SEPTIC effluent BREAKOUT in the yard, or odors, is a sign of a problem with the soil absorption system Septic System Failure Sign FAQs
Q&A on indications that the soakbed is failing

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Questions & Answers on what is considered a septic system or soakaway or drainfield failure and what on-site visual signs indicate that the drainfield or soakbed is failing.

This septic system inspection article series describes detailed "how to" steps instructing the septic inspection investigator in how to inspect specific septic components for signs of failure.

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Septic System Failure Indicator FAQs

Photograph of septic tank baffles

Before digging up your septic tank or calling a septic pumper, if you think the septic system is failed because of drain blockage or drains backing up into the building, you should to see Diagnosing Clogged Drains: Is it a blocked drain or the septic system? - A First Step for Homeowners. If you link to that text, please return here using your browser's "BACK" button.

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Recently posted questions & answers about detecting a septic system failure: warning signs.

On 2017-04-14 22:39:55.042676 by (mod) re: wet spot may indicate septic system failure: how to check further



If this is the only wet area AND if it's not ground-water leaking into the septic area, you may be able to diagnose the question by watching the hole:
After a period of no one running water in the home, check the water level in the home;
Then check the level again after lots of water has been run for bathing, washing dishes, laundry; and check again hourly. If you see the water level rising in the test hole AND if there is no outdoor source (rainfall for example) then the water may be sewage effluent in the ground.

The next step would be to look for backup in the Distribution Box and to inspect the septic tank for high sewage levels that can occur if the drainfield is backing up or failing.

DO NOT open the septic tank and lean over the opening - you can be asphyxiated, or fall in - both can be fatal.

On 2017-04-14 21:55:40.192451 by Sharon hatcher

I noticed a small amount of water in my yard not sure if it from my septic it was gone the next morning
Wedug a small hole and there is water in it could it be the septic

On 2017-02-23 15:52:08.301134 by (mod)

If your sewer pipes are all connected to city sewer then your home isn't discharging into an old onsite system, but groundwater could be flooding that system bringing odors or old waste to the surface; however a septic tank that wasn't properly abandoned may also be unsafe - risking a collapse, for example.

I'm doubtful the two are connected.

On 2017-02-23 15:44:08.771341 by AnnK

For a few days my bathroom sink emitted a horrid gas odor, which I used vinegar/baking soda & it went away after 2 days - no other drain issues in house. Today the backyard had a gray gritty water patch @ 25' from house. I had switched over to city sewer over 10 yrs ago. The Watershed never had confirmation of my septic/leach fields. I believed my septic tank was 'smashed' & left in the ground. Could the heavy snow melt cause 10 yr+ leach field leaching??

On 2017-02-15 20:56:50.878627 by (mod)

Yes often, Maria, if the plumber uses a sewer line inspection camera the cause of blockage can be seen.

On 2017-02-14 20:05:22.668444 by Maria DeFalco

Can you find things in septic or drains that caused it.. Landlord is blaming me

On 2016-11-07 01:47:15.184990 by (mod)

If you mean that the drainfield pipes will not drain unless Vince are opened in the field I suspect that the septic tank is back flooded or at an abnormally high level, or is blocked.

On 2016-11-06 20:25:17.061161 by Nick

My septic system won't drain if vent tube caps are on what would cause this

On 2016-10-06 02:22:52.895200 by DavidB

Noticed greener grass in a rectangle that follows the outline of my septic tank. Does this mean that the septic tank is leaking between tank and the top cover? The lines that flow away from the ST are green with no wet spots, as if this part of the system is working properly. Should I be concerned about this? (There might be a very, very minor slow drain problem as well...)

On 2016-10-03 14:37:33.558633 by Aine O'Sullivan

I am looking at an very old property in Wexford, Ireland which has not been lived in for at leat ten years. I want to put in an offer but I am worried as the auctioneers says the septic tank would need replacing. Other people have said it may just need a service/clean etc. It it totally overgrown with briars and it is impossible to even see it. I am afraid that the cost or replacing it will be very high. I want to put an offer in for the property but don't know how much to offer as the cost to replace the system may run into thousands of euro.

