SEPTIC SYSTEM INSPECT DIAGNOSE REPAIR - home - CONTENTS: how to buy, own, maintain, repair or install a septic system, septic tank, and septic drainfield, leach field or soakaway bed. We also explain cesspools, drywells, and related wastewater disposal systems.
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Septic system design, installation, maintenance & repair guides:
How to Install, inspect, troubleshoot & repair septic tanks & fields.
These septic system articles explain how to buy, inspect, install, test, diagnose maintain and repair septic tanks, drainfields, and all other components of all types of septic systems.
We discuss how septic systems work, and how to provide septic system care to avoid replacing
the septic system unnecessarily.
We provide septic cleaning and septic maintenance procedures, septic inspection methods, septic repair guides, and septic system design information. Page top: a peat mound septic system in Two Harbors, MN.
Here we give in-depth information about conventional septic tanks, septic digesters, drain fields, soakaway beds, reed beds, seepage pits, cesspools, drywells, soakpits, and also septic pipes, and septic waste handling.
We describe and explain the need for and how to install alternative septic system designs
for problem sites where the need is to save water or where it is difficult to dispose of septic waste.
We include tables for septic tanks: pumping frequency, septic tank size, septic tank design, and clearances between septic systems, wells, and other
site features and boundaries.
This page organizes and links to our detailed septic system inspection, test, repair, and design articles,
including our online septic systems book.
Septic testing class presentations, septic system photos, septic system design sketches, septic care tables, links to products and consultants are provided.
"How-To" Articles at our Septic System Information Website are in these groups: (these links are also at the "More Reading" links at the bottom of this article )
Shown above: a building main drain has just been connected to a concrete septic tank that has no yet been covered with backfill. [Click to enlarge any image]
To find what you need quickly, if you don't want to scroll through this index you are welcome to use the page top or bottom SEARCH BOX to search InspectApedia for specific articles and information.
SEPTIC SYSTEM DESIGN BASICS, septic maintenance and septic care instructions for home owners and home buyers; steps to take when buying a home with a septic tank and septic fields, and basics septic system information about:
Septic soil & percolation tests, septic tank size, septic tank depth, septic tank tees, filters, graywater, clearances septic system to other site features, drainfield size, drainfield shape, tank pumping frequency, tank pumping procedure, tank repair, septic treatments & chemicals, steep slope systems
SEPTIC SYSTEM VIDEOS"how to" videos describe how to find the septic tank, how to find the drainfield, dealing with septic pump alarms, and other septic system inspection, maintenance, and repair tutorials in short videos hosted at You Tube
We discuss just about every septic system topic and product at this website: septic tank and septic system drainfield or soakaway bed design, septic tank size, septic tank pumping frequency, septic tank cleaning, and septic tank inspection.
We also discuss cesspools and drywells, aerobic septic systems, septic system repairs, treatments, and additives or chemicals. If you find that something is missing from this website just CONTACT us and ask for it.
"Septic tanks" are what
home owners or home buyers think of when buying or maintaining a home with a private septic system. But we should be thinking about the whole septic system
- since the drain field or leach field makes up half of a typical septic
Septic tank care and septic tank cleaning need to be done on a regular frequency (we provide a septic tank pumping schedule table)
in order to avoid ruining the drainfield.
Septic tank maintenance is not enough. Proper septic system design for
the level of usage and soil conditions is critical if the system is going to have a long useful life.
We are also quite
concerned with septic system health and safety since there are potential collapse hazards which can be fatal, and
there are bacterial and pathogen hazards for both site occupants and for the environment if a septic system is
not working properly.
The articles listed at this website form an extensive guide to septic systems care, inspection,
testing, and installation. We welcome questions and suggestions for content.
Information for Home Buyers or Owners Septic System Basics - How Septic Systems Work, Septic Inspection, Septic Maintenance, Septic Repairs
ALTERNATIVE DESIGNS for SEPTIC SYSTEMS with problem sites, poor soil percolation, limited space: aerobic, dosing, evaporation, gravelless, greywater, lagoon, media filter, septic filters, mounds, raised beds, waterless toilets
DISTANCES & CLEARANCES, SEPTIC COMPONENT distances from septic system components to other site features, property boundaries, waterways, etc. - Avoid property being declared insalubrious or uninhabitable due to septic system space or function problems.
