drainage field leaking

jra2127May 26, 2009

I know that it is hard to diagnosis problems through the internet, but our knowledge of our septic is slim and we need a bit of knowledge for a leg up.

Our drainage field is leaking in to the yard where it exits the tank. We know that there are a few problems:

1. We know the tank needs to be pumped and are having that done today. Last done 4 years ago when we bought the house. We did get a lecture about not pumping our tank enough. We do think that a little ridiculous to say that this is the whole problem since both sets of our parents have lived in lived in their homes forever and they have had their tanks pumped a combined total of 1 time and have never had problems.

2. We know that our septic system isn't deep. The tank is maybe 6" deep and the spot were it is leaking is maybe 1' deep. This is thanks to the genius that owned the house previously who thought he would try to level off the massive hillside our house is on. He told us that he had to stop because he hit the septic.

3. We removed a tree a couple years back right where it is know leaking. Since then we have always had greener, lusher grass then the rest of our yard.

We are not stupid about what we put down our drains. we had been putting septic treatment in for the last 3 years, now we know that this may have not been the best thing.

We were told (after they asked what we did for a living, in which my husband said he was an engineer) that we would need a whole new drainage field. Obviously, we would like to not do that. We were also told that it needs to be in a completely new spot, which is difficult to do because of the wooded hill side we live on.

Any suggestions? Yes we are getting a second, third, fourth opinion from others not concerned about how much money we make.

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Okay, let's start with a few basics:

Waste goes into the septic tank where solids are broken down through bacterial action. The solids mostly go to the bottom until they break down and the effluent rises to the top of the tank where it then travels through pipes to the leach field (drainage field or finger system).

The leach field is designed with perforated pipe and gravel so that this effluent will filter down into the earth where it continues to be broken down by bacteria in the soil.

The reason to have the tank pumped is to remove the sludge (Solids that haven't broken down) that slowly builds up on the bottom of the tank - eventually rendering it unusable.

So, I guess I have some questions and comments:

1.) The leach field is obviously designed to "leak". So when you say it's leaking, what are you talking about? Is there a puddle of water in one place? Do you suspect that one of the pipes that connects the septic to the leach field is broken? Or, is it that you believe that the previous owner removed enough dirt over the leach field that it is no longer sufficiently buried to prevent contaminated water on the surface? Is the suspected problem a combination of these two things?

2.)What reason is the contractor giving for needing to replace / relocate the leach field? Is he supporting his reasoning with some evidence?

If you get another contractor out there, show him/her the symptoms, but leave it to them to diagnose the problem. Don't tell them "it's leaking" explain to them why you think you have a problem. Always ask them to support their diagnosis by showing you how they reached that conclusion.

3.) If you conclude that the leach field is no longer deep enough because of the terrain leveling attempts, can you bring in dirt to solve that problem? If you suspect a damaged pipe going to the leach field, can you simply have that repaired?

4.)The amount of time between having the tank pumped depends on the size of the tank, the number of people in the household and if you have a garbage disposal or not. See the link for guidelines.

Here is a link that might be useful: Septic tank pumping table

    Bookmark   May 26, 2009 at 11:28AM
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Thanks, for the advice on dealing with contractors.
By leaking I mean, black sludge/white froth that has recently (in the last month)been causing a puddle near the exit of the tank but not noticed anywhere else on along the field. Yes we do think, or maybe are hoping, that it does have something to due with the how shallow it is. Also people have driven on it. It is one of the only flat areas on our property and you can't expect all of you house guest to know where your septic is.

The contractor we had out told us-by looking at the yard-that the field is most likely plugged with grease. But like I said, I don't trust them at all. Simply because what we do for a living should be of any concern.

    Bookmark   May 26, 2009 at 11:50AM
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If you're lucky it might just be a broken connection TO the field. Easy enough fix.
Driving on any part of the field is a no-no. Especially if some of the cover was removed. The typical lightweight piping gets crushed or at least egged.
Around these parts,(assuming your field is plugged) if you don't have space for a new one, a sand mound is mandated.

    Bookmark   May 26, 2009 at 11:58AM
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Wow! Homeland Security will be really interested in that contractor since he seems to have x-ray vision. By simply looking at the field he can tell it's clogged with grease!

It is possible that a leach field can become clogged with grease and/or sludge if the tank is seriously neglected by not pumping at the recommended schedule. A symptom would be an overflowing tank.

It sounds as if there is a leak at the connection to the tank - reasonably easy to fix. It also sounds as if perhaps you recently had a lot of guests which may have overwhelmed the system.

I would suggest that you have that spot dug up to investigate and repair what will probably be a broken pipe. If there is no break and the problem is that the tank is overflowing - under normal usage conditions- you will need to determine why water isn't draining in the leach field.

You don't want people driving on it - esp if it's not as deep as it should be.

    Bookmark   May 27, 2009 at 10:12AM
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