Failed septic drain field, replacing?

onkyokoiNovember 8, 2013

We purchased a house with a known failed drain field, we were told it has to be replaced.
We had someone out who told us that if we have our septic pumped once a year it will buy us time.
So the past month we noticed this black tar like stuff on the soil above the drain field, a very small amount, we called the guys out to pump out our tank and we showed him the tarry stuff, he said as long as it doesnt back up into your house leave it.
So the black tar stuff is gone, must have dried up i dont know, and today we noticed a smell from the drain field, it smelled like that bad?
Nothing has backed up in to the house yet and all our kitchen/bath drains work like normal.
So my question is, it seems in time we will have to have it replaced like we were told, can they use the same spot?
When we had a perc test done it failed.
Can they just replace the soil and pipes and use the existing location?

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A new drain field must be in soil/area not previously used for drain field. Digging up the existing one would release a stench of unbelievable proportions. And the existing soil is saturated.
In my area, new homes must include an extra full size area reserved for replacing the septic drain field if necessary.
Since your property failed a perc test, I suggest consulting a licensed soil scientist to design a replacement for your existing system.

    Bookmark   November 9, 2013 at 8:13AM
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If I may be so bold, you sound like a person in denial. This isn't unusual, I see it with customers all the time. Everyone wants to delay or avoid a large bill that doesn't get you anything pretty in return.

Get a home equity line of credit or do what you've got to do, but you were told this system was bad and you weren't lied to.

    Bookmark   November 9, 2013 at 5:23PM
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So they cant remove all the old soil and replace it with new soil and piping in the same spot?
Money isnt an issue, I can pay it outright, but im in a forested area and they would have to tear down a great deal of the forest to make another drainfield, so this is why i asked if its possible to just replace the soil and new pipes without tearing down new forest

    Bookmark   November 9, 2013 at 5:40PM
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How was a mortgage even obtained on a home with a failed field? Why wasn't the repair a condition of the sale? How could any responsible realtor allow even a cash sale to move forward without this being addressed before occupancy? And finally, why would you buy a home with this condition and not correct it before moving in? Around here, the Health Department would be involved and there might even be fines to pay. The home could lose it's occupancy permit if it's not corrected ASAP.

    Bookmark   November 9, 2013 at 5:43PM
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Long story short, it was a foreclosure, health dept said its in working didnt fail yet..its on its way out but its not totally failed where we couldnt get the house, its in usable condition and not a safety issue etc.
I will contact the septic guys and have them come out again
thank you for your replies

    Bookmark   November 9, 2013 at 6:07PM
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Do you pay attention? The septic guys may be quite competent-- or may be a person who failed 3rd grade repeatedly until they were old enough to quit school. And neither of them has the knowledge of the licensed soil scientist.
In my area, the health department must accept and approve ( they cannot reject them) plans prepared by a licensed soil scientist.
Are you comprehending?

    Bookmark   November 9, 2013 at 7:12PM
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Yes, thank you

    Bookmark   November 9, 2013 at 7:20PM
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Bus driver, practices and requirements vary from place to place.

When I did an extensive remodel, a soil engineer MAY have been required to spec the foundation (which I avoided by doing a beefed-up one) but not to locate or spec a drain field. A location with specs determined pursuant to local code by a licensed contractor was approved.

Onkyokoi, there should be no odor nor surface moisture from a properly functioning system. A black bacterial mat normally forms along the perforated pipes to help the decomposition process. This should be underground and not visible. Hire a licensed septic contractor and get it fixed, it's a health risk for you and your neighbors.

    Bookmark   November 10, 2013 at 2:48AM
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Snidely, did you not note that the soil failed the perc test? Do you know what that means?
From here, it means that a conventional septic drain field will not be successful for more than a very limited amount of time, no matter how carefully or skilfully installed.

    Bookmark   November 10, 2013 at 7:11AM
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bus driver, did you not note that I said I'd put in a new drain field and I wasn't required to use a soil engineer to locate or spec it? It was all done by the contractor.

I'm the first to say I'm not an expert. As I understand it, the variables are depth and linear feet of perforated pipe and soil type and strata depth, slope of land and presence or absence of water wells. The contractor dug a deep trench, did his own assessment and then submitted his recommendation to the local Health Dept (who approved it).

I don't think there's any such thing as"conventional", but please let me know if my understanding is wrong in some way. I understand if some locations require a soil engineer, my comment was to say that mine doesn't for septic work (but does for foundation and larger grading work).

    Bookmark   November 10, 2013 at 5:58PM
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Sophie Wheeler

If a perc test fails, there isn't anyone who can override that issue. The native soil isn't suitable for a standard leach field. We had a builder around here who built anyway, and even a few homes bought in the subdivision. All had problems, and the state stepped in an prohibited any future construction. The existing homes plummeted in value, as they couldn't have a conventional system, and no one would buy them. It's a ghost town now with grass starting to overgrow the rough ins for the roads.

The OP's system will have to go high tech. Which may mean that you can keep the trees rather than dig them up. Even if a few can go, you now have that big open space where the first leach field was where new trees can be planted. You need to get a local expert involved who can lay out your choices.

    Bookmark   November 11, 2013 at 9:42AM
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Why not install an arobic system? You could locate sprinklers near your trees and/or the area where system is presently. Depending on cost of water and wherether your area regulates landscape irigation , you could also use the water to arigate.

    Bookmark   November 12, 2013 at 1:54AM
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Contact your local conservation district and/or county planner or whoever permits septic systems. They can give you approximate information on your soils and why the perc test failed, which to me is the first issue in fixing your septic system. The current leach field has to be replaced, and there should have been a planned replacement area shown in the permit for your original septic system, although this may have grown over with trees since (these trees could also be plugging the existing leach field and contributing to your problem).

The perc test may have failed because the ground is too sandy/gravelly and the sewage water will drain to ground water too quickly, contaminating the ground water and nearby domestic wells. Or, it may have failed due to too much clay and the water won't soak into the soil, backing up the system (or even causing your current problem). A "standard" system can be modified relatively easily to deal with sandy/gravelly soil, clay is a bit harder to deal with but can be done. Otherwise you could go to very high tech systems, such as an incinerator, or use pumping stations. A raised leach field may also be an option and would be preferable to a high tech system. This might even work on top of the old leach field, and can be landscaped as part of the yard making it impossible to tell that you have a leach field and not a decorative hill in your yard.

If space is limited, use the septic "coffins" rather than perforated pipes. They look like slotted coffin lids, but require much less linear space than perforated pipes.

Your conservation district and septic permitting agency can give you information on all these things and help you figure out the best way to go, then consult with a contractor who works with septic systems to make sure you've considered all the angles.

    Bookmark   November 16, 2013 at 2:53AM
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I live in an area with heavy clay soils and you are no longer allowed to use a passive gravity system.

We had our system replaced with an aerobic field but there are some alternatives as well. Get a few septic companies out to look at the situation and talk to you about alternatives. The aerobic sprinklers can probably be placed in the cleared area where the current drain field is, so you won't have to cut down the forest.

While aerobic does require the regular addition of chlorine and monitoring/maintenance of the pump, it's well worth it. You are playing Russian roulette with the interior of your house at the moment....will it back up, won't it back up? You're not going to be happy when it happens and you could have prevented it.

Good Luck!

    Bookmark   November 23, 2013 at 4:24PM
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