Is Your Septic System Failing?

You are going about your daily routine — taking a shower, using the bathroom, making breakfast, using the garbage disposal etc. You notice that the plumbing is moving a little bit slower than usual — you may even begin to notice a foul smell coming from the drains – then it happens. After a brief stop to the restroom you notice the garbage disposal, toilet and other items have made their way into the shower floor!

In a panic, you realize that the septic system is full and you can’t remember the last time (if ever) you had the septic tank pumped. You pick up the yellow pages and dial a septic company to come and pump the tank. You are relieved to see the shower has drained and that your plumbing nightmare is over — or so you think!

You go about your life and forget about the septic nightmare you just experienced. You get back to life and your daily routine and it happens again. There in the shower is that familiar sludge! Yuck. What is happening?

While this is an extremely stressful it is all to common. In the desert southwest of Tucson, Arizona we typically begin to see leach lines fail at about 25 years. Your area might be a little different but most leach fields begin to fail for lack of care.

What are leaching fields exactly? Well, the leach fields are underground gravel beds that receive all of the fluids from the septic tank. Fluid runs to a distribution box and then to these gravel beds. After a number of years tree roots, or sediment begins to clog the gravel beds and perforated pipe. Eventually these lines become so completely stopped up that the liquid has nowhere to go but back into the tank, back up the drain pipe and into the lowest level of your home.

So, what do you do about this?

A number of companies on the web will attempt to sell you chemical products that they claim will repair your trouble. In my opinion you are wasting your money. Once the leach fields are in this sort of shape you will most likely need to consider replacing the leach fields.

If you are handy — and extremely brave, you could attempt to resolve this on your own, but you should be warned that this is a nasty job with lots of smells and disgusting sludge. If you can get over the smells and a little mess then it’s time to get started.

Rent a backhoe from your local equipment yard and begin digging at the outlet side of the tank. Once you have uncovered the outlet pipe, cut the pipe with a pvc saw. If you have clay pipe I think it’s just easier to break off the clay pipe completely and insert a new solid PVC or SDR35 drain pipe. Once you have inserted the new pipe into the tank you can mortar it in.

Now, contact the local septic tank manufacturer and ask for a concrete distribution box and lay the box level a few inches below the outlet pipe. You now have a place from which to start your trenches. Now, begin to dig your trenches at 3′ to 4′ below the distribution box. You will want to make your trenches to the original plan in order to install the same amount of leach area.

Now, fill the trenches with 3/4′ to 1′ gravel and lay your perforated pipes level throughout the trenches. Backfill with at least 6″ of gravel over the pipe and cover with a soil separator.

Now, you are ready to backfill!

I have given you the very basics but I think you can get the idea. It’s not rocket science but you want to make sure you talk with your local Department of Environmental Quality before starting your work. In some cases you will be required to scrap all of this and hookup to the city sewer system if they have expanded service to your area.

If you are not up for this work (not for most people) call on a licensed septic installer and get your 3 estimates. Make sure you ask about what kind of condition they will leave the area when they are done. If you want to save a little money you can take care of the clean up yourself.

I hope this helped in some way. Good luck to you!