So now my septic and leach field are in trouble

landpersonOctober 19, 2011

I live where the water table comes up to my knees (not literally) in the winter. It does not perk. Period. But there is no city sewer here, so we are on well and septic. The septic tank was here when we bought the property in '79 -- redwood -- and is now pretty much just a hole in the ground. And, when I had it pumped last week it was full to to the top which leads to the conclusion (since it hasn't rained in months until a few days ago) that the leach field is shot.

Big question is: if I were to intall a new and very large tank would it/could it at least postpone the need for me to dig in a new leach field? I have no idea where on 1/2 acre I am going to put it anyway, but I'm thinking that if the tank is much bigger than needed then the job the field might have to do would be reduced to almost nothing? Does this make any sense? Currently there are three people using the septic (almost no grey water goes into it), and if necessary I can reduce the population by at least one....maybe two and it would only be me.

Also, there are three houses/cottages on the property. Two use this septic. One has its own. Can two septics be routed into the same leach field?

Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

A septic tank is normally full. Effluent flows out into the leach field as untreated waste flows in. A full tank indicates nothing about the condition of the leach field.

    Bookmark   October 19, 2011 at 12:40PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Wow, now I am totally confused, and of course worried because I don't know quite how to proceed if the "expert" who told me what he told me is wrong. Thank you, though.

My first thought is to go ahead put in a newer larger 2-chamber plastic septic tank, hook it into the existing field, and see how it all performs. Does that make sense? Do what obviously has to be done and wait to see what else becomes obvious?

As you can tell, I need all the advice and help I can get here.

    Bookmark   October 19, 2011 at 3:38PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

"the "expert" who told me what he told me is wrong."

Have someone else look at the system before you do anything.

The septic tank fills up with wast, it is digested by the normal items in wast, and then clear liquid flows to the field as more waste enters.

Some 'non-digestible' things fall to the bottom of the tank, requiring periodic pumping to remove them (sludge, cellulose from TP, etc.).

The only time a tank is anything but full of liquid is immediately after pumping.
Nothing is entering the filed at that time until the tank fill again.

If solid waste enters the field it starts to clog the 'pores' in the earth needed for the liquid to soak in.

THEN you need a new field.

    Bookmark   October 19, 2011 at 3:57PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

So, where would the most likely evidence of a failed field appear?

And, since last year when it was very wet there was definitely overflow from the tank itself. When we opened it last week to be pumped it became clear that the old metal barrel that had been used as a collar had completely deteriorated. So, my next question is, if the same tank had been intact and closed tightly, would that have forced the water that overflowed to go out to/through to the leach field instead of burbling up over the top of the tank?

I'm still leaning towards replacing (and upgrading) the tank itself and then figuring out if more has to be done further down the line.

AND,is it possible to have too big a septic tank?

    Bookmark   October 19, 2011 at 4:07PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

The tank is normally filled up to the level of the outlet. If it's above that, then you have a problem.

I don't think you can have too big a tank. The bigger the tank, the less often it has to be pumped, for a given load. But if it's too big, then a regular-sized truck might not be able to pump it.

    Bookmark   October 19, 2011 at 5:30PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Okay, I'm getting it.
I talked to the guy who pumped my tank and he's coming back on Sunday to revisit the subject. I've also been to the local supply and found that they stock a good 1250 gallon poly tank with 2 tanks and they also sell the new kind of gizmos for making leach fields so that you don't have to lay gravel, I think they are called infiltrators. All of this is starting to make more sense.

And, yes, the tank was full way higher than the outlet to the leach field, so maybe it is right that mine has had it. We did lay it ourselves more than 25 years ago and my confidence in our skills is limited.

The other thing I learned is that my current tank is about 800 gallons, so I'm thinking I will replace it with a 1250 gallon one.

Input and things I should be looking into and out for is still encouraged....:-))))

    Bookmark   October 19, 2011 at 6:02PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Septic system layout and sizing is usually governed by the Environmental Health Department in most locales. Septic installation and repairs usually have to be permitted and done by licensed septic contractors.

You may want to consult the governing authority in your area to see exactly what is required before you take on a project that will get flagged.

    Bookmark   October 19, 2011 at 6:15PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

I wish that I could do that, but unfortunately I am too far out of compliance to risk it. I do my best to keep everything safe, but the powers that be would disagree with some of the choices I have made, and I'm not prepared to deal with their wrath.

