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SEPTIC SYSTEM INSPECT DIAGNOSE REPAIR
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SEPTIC SYSTEMS, HOME BUYERS GUIDE to
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SEWAGE EJECTOR / GRINDER PUMPS
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SINKHOLES, WARNING SIGNS
SOAKAWAY BED FAILURE DIAGNOSIS
SULPHUR & SEWER GAS SMELL SOURCES
TOILETS, INSPECT, INSTALL, REPAIR
TRAPS on PLUMBING FIXTURES
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WASHING MACHINES & SEPTIC SYSTEMS
WASTEWATER TREATMENT BASICS
WINTERIZE A BUILDING
Septic tank and drainfield condition: greener grass, browner grass, melting snow are clues to the condition of the septic system, septic tank, piping, and drainfield. This article explains what these mean, and provides suggestions and procedures for further investigation to diagnose these conditions. These clues also help locate the septic tank.
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Question: what is the meaning of greener grass over our septic tank? Why are we now seeing melted snow in the same area of the septic tank? Is this a problem?
We just moved into a house first time with septic. We had the septic tank inspected and drained. [Unless it has already been done, when buying a home that's new to you, it's a good idea to have the septic tank pumped and cleaned out and inspected. - Ed.].
We noticed that directly above the septic tank there is bright green grass - different in color from any other in the yard. Now after the snow has fallen it has melted away over the same septic tank spot. It looks as if the ground under the tank is hot and it is defrosting the ground. It does not appear to be mushy and there is no odor. Is this normal? - Rookie with the septic system. - Thanks for your help. (Anon).
Reply: your septic system clues sound normal but here is how we can check for developing septic system trouble:
Meaning of Melted Snow Over a Septic Tank
Snow melt and even greener grass over the septic tank might be normal, or it could mean trouble. The absence of odors (SEPTIC SYSTEM ODORS) or wet or soggy areas (SEPTIC DRAINFIELD FAILURE DIAGNOSIS) is good news, as would be the absence of any sewage backup into the home (SEWER BACKUP PREVENTION).
Similarly, snow melt over the drainfield trenches (our page top photo) is not necessarily an indication of a failing system.
If in addition, your septic pumper didn't see any signs of trouble when the septic tank was pumped, then the "normal" conditions we describe below for septic tanks may be just what you are seeing.
It would be helpful to see some photos of the area over the tank with snow melt (and later with greener grass), and while you're at it, take some photos of where you think the drainfield is located so that together we can see if there are depressions, snowmelt, soggy areas, etc.
Snowmelt over the septic tank may be normal: often the bacterial action in the tank is enough to generate some heat, as is the incoming warm water from the house, so if the top of tank is not far below ground surface, snow may melt there first, especially if the snowfall thickness is not great. This is common and not a problem.
More photos of snow melt over the septic tank are at VISUAL CLUES LOCATE the SEPTIC TANK
Guide to Diagnosing Snowmelt or Green Grass Over the Septic Tank
You can easily diagnose this condition by opening the inspection cover over the septic tank outlet end. If the sewage level is just up to the bottom of the tank outlet pipe where it passes through the tank wall, that's normal. If sewage is above the bottom edge of the horizontal portion of the outlet pipe then the outlet pipe or drainfield are backing up. Details about this procedure including photos are found at SEPTIC TANK BAFFLES.
Explanation of Greener Grass over the Septic Tank
Greener grass over the septic tank may be the result of someone seeding that area if the tank cover was excavated for service. But greener grass over the septic tank may also be a sign that the tank is leaking around its cover - which would be an abnormal condition and a sign of trouble.
A backing up pipe to leachfield (or worse, a failing leachfield) could cause effluent to drain too slowly out of the septic tank or back up even into the building.
Explanation of Brown Dead Grass over the Septic Tank
Browner grass may also be present over a septic tank if the tank top is not very deep below ground. A shallow septic tank top means that there will be less soil thickness, leading to soil dryout during dry weather, leading to dead grass in that area. See SEPTIC TANK DEPTH for a discussion of how deep the septic tank might be.
Visual clues often help find the location of a septic tank, starting outside the area where the main waste line leaves the house. In this winter example, the depression near the house marks the septic tank cleanout which in this case was close to the surface.
As we discuss in more detail at VISUAL CLUES LOCATE the SEPTIC TANK, summarized below are some clues that help locate the septic system.
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