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SEPTIC SYSTEM INSPECT DIAGNOSE REPAIR
SEPTIC CARE INSTRUCTIONS
SEPTIC D-BOX INSPECTION
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
WASHING MACHINES & SEPTIC SYSTEMS
WATER SOFTENERS & CONDITIONERS
WATER SUPPLY & DRAIN PIPING
WASTEWATER TREATMENT BASICS
WATER, WELLS, WATER TANKS: TESTING GUIDE
WINTERIZE A BUILDING
This septic drainfield article series discusses the evaluation of drainfield soil conditions among the types of causes of septic system failure in the drain field, leach field, seepage bed, or similar component. We also discuss what can be planted over and near a septic drainfield and what should be avoided.
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"? 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.
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The absorption system or "drain field" has two jobs
First, it disposes of liquid effluent by permitting it to seep into the soil below. Second, a "bio-mat" of bacteria which forms in the soil below the drainage field processes pathogens in the septic effluent to make the effluent sufficiently sanitary as to avoid contaminating nearby ground water. This distinction between successful "disposal" and successful "treatment" is important to avoid groundwater contamination but has not been addressed by regulation in every municipality.
Municipalities which require a minimum distance between the bottom of the drain field trenches (or equivalent component) and the top of the seasonal high ground water table have recognized the importance of a working bio-mat and the need to provide adequate dry soil for it to function.
Even in a well-designed drainage field, eventually the soil surrounding the drainfield device (perforated pipe in gravel trench or other seepage system) becomes clogged with grease and debris.
Examining an excavated cross-section of a failed drainfield
Examining an excavated cross-section of a failed drainfield will often display a black or gray band of sludge and grease of about 1" thickness at the inside perimeter of the gravel trench. When this layer of soil becomes sufficiently clogged the passage of effluent into the soil below is slowed and eventually blocked, leading to the need for replacement. Keeping a tank pumped so as to reduce the passage of debris and grease into a drain field will extend its life.
This is the most expensive problem to correct. Look for septic effluent seepage to ground surface in area of equipment or downhill from such equipment. Look for (illegal) drain field line extensions to nearby streams, storm drains, or adjoining properties where the temptation to "fix" a failing system by sending the effluent to an improper destination overwhelmed a previous owner or repair company.
In some areas where septic inspections are commonly performed, septic system inspectors use septic loading and dye test. Seepage may be due to overloaded tank, failed absorption system, or blocked/broken piping (may be less costly).
An excavator or septic contractor will often explore one or more drain lines (or similar components) by excavating a portion of it to look for evidence of flooding or soil clogging. We've used a simple probe at the end and along a leach bed to check for flooding of that component. (Be careful not to break or collapse old piping.)
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about how to diagnose a clogged soakaway pit or septic drainfield
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Technical Reviewers & References
Related Topics, found near the top of this page suggest articles closely related to this one.
Design Manuals for Septic Systems
Onsite Wastewater Disposal Books