Septic Tank Condition - How to Inspect Steel Septic Tanks
POST a QUESTION or READ FAQs about steel septic tanks: special problems, inspection, installation, troubleshooting, repairs, age, durability
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Steel septic tank warnings:
This document describes how to inspect the condition of a septic tank, providing special
considerations for inspecting steel septic tanks. Inspecting steel septic tanks is a key component in
onsite wastewater disposal systems.
We describe steels septic tank defects, life expectancy, special problems, and repair methods. The page top photo shows an area where the author walked just before stepping through
a rusted-out steel septic tank cover (shown below).
We also provide a MASTER INDEX to this topic, or you can try the page top or bottom SEARCH BOX as a quick way to find information you need.
STEEL SEPTIC TANKS - Life Expectancy, What Breaks, What to Look For, How to Fix a Damaged or Leaky Steel Septic Tank or Tank Cover or Baffle
Steel septic tanks typically last 20-25 years, then rust, and collapse.
Before this time steel
baffles may rust off (damaging the drain field with sludge), the tank top may become rusty and unsafe, or the tank bottom may have rusted through.
You can see the steel septic tank baffle in the lower left of this photo - notice that the top edges of the baffle have rusted away?
In the photo shown here the steel septic tank cover had rusted through and was covered with brush and about two inches of soil.
Guide to Steel Septic Tank Maintenance and Repair
Keep surface and roof runoff away from steel septic tanks or any other septic tanks and also from other septic system components like D-boxes and drainfields.
Flooding the system with uninvited water risks shortening the drainfield life and leads to septic system failure.
In the photo at left the steel septic tank is not only located too close to the house (typical for the era of its installation in the 1960's), but also it is near a roof drainage downspout.
The owner has wisely added an extension to redirect downspout spillage away from this tank.
Special Hazard Warning for Steel Septic Tank Covers
Watch out: Rusting steel tank covers can cause death! Rusted covers can collapse. We have reports of
children and adults who have died from this hazard, as recently as December 1997. In 2000 the author consulted in a fatality involving an adult falling
into a cesspool.
At a building inspection the author, even though walking carefully, stepped through a hidden, rusted-through steel septic tank cover (shown in the photos above on this page).
At left we're not sure what the heck we've got. This may be a steel septic tank that has collapsed, or a steel access riser to a home-made (out of stones) cesspool. This system was located less than 15 feet from a lake and cannot be working acceptably. And there was no safe cover.
Falling into a septic tank, drywell, or cesspool is quickly fatal, either from being buried by falling soils and debris, or by asphyxiation. Septic gases are highly toxic and can kill in just minutes
of exposure. Even leaning over an empty (just pumped) tank has led to collapse and fatality of a septic pumper.
Special Problem with Rusted Off Baffles in Steel Septic Tanks - repair may be possible
Steel septic tank baffle problems: on a steel septic tank the inlet and outlet baffles often rust out and fall off before the owner realizes that the tank needs repair or replacement.
The baffle in this septic tank (photo at left) is on the right side of the manhole.
This damage permits solids to enter the soil absorption system. In the photo shown above on this page the steel septic tank baffle has rusted away at its top - visible in the lower left of the tank top opening.
Should we repair a steel septic tank that has lost its baffles?
If a steel septic tank is otherwise in good condition but its baffles have become damaged or have been lost entirely, try inserting a plastic tee in the inlet and outlet waste lines.
Septic tank baffles, or septic tank tees prevent solids from flowing out of the tank into the drainfield, or from blocking waste flow into the tank from the building it serves. But if you see that the steel septic tank baffles have been missing for some unknown time, perhaps a long time, especially at the tank outlet end, you can assume that this condition has reduced the future life of the drainfield by permitting solid waste to flow into that area of the septic system.
Steel Septic Tank Bottom Rust-Out, Leaks, Abnormal Sewage Levels
Steel tank bottoms rust out permitting effluent to leak into soils around the tank, possibly giving a large void in tank at time of testing,
thus subverting a loading or dye test.
Since steel tank tops can be replaced while leaving the
old tank in place, the condition of the top itself is not a reliable indicator
of tank condition.
You may spot a leaky steel septic tank whose bottom or lower sides are gone by noticing that for a septic tank that is in use and has not just been pumped out, the level of sewage in the septic tank is lower than the outlet baffle or pipe. Details are at SEPTIC TANK LEVELS of SEWAGE.
