Question? Just ask us!
Free Encyclopedia of Building & Environmental Inspection, Testing, Diagnosis, Repair
InspectAPedia ® Home
SEPTIC SYSTEM INSPECT DIAGNOSE REPAIR
SEPTIC CARE INSTRUCTIONS
SEPTIC D-BOX INSTALL REPAIR
SEPTIC DRAINFIELD FAILURE DIAGNOSIS
SEPTIC DYE TEST PROCEDURE
SEPTIC FAILURE SIGNS
SEPTIC INSPECTION & TEST GUIDE
SEPTIC LIFE EXPECTANCY
SEPTIC SUPPLIES & PARTS
SEPTIC SYSTEM DESIGN ALTERNATIVES
SEPTIC SYSTEM DESIGN BASICS
SEPTIC SYSTEMS, HOME BUYERS GUIDE to
SEPTIC SYSTEM SAFETY WARNINGS
SEPTIC TREATMENTS & CHEMICALS
SEWAGE BACKUP PREVENTION
SEWAGE EJECTOR / GRINDER PUMPS
SEWER GAS ODORS
SEWER LINE REPLACEMENT
SINKHOLES, WARNING SIGNS
SOAKAWAY BED FAILURE DIAGNOSIS
SULPHUR & SEWER GAS SMELL SOURCES
TOILETS, INSPECT, INSTALL, REPAIR
TRAPS on PLUMBING FIXTURES
TREATMENTS & CHEMICALS, SEPTIC
VIDEO GUIDES: Septic Videos
WATER CONSERVATION MEASURES
WATER SOFTENERS & CONDITIONERS
WATER SUPPLY & DRAIN PIPING
WATER, WELLS, WATER TANKS: TESTING GUIDE
WASHING MACHINES & SEPTIC SYSTEMS
WASTEWATER TREATMENT BASICS
WINTERIZE A BUILDING
Where to look for septic test dye breakouts: this septic system diagnostics article describes where trouble tends to show up at properties with septic systems - if the system is failing, here's where you're likely to see evidence.
A visual inspection of these locations before and after a septic dye test, or a mere inspection of these locations even if no dye test is going to be performed are steps that give key information about the condition of the septic system. OUTSIDE INSPECTION described other indicators of a site where septic difficulties may be expected, even if there is not any current evidence of a failure.
At page top we show the dramatic result of a septic loading and dye test conducted on a septic tank and soakbed located under a driveway and parking area just a short distance from a stream. In wet weather sewage effluent collected in the red-dyed area and flowed into the home's basement - through a doorway in the shadows of our photo.
Green links show where you are. © Copyright 2015 InspectApedia.com, All Rights Reserved.
Besides making the obvious site inspection for sewage odors or breakout at ground surface, simply paying attention to a building site's shape and other visual clues can give critically important information leading to the discovery of a septic system failure, as we will illustrate here.
[Click to enlarge any image]
In our above-left photo we knew that a neighbor's septic drainfield was at the top of the embankment shown. In the photo the most-likely leach field location was on the flat filled area above the landscaped bank shown, we were concerned about effluent breakout under the dense shrubs (where it would be hard to spot).
But we suspected (age, size of fields, etc) that septic problems might be present. In what was reported to be a drain system installed to remove water from the driveway a simple lift of the driveway drain cover on a concrete box found at the bottom of the bank and edge of the drive (photo above right) showed our septic dye running happily along. The "driveway drain" had actually been installed to carry effluent from the failed leach field across the drive to a nearby storm drain.
The neighbor's septic drainfield was simply sending its effluent next-door.
Understanding the Site Can Point to Areas of Risk of Septic System Failure
Arlene Puentes has pointed out that a septic inspection for failure spots starts with an examination of the whole building site, considering its size, terrain, neighbors, rocks, streams, etc.
Based on property size alone, a very tiny building site should raise an alarm about what septic components could possibly fit and work in the available space. Add considerations of property age and soil conditions and the septic system story may become yet more clear.