DON'T FLUSH into TOILET these things into a septic system: a list of what's ok and what's not ok to put into septic tanks and building drains
PLANTING OVER SEPTIC SYSTEMS trees, shrubs, gardens, groundcover over or near the septic system tank, pipes, soakbeds, fields: what can you plant over or near septic system components without causing a problem?
ALTERNATIVE & WATERLESS TOILETS camping toilets, chemical toilets, emergency-use toilets, waterless toilets, graywater systems, composting toilets, home health care toilets, incinerating toilets, outhouses, and latrines.
Try the search box below or CONTACT US by email if you cannot find the answer you need at InspectApedia.
General reader comments:
(Jan 22, 2014) Paul G said:
Hey this is a great resource. Thanks.
Question: septic tanksize determination
(Feb 24, 2014) email@example.com said:
what size of septic system would be needed for a 5000 sure ft home?
If you take a look in the article list above you'll see an article live link
SEPTIC TANK SIZE: septic tank size and capacity vs. usage determine the required septic tank size, calculate size of an existing septic tank
that will answer you - there is a bit more that needs to be said than just the size of a home - after all we might have a big house with a single occupant.
Question: septic tank fails when it rains
(Mar 16, 2014) debbie said:
We have a septic tank that is fairly new but every time it rains, no matter how lightly, our toilet won't flush correctly and when it rains all day we have the septic odor in our house but not outside and the toilet fills to the rim when you try to flush it.
Debbie it's a troubling question - it sounds as if rain runoff, perhaps from groundwater, surface runoff, or roof runoff is entering and flooding the septic tank, or worse, the drainfield. Even if the tank is new a failed older drainfield couild be at fault;
I'd ask your septic contractor to excavate and open the septic tank access ports to see if the tank level is flooding from surface runoff; And if you pump the tank and water runs back into the tank from the drainfield that'd diagnose a flooded drainfield. Either can back up into the house.
If the problem is really controlling surface runoff then you'll fix it by directing water away from the tank and drainfield.
(May 16, 2014) Fran said:
We own a lake home with a holding tank. We thought it was a septic when we purchased the home but our septic man told us it was a holding tank when he came to pump it out.. We have it pumped regularly but we only see one tank. Is there a second tank? How would we find it, if so? We see no holes, pipes, nothing going into this tank when it's open for cleaning.
Also, our home was built in 1962. Is there any way to get the sewer & drain plots for this house? And, are holding tanks legal for a permanent residence?
Fran, your local building department might have plans on file, but often those agencies don't. Even if there was a filed plan, we can't know if the plan shows what was approved or instead, what was actually built. Nor do we know what repairs or changes may have rearranged things in the intervening decades.
This article shows how to find buried septic tanks and piping
(June 11, 2014) wanda said:
I have a filter bed septic tank, water was coming on the top of the ground for about a month. Then it stopped, and my toilet stop flushing, and I couldn't wash clothes. We took the lid off the sewer and it was filled up with alot of water(it's only 5 years old and it's a 500gal.
Question: leaks at D box
(July 12, 2014) matt with the d box leak! said:
New septic put in 6 years ago. I have a pump chamber after my septic tanks (twin 750 gals), the chamber pump (100 or 150 gal ) kicks on when the level gets high enough. The grey water is pumped to my d- box about 25 feet. The d box has 2 outflow pipes leading to a leach field with baffles etc.
The d box seems level and the problem is no matter what we have used to keep the cover on the box ( a piece of blue stone 1 " thick as it sits in the middle of a brick patio ) the d box leaks. Again on the 4th of July with 12 -15 folks over ( part of my problem???) , I heard the pump chamber kick on, 15 seconds later could smell it and then about 3 to 5 ounces of water came out. The leaks came from the corners opposite the inflow.
I can't get it to stop leaking, every time the pump chamber kicks on. This is the 3 time in 6 years that I am faced with a dbox with a cover ( modified cover since its blue stone ) that leaks. If we cement the blue stone onto the d box how can this keep happening? Can the water just "eat" the condrete seal over a year? pls let me know by email when there is a response to my question - - many THANKS! firstname.lastname@example.org
You could convert to a more-easily sealed D-box but I don't think that's the problem. I suspect that the D-box is too small AND that with the small size, the effluent (it's not graywater) is not being accepted into the drainfield rapidly-enough. The result is the pump is filling the D-box faster than its outflow rate, causing backup and odor complaints.
A much larger D-box, sufficient to receive and then drain by gravity into the drainfields the whole pump cycle volume would be one approach that may tempt you but I don't recommend it.