    Bookmark   October 19, 2011 at 7:28PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

If you ever try to sell your home it will have to pass a septic inspection... you can pay now or you will surely pay a lot more later.

    Bookmark   October 19, 2011 at 7:50PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

I totally understand that.
And/but/however, selling is not an option or an issue.
I've been here for 32 years and plan to stay.

    Bookmark   October 19, 2011 at 8:01PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Had a neighbor with pretty much the same situation and while working on his septic system an inspector drove down the road... and right into his driveway.

The inspector took a look around and asked the neighbor a few questions, walked back to his truck, and returned with a red tag.

With a red tagged septic system the family was forced to move out till the septic was up to code.

Then, waddayaknow, the building, plumbing, and electrical inspectors all showed up unannounced in the following weeks. My neighbor said that by the time the inspectors got done with him it would have been far less expensive to pay a licensed contractor to bring the septic up to code.

Post lookouts...

    Bookmark   October 19, 2011 at 8:21PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Adding a larger tank accomplishes absolutely "0". For every gallon of waste/water that goes into the first tank and equal amount of water leaves the second tank and enters the field. So when the larger tank fills (a few days) you still have the same problem. Indications of a failed field are poor flushing in the house, backup of sewage into home, sewage coming out of tank domes, sewage coming up in area of field. If the water table is as high as you stated your field may be sitting in water, that is why it is taking water so slow.
The more practical solution would be to replace the field, not the tank. I recently had to replace our old "tile field" because of a plugged main line from tank to field and cracked / collapsed tiles in field. The field specs are based on the # of bathrooms in home. If the water table is indeed that high in your area you may be looking at an "engineered field" (above ground) and BIG investment.
First you need a "professional" opinion, not the first yahoo. Many of these guys just pump tanks and don't have a clue as to field design/troubleshooting. Get several opinions. I was very lucky as I have a friend that does this for a living and saved me several grand on the field. He dug it out, I laid the field (per his specs). It was inspected and passed. He did final grade. You may find someone to help you like this to save money.

    Bookmark   October 19, 2011 at 9:15PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Thanks, RJ. The tank pretty much has to be replaced anyway. It is an old redwood tank with a barrel extension on top, or....that's what it was. Now it seems like a partially boarded pit with rust atop. I think replacing it is probably just the right thing to do about now.

On Friday we are going to go out and do some digging and see what we can ascertain about the status of the field...if anything. Ours is definitely saturated with ground water for a lot of the winter, but an engineered system isn't in the cards. I am looking into maybe putting in an infiltrator system for the leach...

More to be discovered, but not tonight.
Thanks all.

    Bookmark   October 19, 2011 at 10:19PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

There is another option that is fully EPA certified and code compliant.

You could replace the tank with a three chamber aerated tank. The third chamber has an air manifold in the bottom of the tank and is connected to a small air compressor in the house. Air is periodically bubbled up through the liquid in the tank performing the same function as a leach bed.

The liquid discharge from an aerated tank may go directly into a surface watershed.

In some jurisdictions they require you also add a chlorinator on the output, but that is simply a special baffled tee on the discharge line with a vertical riser on the side of the tee up to a point above grade where a cap is put on the pipe. You then have to periodically open the cap and drop in hockey puck type chlorine tablets such as those used in swimming pools.

    Bookmark   October 19, 2011 at 10:37PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Okay, okay, okay, I'm still paying attention in spite of my intention to call it all off for tonight. And, Lazypup, I read one of your posts on another thread about this other option but didn't know how to find out more about it. Do you have any link or any more specific terminology so that I can look at/into it a bit more? I tried Googling 3-chamber septic, but now I'll try "three chamber aerated tank"....Thanks.

    Bookmark   October 19, 2011 at 10:56PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Got it.
That's what they are called: ATU's (Aerobic Treatment Units). Off I go back down the rabbit hole of research.

    Bookmark   October 19, 2011 at 10:58PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Having an damaged and unpermitted septic system with a well system is a recipe for health problems. Contamination of the water supply from fecal coliform bacteria isn't a joke, and poorly designed septic systems are at the top of the suspect list. And it not just your health that can be affected from this. Your neighbors and friends in your surrounding community rely on the experts from the Health Department to keep them safe by approving proper septic designs.