Thanks, Aine

On 2016-08-28 23:42:33.055506 by (mod)

Backflow into the D-box or one of them suggests that that drainfield line is saturated and failed, or has become blocked.

You don't want to see effluent leaking out of the very end of the drainfield trench - that'd be a different type of septic failure; rather the effluent should be dispersed into soil along the length of the trench.

I'd stop sending effluent into the failed line and I'd suggest using one or several of the other lines, accomplished by adjusting the flow control in each of your nine D-boxes. Use the page bottom CONTACT link if you'd like to send photos for further comment.


On 2016-08-28 02:01:55.745941 by Tony

Thank you for responding. This is where my confusion lies. I have 9 D-boxes and each has a changeable elbow. I believe some are placed incorrectly because I have no drainage at all coming out of either section of the leach bed. However, it appears to be flowing back into the last D-box.

On 2016-08-27 21:09:09.694921 by (mod)


Check the D-box to see how those eccenctric holes in the outlet pipes are adjusted; you may want to send effluent into half of the total drainage lines at a time, letting the other field section rest for 5-10 years.

On 2016-08-27 21:08:00.858386 by (mod)

Excellent point, Anon. A check valve or "backflow preventer" is useful on any sewage or septic effluent pump that has to deliver wastewater uphill and as you say, that'll reduce the amount of pump cycling and extend the pump life.

Backflow can also send water back into a pumping station if the drainfield itself is flooded or in failure.

On 2016-08-26 17:28:52.010675 by Anonymous

Hi Bee,
My pump was also running 24/7 and my pump also burned up. The guy who replaced it told me that there was no back flow preventer installed. So once water was pumped out it would flow right back into the tank again. There's about 200 ft to my leach bed so that much water was flowing right back in. Worth checking out. 👍

On 2016-08-26 17:08:02.685178 by Tony

Hi, my leach bed is divided into two sections. I've noticed that there is no drainage coming out of either drain pipe from either section. However, there is clear water ( looks like drinking water) flowing into the 9th (have a total of 9) d- box. It is not flowing into the box through one of the pvc pipes but from a smaller hole in back of the box with a black plastic ring around the hole. Any ideas why?

On 2016-07-30 15:02:22.615230 by (mod)


It sounds as if the control, wiring, pump or another component is either improperly installed or is defective and needs repair or replacement. If none of the repair people youve contacted will help inspect, diagnose, and repair the problem then you will need to look further to find a competent repair service close to your home.

Also search InspectApedia for SEWAGE PUMPS to read details about how these pumps work, how they are controlled, and to see common problems, diagnostic step and solutions.

DO NOT try to work on a septic tank yourself; simply leaning over an open tank can be fatal.

On 2016-07-30 01:34:34.949333 by Bee

Hi there. My family and I desperately need help! We had a holding tank with leeching field installed by a professional while building our new home. We have an electric pump in the holding tank which runs 24/7. Literally! If for some reason we loose power to the house, our sewer backs up into our basement.
This has happened since we first moved in. The first time it happened I called an emergency tank pump, and they said there was hardly anything in the tank. We have tried to have it repaired, but nobody will help us. Our pumps burn out every few months due to continuous running. Any suggestions??

On 2016-07-15 17:02:08.609458 by (mod)


You asked and we replied to this question at

Please help avoid doubling our already heavy Q&A workload by asking a question in just one article.
Thanks. - Mod

On 2016-07-14 07:02:28.931726 by Robert goines henryville ind

My concrete septic tank flow good from house to tank. No backup. But will not leave tank through overflow lines away from tank I need new overflow lines how much is cost I have 3 acres

On 2016-07-01 00:51:09.071398 by (mod)

Brad the lower end of the drainfield, that is the end most distant from the septic tank is one of the more common places for failure to show up first.

Search InspectApedia for SEPTIC D-BOX INSTALL REPAIR - that article may help you find and open the distribution box - that's where you can check for a problem that's overloading one of the drainfield lines.

