Some sure signs of drainfield failure are frequent pump outs, slow draining toilets, and a very wet and soggy area over the drainfield.
What is a septic system & how does it work?
A septic system consists of two main parts—a septic tank and a drainfield:
The septic tank is a watertight container, usually made of concrete, fiberglass or poly material, with an inlet and outlet pipe. Wastewater flows from the home to the septic tank, where it remains until the liquids and solids separate after being broke down by a naturally occurring bacteria. Three layers will form inside the tank: a scum layer where solids less dense than water (grease, oils, etc.) float on top, a sludge layer where solid waste with a higher density than water settles, and the middle layer with partially clarified wastewater. The scum and sludge layers are where the bacteria can be found and where the wastewater breakdown occurs. The tank needs to be pumped when scum and sludge that cannot be broken down is present. The clarified liquid flows from the septic tank to the drainfield.
The standard drainfield is buried 1–3 ft. below the ground surface consisting of a series of aggregate or an alternative drainfield product—allowing the liquid to distribute slowly throughout the field percolating into the soil that acts as a biological filter.
With proper maintenance and installation, the onsite septic system should last approximately 20+ years.
How often should I schedule system maintenance?
Martin Septic Service, Inc. and the EPA recommend that homeowners to pump their tanks every 3–5 years, based on their household size and daily usage.
When using more water than the system was designed for, it can result in more frequent pumping. Not pumping a tank can result in the sludge and scum layers entering the drainfield, which can cause system failure.
What are some ways I can help prevent drainfield failure?
Martin Septic Service, Inc. suggests that homeowners not use their garbage disposal, since food & grease is unable to be broken down by the bacteria in the septic tank, resulting in more frequent pump outs.
Additionally, you will also want to avoid flushing the following:
- Cat Litter
- Cigarette Butts
- Coffee Grinds
- Cotton Swabs
- Dental Floss
- Fats, Grease, Oils
- Feminine Hygiene Products
- Latex Paint
- Other Hazardous Chemicals
You will want to follow these additional tips:
- Plant only grass over and around your septic system, as roots from trees or shrubs can clog and/or damage the leach field.
- Use commercial bathroom cleaners and laundry detergents in moderation.
- Check with your local health department before using any additives for they do not eliminate the need for maintenance pumping and can be harmful to your system.
- Don’t allow water softener backwash to enter your system.
- Don’t drive or park vehicles or any other heavy machinery on any part of your system; doing so can compact and damage your septic system components.
What are the signs of a failing system or a system that needs a pump out?
Pump Out — A tank is in need of pumping when any of the following things begin occurring: slow draining sinks, toilets, showers, bathtubs; a gurgling noise coming from the toilets; or sewage back up in the shower or bathtubs.
What is involved in a routine pump out?
During a routine pump out, we remove all solids and liquids from the tank, and clean the filter, if present.
Failing System — When a system is failing, you may experience the issues listed above inside the home. It is also common for either the tank or drainfield to fail but not necessarily both. In a tank failure, holes/corrosion caused by methane gas may be present; the best way to know if your tank is failing is to have it pumped unless the issues are clearly visible. When a drainfield is in failure, typically, there’s sewage back up into the home because the field is no longer accepting water and is saturated. Each home is different, therefore each system is different; the only way to know is to contact a septic contractor or your local health department for evaluation.
What is involved in a septic inspection?
During a septic inspection, we perform a 30-minute water test to the drainfield and a visual inspection of the septic tank from the water line up. However, we strongly urge you to have the tank pumped and certified during the inspection process. Without pumping the tank, you can not give a true and accurate report to the structural integrity of the tank. Should the system have a lift station, we will also check all electrical components to the lift station, i.e. pump, control panel/alarm to be sure equipment is functioning properly. In the event the system is an Aerobic Treatment Unit (ATU), there again all electrical components will be tested as to whether or not they are functioning properly.