This is a chapter of Septic Systems Inspection, Testing our free online class about septic system inspection procedures,
defects in onsite waste disposal systems, septic tank problems, septic
drainfield problems, checklists of system components and things to ask.
Also see The Septic Information Website our main page of articles and information
about septic systems and onsite wastewater disposal systems inspection, testing, diagnosis, maintenance, and repair.
Continue reading at SEPTIC TANK BAFFLES or select a topic from closely-related articles below, or see our complete INDEX to RELATED ARTICLES below.
"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.)
Books & Articles on Building & Environmental Inspection, Testing, Diagnosis, & Repair
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.
Onsite Wastewater Disposal Books
Onsite Wastewater Disposal, R. J. Perkins;
Quoting from Amazon: This practical book, co-published with the National Environmental Health Association,
describes the step-by-step procedures needed to avoid common pitfalls in septic system technology.
Valuable in matching the septic system to the site-specific conditions, this useful book will help you install a reliable system in
both suitable and difficult environments. Septic tank installers, planners, state and local regulators, civil and sanitary engineers,
consulting engineers, architects, homeowners, academics, and land developers will find this publication valuable.
Onsite Wastewater Treatment Systems, Bennette D. Burks, Mary Margaret Minnis, Hogarth House 1994 - one of the best septic system books around, suffering a bit from small fonts and a weak index. (DF volunteers to serve as indexer if Burks/Minnis re-publish this very useful volume.)While it contains some material more technical than needed by homeowners, Burks/Minnis book on onsite wastewater treatment systems a very useful reference
for both property owners and septic system designers. We refer to it often.
While Minnis says the best place to buy this book is at Amazon (our link at left), you can also see this book at Minnis' website at http://web page .pace.edu/MMinnisbook
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
Septic System Owner's Manual, Lloyd Kahn, Blair Allen, Julie Jones, Shelter Publications, 2000 $14.95 U.S. - easy to understand, well illustrated, one of the best practical references around on septic design basics including some advanced systems; a little short on safety and maintenance. Both new and used (low priced copies are available, and we think the authors are working on an updated edition--DF.
Quoting from one of several Amazon reviews: The basics of septic systems, from underground systems and failures to what the owner can do to promote and maintain a healthy system, is revealed in an excellent guide essential for any who reside on a septic system. Rural residents receive a primer on not only the basics; but how to conduct period inspections and what to do when things go wrong. History also figures into the fine coverage.
Grass is Always Greener Over the Septic Tank, Bombeck, Erma: $ 5.99; FAWCETT; MM;
This septic system classic whose title helps avoid intimidating readers new to septic systems, is available new or used at very low prices.
It's more entertainment than a serious "how to" book on septic systems design, maintenance, or repair. Not recommended -- DF.
US EPA Onsite Wastewater Treatment Systems Manual Top Reference: US EPA's Design Manual for Onsite Wastewater Treatment and Disposal, 1980, available from the US EPA, the US GPO Superintendent of Documents (Pueblo CO), and from the National Small Flows Clearinghouse. Original source http://www.epa.gov/ORD/NRMRL/Pubs/625R00008/625R00008.htm
Water Wells and Septic Systems Handbook, R. Dodge Woodson. This book is in the upper price range, but is worth the cost for serious septic installers and designers.
Quoting Amazon: Each year, thousands upon thousands of Americans install water wells and septic systems on their properties. But with a maze of codes governing their use along with a host of design requirements that ensure their functionality where can someone turn for comprehensive, one-stop guidance? Enter the Water Wells and Septic Systems Handbook from McGraw-Hill.
Written in language any property owner can understand yet detailed enough for professionals and technical students this easy-to-use volume delivers the latest techniques and code requirements for designing, building, rehabilitating, and maintaining private water wells and septic systems. Bolstered by a wealth of informative charts, tables, and illustrations, this book delivers:
* Current construction, maintenance, and repair methods
* New International Private Sewage Disposal Code
* Up-to-date standards from the American Water Works Association
Wells and Septic Systems, Alth, Max and Charlet, Rev. by S. Blackwell Duncan, $ 18.95; Tab Books 1992. We have found this text very useful for conventional well and septic systems design and maintenance --DF.
Quoting an Amazon description:Here's all the information you need to build a well or septic system yourself - and save a lot of time, money, and frustration. S. Blackwell Duncan has thoroughly revised and updated this second edition of Wells and Septic Systems to conform to current codes and requirements. He also has expanded this national bestseller to include new material on well and septic installation, water storage and distribution, water treatment, ecological considerations, and septic systems for problem building sites.
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