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How to obtain records and revew documents to find the septic tank, drainfield, or soakaway bed. We explain where to go to ask for records that can document the "as approved" as well as the "as built" septic system design. We warn that because of discoveries that may be made during site excavation to install a septic system tank or drainfield, the "as built" results do not always agree with the "as approved" or "as planned" design.
How to Use Septic System Records to Find the Drainfield - Whom to Ask - How to Find the Septic Leach Fields - Part 3
Finding a hidden, buried septic component: Since the septic system's drainfield is normally a buried system, knowing just where it is located can
Since haphazard excavation by hand is an enormous labor and haphazard excavation by backhoe can unnecessarily destroy both a septic system and homesite, making a sketch of just where a septic tank, distribution box, and drainfield trenches or pits are located is an important document to prepare and keep with a property.
Older properties: If the property is an older one but you are a new owner, you might find that the previous
owner left a drawing or sketch of the location of septic system components. Ask the owner to leave any sketches with you; if they don't have a sketch but have an idea where septic components are, walk the property with them and make your own sketch.
Often we find a rough sketch of septic system component locations, at least that of the septic tank, drawn right on a basement or crawl space foundation wall or floor joist overhead where the building sewer line exits the foundation wall.
A previous service person or contractor knew that that was a reliable place to leave a drawing since anyone looking for the system in the future was likely to start by finding where the sewer line left the building.
Septic Drawings may be inaccurate: A septic system drawing is a big help, though it may be inaccurate. Even if septic system and drainfield layout drawings were filed, the "as built" drain field
may not quite be the same as the plan filed since obstructions can be discovered during
drain field installation. If the excavator hit unexpected bedrock, boulders, or water, may have adjusted the final location of various components to work better at the site.
The sketch at left uses a simple but accurate measurement triangle to locate the center of the septic tank.
The sketch at left shows that giving accurate location of septic components needs simply the identification of key components and distances. It does not have to be beautiful, to scale, nor expensive. How to Measure the Distance From the House to the Septic Tank gives details of making a septic location sketch.
Don't count on the local health department or building department to have drawings
that accurately place the fields. As we explained above, the "as built" may not be the same septic plan as the "as approved".
One municipality we encountered had deliberately destroyed 50 years of septic and other building plan documents because they were tired of being pestered by homeowners wanting that information and then complaining when it proved inaccurate.
Try calling local septic system installation contractors in your area to ask if they have done work on the property.
Speak with contractors listed under Excavation, Plumbing, and Septic System Service since the excavator who has installed or worked on the property of your concern might be listed under one but not all of those categories. Neighbors may also know who has worked on septic system installations or repairs in the area.
This article series and our accompanying septic system location videos explain how to find the leach field or drainfield portion of a
septic system. We include sketches and photos that help you learn what to look for, and we
describe several methods useful for finding buried drainfield components. (Septic drain fields are also called soil absorption systems or seepage beds.)
More videos on septic system location & maintenance are at SEPTIC VIDEOS.
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Percolation Testing Manual, CNMI Division of Environmental Quality, Gualo Rai, Saipan provides an excellent English Language manual guide for soil percolation testing. Original source: www.deq.gov.mp/artdoc/Sec6art108ID255.pdf
Soil Test Pit Preparation, fact sheet, Oregon DEQ Department of Environmental Quality, original source www.deq.state.or.us/wq/pubs/factsheets/onsite/testpitprep.pdf The Oregon DEQ onsite water quality program can be contacted at 811 South Ave, Portland OR 97204, 800-452-4011 or see http://www.oregon.gov/DEQ/
Thanks to reader Michael Roth
for technical link editing 6/29/09.
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.
Advanced Onsite Wastewater Systems Technologies, Anish R. Jantrania, Mark A. Gross. Anish Jantrania, Ph.D., P.E., M.B.A., is a Consulting Engineer, in Mechanicsville VA, 804-550-0389 (2006). Outstanding technical reference especially on alternative septic system design alternatives. Written for designers and engineers, this book is not at all easy going for homeowners but is a text I recommend for professionals--DF.
Builder's Guide to Wells and Septic Systems, Woodson, R. Dodge: $ 24.95; MCGRAW HILL B; TP;
Quoting from Amazon's description: For the homebuilder, one mistake in estimating or installing wells and septic systems can cost thousands of dollars. This comprehensive guide filled with case studies can prevent that. Master plumber R. Dodge Woodson packs this reader-friendly guide with guidance and information, including details on new techniques and materials that can economize and expedite jobs and advice on how to avoid mistakes in both estimating and construction. Chapters cover virtually every aspect of wells and septic systems, including on-site evaluations; site limitations; bidding; soil studies, septic designs, and code-related issues; drilled and dug wells, gravel and pipe, chamber-type, and gravity septic systems; pump stations; common problems with well installation; and remedies for poor septic situations. Woodson also discusses ways to increase profits by avoiding cost overruns.
Country Plumbing: Living with a Septic System, Hartigan, Gerry: $ 9.95; ALAN C HOOD & TP;
Quoting an Amazon reviewer's comment, with which we agree--DF:This book is informative as far as it goes and might be most useful for someone with an older system. But it was written in the early 1980s. A lot has changed since then. In particular, the book doesn't cover any of the newer systems that are used more and more nowadays in some parts of the country -- sand mounds, aeration systems, lagoons, etc.
Books & Articles on Building & Environmental Inspection, Testing, Diagnosis, & Repair
The Home Reference Book - the Encyclopedia of Homes, Carson Dunlop & Associates, Toronto, Ontario, 25th Ed., 2012, is a bound volume of more than 450 illustrated pages that assist home inspectors and home owners in the inspection and detection of problems on buildings. The text is intended as a reference guide to help building owners operate and maintain their home effectively. Field inspection worksheets are included at the back of the volume. Special Offer: For a 10% discount on any number of copies of the Home Reference Book purchased as a single order. Enter INSPECTAHRB in the order payment page "Promo/Redemption" space. InspectAPedia.com editor Daniel Friedman is a contributing author.
Or choose the The Home Reference eBook for PCs, Macs, Kindle, iPad, iPhone, or Android Smart Phones. Special Offer: For a 5% discount on any number of copies of the Home Reference eBook purchased as a single order. Enter INSPECTAEHRB in the order payment page "Promo/Redemption" space.