Rather, you need to look at the inflow capacity of the drainfield - it may be that the drainfield is under-sized, or worse, that it is poorly designed / installed and is flooding, or possibly the line balancing openings in the D-box that balance flow into different drainfield lines are too small.
In sum, if you watch the D-box when the effluent pump cycles you'll probably see that aroudn 125 gallons of effluent are surging into the D-box and overflowing it because the in-flow rate is faster than the outflow rate.\
If the D-box overflows only at the very end of the pump cycle you could see if your pumping system rate can be adjusted to send effluent to the D-box more slowly.
Please see our article on Distribution box (drop box) install, inspect, troubleshoot & repair advice at
where I will include your question and our comments
(July 26, 2014) Steve said:
I have a two compartment septic tank. The outlet end tank is smaller then the inlet tank . my inlet tee is 16 inches long down the tank . The outlet drain pipe is in the centre of the bottom of the tank . How far or how long should my drain pipe be up in the tank ?
Maybe if you send me a sketch I can try to find an answer; from just the e-text I'm a bit confused about what's installed. Generally however the septic tank drain outlet is lower than the bottom of the inlet pipe's bottom surface.
(Aug 11, 2014) WALTER TOWNSEND said:
After moving into New Built House in 2005,I have a Second Leak Running to the Leachfield.This leak has caused the Pump Tank to field up with water.Over the years, I have call the installer about the High Water Alarm contancely going off, having to become and plumber etc.After calling the Installation Company again in June,July about the high water,they claim that the Pump has feld. After speaking with the county inspection department workers away from the office,they stated that 'to them' That the land didn't "PERK' correctly causing these problems.I never received from the Installer or County that any test was done prior to us purchasing this property. Please HELP .
Walter I'd like to assist but I'm not clear what help we could provide via e-text for an unkown site and system requirements, but it does sound as if there was a design problem. You need a local, on-site septic engineer.
Question: number of discharge lines out of d-box
(Sept 5, 2014) jerry said:
the plumber used one discharge line out of d-box to feed three rows of infiltrator leach lines. he said he drilled 4.5 inch holes in the supply line to feed each leach line. how would waste water get past the first trench to the remaining two trenches?
It may not.
(Sept 9, 2014) Dana said:
The house behind mine is 20 feet above my ground and I have a stone retaining wall.
The buyer of this house is installing a septic tank in back of the house and the backyard
is only 35 feet behind the house.
Will this septic tank and its absorption field damage my stone wall?
Your knowledge and opinion are greatly appreciated.
What might damage your stone wall would be driving excavaction equipment into it or excavating so close to it as to undermine the wall. Check with your building department about the required property setbacks for your neighbor's septic tank and fields - that ought to protect you.
let us know what you're told.
(Sept 25, 2014) Debbie said:
We did not have a septic alarm on our system. After shoppping around (quite expensive) we found one called sump alarm. It gives us a red light and horn if the level gets too high. At least that lets us put the brakes on some of the water consumption. Deborah_diamond@hotmail.com
(Oct 14, 2014) Anonymous said:
can a septic system allow brown sludge and brown bugs to build in your tank of your toliet and keep causing back flow?
(25 Dec 2014) Dave said:
We live in Thunder Bay. We had our septic tank pumped early fall. It is December and I see where the tank top is the grass is exposed there is only about 3 inches of snow. Is there something I should be worried about. I'm afraid of the tank freezing. I know when tank works properly there is heat but to expose the grass was not sure.
Dave it's normal for the septic tank to be a bit warm, both from receiving warm household water and from bacterial action. As long as there are no signs of backups nor sewage effluent leaking out to the surface your system is probably fine. But tell me if this snow-melt over septic is a new thing or if it has occurred in prior winters as well.
Also see our article about melting snow over septic system components found at
12/26/2014 Hello thanks for responding. Unfortunately this is the first winter for us. We bought the house in June. When we got it pumped the next door neighbour helped me and said that the owner never had a problem. I did cover the tank covers with a shallow wood box to prevent hitting the cement cover with shovel in the next time that I get it pumped. I will keep a close watch the next little bit. I will check out the site of which you sent. Thank you Merry Xmas
Thanks for the follow-up, Dave, keep us posted.
(Jan 21, 2015) aubrey said:
can I possible install a saddle- t into the main septic line for an additional bath room connection
Yes Aubrey provided the elevations allow the drain to work properly.
