The main reason for the failure of a leach field is plugging of its drain pipes and/or surrounding soil caused by a septic tank that is too small for the amount of sewage discharged from the home, or one that has failed. Particles of non-decomposed septic solids escape the septic tank outlet fitting and decrease the porous nature of the leach field earth. Over time, the effluent water may seek relief by bubbling up to the surface since it can no longer be absorbed properly downward into the ground. In such a case, offensive odors and dangerous bacteria in the surface water can be identified.
Solving the problem of the failed septic tank is the first way to correct this problem. Extending the leach field without addressing the septic tank’s problem will only result in extending the clog, which will eventually happen again. The best way find the extent of the failure is to ask a trained professional.
What can I do if my leach field is always wet?
Usually, this indicates that the leach field has failed and needs immediate attention. Septic bacteria is unsafe for people and pets. The cause for the failure must be determined. Plugged leach field lines, groundwater flooding, leaking house water, a failed septic tank, or damage done to the field by excavation or settling all contribute to such failures.
Can I drive over my leach field?
It is inadvisable, but limited driving of light vehicles on dry ground should not harm a properly installed leach field. Under wet conditions, however, any heavy packing of the earth over the leach lines will have a negative impact on effectiveness. Avoid having very heavy vehicles—such as those used for oil deliveries, pool water filling, cement delivery, etc.—ride directly over the field.
Can I build on top of the leach field?
No, this is not recommended.
Can I plant anything over my leach field?
Again, this is not recommended. However, if you must, planting should be limited to lawn or grass, small fruit trees, annuals, and shallow-rooted decorative bushes. Larger bushes or trees may send long root systems into the leach lines and have even been known to grow all the way back and sometimes into the septic tank! Clearly, the best approach is simply to avoid planting anything but grass there.
What exactly is a septic tank?
The septic tank is a large container usually buried near the home that receives all of the wastewater. Solids settle to the bottom and grease and lighter solids float on the top. Healthy bacteria continually break down these materials and allow effluent water to leave the tank to be dispersed through the leach field. If the water has sludge present, the system is in shut-down mode (failure).
Where is my septic tank located?
The septic tank is usually buried near your house and connected by a sewer pipe to your indoor plumbing. A water probe or a flushable transmitter can be used by your pump company to locate your septic tank.
Are all septic tanks the same size?
No. Septic tanks are sold in a number of sizes for various applications. If you do not have accurate building or installation records, the tank needs to be uncovered and measured to ascertain its size. Or, your professional pumping contractor can give you a good estimate.
Are all septic tanks made of the same material?
No. Septic tanks can be made of steel, concrete, or special long-lasting polymer plastic. Steel has no guarantee and deteriorates over time from wastewater, salts and acids. Concrete septic tanks are by far the most durable, although they usually only have a one-year maximum factory guarantee and also deteriorate over time from wastewater, salts and acids.
The newer polymer septic tanks are guaranteed for many years and are not subject to the deterioration effects of wastewater, salts or acids, but are rarely installed correctly. Because of this, the vast majority will become distorted from ground pressure. Always select a system that gets you the manufacturer’s guarantee that will last the longest when properly installed.
Do septic tanks last forever?
No. Deterioration of both the steel and concrete type of septic tank begins immediately. Polymer tanks last the longest and without physical abuse should serve you well for many, many years. Concrete is porous and cracks by nature. Salts and chemicals are the major factors in deterioration of concrete and metal tanks.
What should go into my septic tank?
The best situation for a long, happy septic tank life would be that only human wastewater enters the tank. This includes bathroom sink waste and proper toilet tissue (single-ply breaks down most easily and taxes your system the least). This however, is seldom the case. People often put anything and everything down sinks, drains and toilets. In moderation, a properly working septic tank can handle some biodegradable detergents, laundry soaps, kitchen wastes and biodegradable household chemicals.
In large amounts, any and all of these things can limit the digestive properties of your septic tank. A good rule of thumb: “If you didn’t, couldn’t or wouldn’t eat it, don’t put it in the septic tank!”
What should not go into my septic tank?
Things like prescription drugs, cigarette butts, disposable diapers, sanitary napkins, plastics, any other trash, or large amounts of cleaning agents or chemicals create problems for your septic tank. Some things kill the good bacteria the septic tank needs to break down human waste. Other items do not readily decompose and more importantly, may clog the inlet and outlet fittings and prevent proper fluid flow inside the septic tank. Basically, non-biodegradable products are non-septic-friendly products.
How can you tell if my septic tank is working?
Visual inspection of your backyard for standing wastewater where the leach field should be, or unusual odors might indicate a problem. Otherwise, visual inspection of the septic tank is the first means of checking. Clarity of the effluent water leaving the outlet fitting is most important. Checking and measuring the depths of the sludge, liquid center and top scum level is also important. Risers on the ports of the lid allow for frequent inspection.
Should there be access to the top of my septic tank?
Yes. In order to inspect and maintain your septic tank, access to the inlet and outlet ports is a must. Risers and childproof access lids can be easily installed to ground level, to provide for easy access without digging.
Can I build over my septic tank?
It is not recommended ever to build over the septic tank. Access to the tank is necessary for inspection and maintenance. Anything built over the tank would have to be removed for pumping and repairs. Additionally, the weight of anything built over a septic tank could damage the unit. The gasses that might escape are very harmful to people and in a worst case scenario could actually be explosive, causing damage to the house and foundation.
Can a septic system be repaired?
Yes. Depending upon the problem, many times a repair is possible. Some examples of a repair would be: to fix a crushed or collapsed pipe; to replace a broken outlet or inlet fitting or baffle wall that has allowed solids into the leach field; to replace a cracked or collapsed septic tank lid, etc.
Will a septic system repair solve my septic problems?
Yes and No. Yes, the repair will address an immediate problem that must be taken care of, but no, the repair may not solve larger septic problems that may have been present before the specific problem that required repair. It also would not necessarily reverse any secondary problems caused by the original problem. Every situation is unique, so consult with a trained septic professional to help you find the most valuable and cost-effective solution to all your septic problems.