You aren't doing yourself or your family any favors by trying to slide by on proper replacement. Plus, you could face legal action, either in fines from your state, or in a civil suit from your neighbors.

    Bookmark   October 20, 2011 at 4:23PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

If I am going to have to contend with people who think that legal = safe and illegal = unsafe, I am outta here. Legal and safe are not the same thing. Your particular perspective is anathema to me. I would like to have been legal, but that is just not the case and decisions made 30 years ago make that impossible to change.

So....I am finished with this thread.
Thanks for the help.
No thanks for the preaching parts.

    Bookmark   October 20, 2011 at 6:00PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

"Legal and safe are not the same thing."
"...and decisions made 30 years ago make that impossible to change. "

"...We did lay it ourselves more than 25 years ago and my confidence in our skills is limited."

While I appreciate your candor, I have to wonder how you could ask for advice on this forum and expect anything but above board recommendation. Responders here are not fly-by-nighters using duct tape and baler twine.

Though you doubt the equation of sanitary code and legality, following the law won't get your a$$ in the bind it's currently in. Cost some bucks, yeah.

No man is an island, but you should be on one with that situation.

    Bookmark   October 21, 2011 at 6:31AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

If yo manage to contaminate the neighbors wells the cost of a correct septic install will look like a bargain compared to the new wells and systems you will be paying for.

Sanitation is one of the the things with vary large and often far reaching impacts even the seemingly simple rules are not followed.

I am glad you are not me neighbor.

    Bookmark   October 21, 2011 at 9:52AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Before I go, let me apologize. I did not mean to get anyone's knickers in a knot. I did come looking for expert and technical information so that I could do the job right. Just because I cannot do it absolutely legally does not mean that I can't do it correctly and safely and that is my primary objective. I do tend to believe that we are over-regulated and that the regulators can make it harder than it needs to be to live comfortably and safely, but I am not a general scofflaw. Still, I came here for help and then I tried to explain why some of the help wasn't really helpful to my situation, but....I am grateful for all of the responses that were directed towards the technical side, and if I overreacted to being told some things, I am sorry. I will proceed with caution and with consideration for my property, for my neighbors property and for .... everything.

    Bookmark   October 21, 2011 at 11:04AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
Sophie Wheeler

At the very least, have your well water tested and suggest that your neighbors do the same with their wells and surface water features. If coliform is making it into any of the wells or stock ponds, they have the right to know that their water may need treatment before it is safe to drink. Allowing other people to drink potentially contaminated water just boggles the mind, even if you don't care if you make yourself sick.

    Bookmark   October 21, 2011 at 12:44PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

That has all been done.
There is no bacterial contamination.

    Bookmark   October 21, 2011 at 1:00PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

End of story in case you are interested. When we dug into the issue, it turned out that the septic was huge, concrete, and had two compartments. Both compartments had had old metal barrel risers on them; the risers had deteriorated; lots of mud was in the septic. With a really good pump out, new plastic risers and lids ($300 or so), the septic is good to go. Then the backhoe came in and dug two long trenches and we put in 190 feet of infiltrators. All along the way we came across the old leach line which was obviously and completely full of roots and other "biomass". Now we're good to go, probably for at least the rest of my life (yup, I'm old enuf to say that).


    Bookmark   October 29, 2011 at 7:36PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

"... we put in 190 feet of infiltrators. All along the way we came across the old leach line which was obviously and completely full of roots and other "biomass"

I'm glad you're not my neighbor.

    Bookmark   October 29, 2011 at 9:09PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Me too.

    Bookmark   October 30, 2011 at 10:52AM
Sign Up to comment
More Discussions
Water pressue and other plumbing issues (MULTIPLE ISSUES - LONG)
I have a couple plumbing issues in my house. Some background... Approximately...
Rainfresh water filter leaks from top.
I have a Rainfresh water filter. It seems to be leaking...
Fire Sprinkler
Purchasing a home with an indoor fire sprinkler system....
Trying to verify gas pipe size
I am installing a new natural gas range and oven, and...
troubleshooting thermostatic valve for shower
troubleshooting thermostatic valve, no hot water and...
People viewed this after searching for:
© 2015 Houzz Inc. Houzz® The new way to design your home™