Question: how to confirm that the septic tank is leaking
1 FEB 2015 Phil Scott said:
The 1,000 gallon fiberglass tank was installed in 1977. It serves an A-frame cottage that, prior to 2008, was virtually unoccupied as it was being remodeled. Since 2008, it has been occupied on average no more than 2-3 days, no more than 10 times/years. The last use was around 6 months ago.
We're told that since a recent pumping produced nothing, the tank leaks. My questions are:
1. Is it reasonable to think that, due to extremely low usage and very cold temps, the material in the tank could be solidified or frozen and thereby unable to be pumped?
2. Is there a practical way to inspect the system to know if the tank is, in fact, leaking, or if there are other causes?
Start by opening the tank inspection or service port and looking inside. If a septic tank is in use and is not filled to normal (near the top) levels then it's probably damaged or leaking - unless it was just pumped.
If the septic tank were frozen after long dis-use in very cold weather (unusual by not completely impossible) the pumper would have been able to tell you that by visual inspection.
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Books & Articles on Building & Environmental Inspection, Testing, Diagnosis, & Repair
"International Private Sewage Disposal Code," 1995, BOCA-708-799-2300, ICBO-310-699-0541, SBCCI 205-591-1853, available from those code associations.
"Manual of Policy, Procedures, and Guidelines for Onsite Sewage Systems," Ontario Reg. 374/81, Part VII of the Environmental
Protection Act (Canada), ISBN 0-7743-7303-2, Ministry of the Environment,135 St. Clair Ave. West, Toronto Ontario M4V 1P5 Canada $24. CDN.
Manual of Septic Tank Practice, US Public Health Service's 1959
Septic Tank/Soil-Absorption Systems: How to Operate & Maintain [ copy on file as /septic/Septic_Operation_USDA.pdf ] - , Equipment Tips, U.S. Department of Agriculture, 8271 1302, 7100 Engineering, 2300 Recreation, September 1982, web search 08/28/2010, original source: http://www.fs.fed.us/t-d/pubs/pdfimage/82711302.pdf.
Pennsylvania State Fact Sheets relating to domestic wastewater treatment systems include:
Pennsylvania State Wastewater Treatment Fact Sheet SW-161, Septic System Failure: Diagnosis and Treatment
Pennsylvania State Wastewater Treatment Fact Sheet SW-162, The Soil Media and the Percolation Test
Pennsylvania State Wastewater Treatment Fact Sheet SW-l64, Mound Systems for Wastewater Treatment
Pennsylvania State Wastewater Treatment Fact Sheet SW-165, Septic Tank-Soil Absorption Systems
Document Sources used for this web page include but are not limited to: Agricultural Fact Sheet #SW-161 "Septic Tank Pumping," by Paul D. Robillard and
Kelli S. Martin. Penn State College of Agriculture - Cooperative Extension, edited and annotated by
Dan Friedman (Thanks: to Bob Mackey for proofreading the original source material.)
The The National Small Flows Clearinghouse (NSFC), West Virginia University, PO Box 6064, Morgantown, WV 26506,
website: www.nsfc.wvu.edu provides a Products List of design manuals/modules available from their NSFC website. Engineers & scientists provide answers to wastewater handling, treatment & disposal questions over NSFC's assistance hotlines, (304) 293-4191 or (800) 624-8301. NSFC also maintains five wastewater system design & maintenance databases:
Regulations Database of regulations for onsite wastewater treatment systems in the 48 contiguous U.S. states
Bibliographic Databaseof articles dealing with onsite and small community wastewater issues
Manufacturers and Consultants Database of industry contacts for wastewater products & consulting services.
Facilities Database (not online) 1,000 facilities using conventional, innovative, and alternative wastewater treatment technologies
Contacts and Referrals Database (not online) lists organizations involved in onsite and small community wastewater infrastructure at the national, state, and local levels.
Carson, Dunlop & Associates Ltd., 120 Carlton Street Suite 407, Toronto ON M5A 4K2. Tel: (416) 964-9415 1-800-268-7070 Email: email@example.com. The firm provides professional home inspection services & home inspection education & publications. Alan Carson is a past president of ASHI, the American Society of Home Inspectors. Thanks to Alan Carson and Bob Dunlop, for permission for InspectAPedia to use text excerpts from The Home Reference Book & illustrations from The Illustrated Home. Carson Dunlop Associates' provides extensive home inspection education and report writing material.
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