At left we show red septic dye in a pre-existing wet area that was down-slope from the septic drainfield area.
By observing that this area was soggy and wet before ever starting the septic loading and dye test, then observing the appearance of our Pylam fluorescent septic dye, we avoided any argument that our test had over-loaded the septic system in the course of detecting this failure.
Puentes reports inspecting a property with a tiny lot, a deck built over the entire back yard, and not much space for a septic tank and drainfield. Starting a normal septic loading and dye test (septic dye placed into the system through a toilet) she soon found water, but not dyed effluent, running out from under the deck.
Placing some dye tablets into a bathtub drain she discovered that all building graywater was directed not into the septic tank but onto the ground surface under the deck. Puentes continued to test the septic tank and drainfield by simply forcing the building toilet to run continuously to place water into that system. In minutes a sewer odor dominated the deck area.
Signs of Trouble in the Septic Leach Field or Drainfield Area: Look in the area where you think the leach field is or is most likely to be. Look over the edges of mound systems, steep banks, and nearby culverts.
Mound septic system failures: Look over the edges of mound systems, banks, and nearby hills, slopes, or culverts. In this photo our client is pointing to a mound system which was installed across a natural drainage area.
Surface runoff water from nearby properties, and originally this property, used to run along a natural drainage pathway between the road and the lots. When the builder placed this mound system in the front yard he set it atop that drainage pathway - which means that underground water was running a foot or less below the level of the leach field trenches.
The system delivered its effluent right into the surface runoff and together they appeared as dyed effluent at the down slope end of the mound.
Common but illegal effluent discharge pipes: Some "repairs" to a failed septic system are made by simply running a hidden pipe to a nearby pond, stream, or public storm drain. If there is a nearby common improper pipe target or an unexplained pipe sticking out of a bank, have someone watch this area from the moment dye is placed in the system since if there is a direct drain carrying effluent to such an improper (and illegal) destination, the dyed effluent may pass by quickly.
Streams, ponds, storm drains: These are common illegal septic effluent discharge targets, especially at sites with limited space, remote country properties, wet areas, and old properties. Look at near by streams, ponds, wet areas that were present before the test. Warning: If you're looking in a nearby stream or storm drain, watch or have someone watch this area from the moment dye is placed in the system.
Some "repairs" to a failed septic system are made by simply running a hidden pipe to a nearby pond, stream, or public storm drain. If there is a free-running pipe carrying effluent to an illegal destination it may flow so easily and quickly that your dye may pass by in just a few minutes, so watch suspect areas closely early in the test as well as throughout.
Examine low areas near the septic drainfield, soggy areas, areas of dense or lush vegetation, edges of mound systems, and any nearby pond, stream, storm drain, or other surface drainage systems for signs of leakage or dye. Leaf and brush piles or grass clippings are often piled atop "trouble spots" where there has been a history of septic problems and breakout.
Technical review by industry experts has been performed and is ongoing - reviewers are listed at "References." Comments and suggestions for content are welcome. © 2014 - 1984 DJF Use of this information at other websites is prohibited; reproduction in electronic or printed form is prohibited.
These pages are part of our SEPTIC DYE TEST PROCEDURE for testing septic system function.
Green link shows where you are in this article series.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
No FAQs have been posted for this page. Try the search box below or CONTACT US by email if you cannot find the answer you need at InspectApedia.
Questions & answers or comments about trouble spots in septic systems, how to find where the dye may appear, how to recognize signs of a septic system in failure
Use the "Click to Show or Hide FAQs" link just above to see recently-posted questions, comments, replies, try the search box just below, or if you prefer, post a question or comment in the Comments box below and we will respond promptly.
Search the InspectApedia website
HTML Comment Box is loading comments...
Technical Reviewers & References
Design Manuals for Septic Systems
Onsite Wastewater Disposal Books