems and on occasion, evidence of downright skulduggery.

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Immediately Detectable Evidence of Septic System Failure - before testing

LARGER VIEW of green septic dye breakout on leaves in a yard - evidence of a failed septic leach field

A later article in this septic system inspection series, FAILURE SPOTS, which is part of our STEP BY STEP SEPTIC TEST procedure, describes where you're likely to see actual evidence of septic failure during a loading and dye test.

Looking for these conditions can give key information about the condition of the septic system before (and perhaps without) performing a septic loading and dye test and also before (and perhaps without) invasive septic system inspection measures such as excavation.

[Click to enlarge any image]

There are often visual clues, such as the ones described here, which can be strong indicators of a history of septic system problems or of a building site which will involve special difficulties in installing an effective onsite wastewater disposal system.

These site observations can increase the property owner, seller, or buyer's understanding of the chances that significant costs are likely to be faced in providing or repairing the septic system.

Septic effluent at the property surface: Before starting a septic dye test some in building and outside site inspection are very important.

For example, in the photo shown here, the soapy water on the ground surface by this pool combined with the knowledge (from inspection and via owner) that the pool was constructed partly atop the leach field, was such clear evidence of a failure that no dye test was required.

So perhaps the first question should be is there already evidence of a septic system failure or of a site with special problems or unsafe conditions?

a too-small home made septic tank - evidence of a failed septic systemVisible septic system components: tank cover, tank pumping access ports, marker stones, D-boxes, vents are obvious indicators that should be observed and recorded before, during, and after the septic test.

In the photo shown here, the septic tank was obviously home-made, and was about 4 ft. by 4 ft., abutting the home, and (we were told) about 4 ft. deep - this tank is too small to be functional by any modern standard.

It also was a strong suggestion that other "home made" septic components would be at the property. This system sent dyed septic effluent to the surface of the yard on a single toilet flush.

Do you see that pump in the center of the photo foreground? The owner had used it to pump effluent from his septic tank across the yard surface (pipes exposed to freezing) to his leach field. An agent who stood insisting that the system was "perfectly fine" had the bad luck to be sprayed with dyed septic effluent as soon as the pump began to run.

  • Existing septic tank access ports: if the tank location is known, is there a readily accessible and reasonably easily opened septic tank inspection or pumping port?

  • Septic Sites that have little or soil over bedrock are highly suspect as special septic system installation measures would have been needed; look for effluent breakout such as shown at the top of this page

  • Septic effluent or graywater discharged to the surface of the ground, or to a nearby lake or stream

  • Septic sites that have no physical space for a septic tank and drainfield

  • Septic sites that show subsidence (very dangerous) in the soil near septic tanks, cesspools, etc.

  • Septic systems sited too close to lakes or streams

  • Septic system sites that show wet smelly areas - further investigation may be needed to be sure the odors and wetness are from the septic

  • Sewage Odors may or may not show a septic system failure or (usually less costly) need for septic or plumbing repairs. See SEWER GAS ODORS for details.

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.


Continue reading at LOOK FOR SEPTIC COMPONENTS or select a topic from the More Reading links or topic ARTICLE INDEX shown below.

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SEPTIC FAILURE EVIDENCE, VISUAL at - online encyclopedia of building & environmental inspection, testing, diagnosis, repair, & problem prevention advice.

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