On 2016-06-30 21:54:32.730601 by Brad

Hi, I have a septic system where at the end of the drain field it is quite wet, I'm not sure if it is more wet than usual but noticeably wet. There aren't any puddles but the soil is saturated. It is only our 3rd year in our house and I know that they had some work done cleaning out some of the drain field pipes a couple of years before we moved in. I am just wondering if some of the drain field pipes might be clogged causing more than the normal share of liquid effluent to be leached by the lines that are working. For the record, there has been no indication of any malfunction from the house or anything like that, this is just from my observation of the lawn. Could I be over thinking this or is there cause for concern? Thank you for your time, the site has been quite informative.

On 2016-05-18 17:41:01.340473 by Ed cook

Septic tank leaking into yard

On 2016-04-21 15:26:54.007937 by (mod)

Sorry Stephani, our malware scanner has trouble if people type a period at the end of a sentence that is followed by another letter rather than a space - it thinks the text contains web links. I have to find and manually "accept" such comments, as I have done with yours below.

If you see sewage on the ground surface

- that is a health hazard and is prohibited by building codes in almost all jurisdictions (you didn't mention where you live)
- it means that there is a blockage, either at the septic tank outlet or due to a clogged or failed drainfield pipe
- also I agree that sewer gases are more than just smelly: they might contain harmful gases or pathogens and of course if accumulated, the methane can be explosive.

If the property owner won't address an unsafe or unhealthy condition you might have no choice but to ask for help from your health department officials.

On 2016-04-21 06:18:59.619425 by Stephani

About an hour ago I made a lengthy comment and a minute later a short comment. The short one posted. Where's the long one ? The short one makes no sense w/o the longer one.

On 2016-04-21 04:16:05.830656 by stephani

Oops, I forgot to ask the question. What could be wrong with the tank ? Should I be worried about the fumes ? And shouldn't professionals be called out to fix it? also I AM getting headaches.

On 2016-04-21 04:11:50.482363 by Stephani

I live in a mobile home park and the septic tank is right between mine and the mobile home next door. more so under his. We are about 10 ft apart divided by a little picket fence.The other day I noticed that on his side of the fence was a nasty 'pool' of toilet paper, liquid and feces . I told the owners of the park about it ( who by the way don't like to pay and fix things ) after almost a week someone came out and somewhat cleaned it off the top of the dirt. but not all of it. I don't know what they've done about fixing it if anything. the stench is hurendous . Today I notice that about 8 ft away from that spot, still next to his home and also now on my side, the dirt is wet. and it has not rained in awhile. also last nite I heard blub blub blub coming from the ground. Also now there is strong fumes. I can't even open my front door without my eyes burning it smells so bad. The owner said we'll take care of it. That's what he said last time.

On 2016-03-31 18:01:53.264334 by (mod)


I suspect that your drainfield or soakbed is fully saturated, maybe even under-water, and that the result is that effluent, mixed with rainwater, is back-flowing into the septic tank.

WATCH OUT: the risk is a sewage backup in the home. Run as little water as possible until things quiet down.

Check also for water leaking directly into the septic tank.

Ultimately if this problem is frequent and it's drainfield saturation you'll need to either get groundwater away from the septic fields or re-design the drainfield to a higher mound or raised bed type system.

On 2016-03-31 17:00:59.041680 by Bill

We've had some heavy rain and I noticed that smell and I'm seeing bubbles come from the ground above my septic tank. Any ideas on the cause?

On 2016-01-24 02:05:55.356309 by (mod)

Sounds like improperly sloped drain lines or a blockage at the sewer line past the Y junction or at the septic tank, or a flooded septic tank and failing drainfield.

On 2016-01-18 23:21:58.833250 by kristel

We have installed a septic system for our house and shed, connecting them with a y junction. We are finding that some of the effluent from the house is going up the y junction for the shed and smelling. What can we do for this? Are there y junctions with a flap to stop this?
thank you

On 2015-12-13 05:29:10.569165 by Anonymous

Possibly yes if it allows surface runoff to enter the tank that could flood the fields.

Or flooded fields may be backing up into and leaking out of the tank

These pages are part of our SEPTIC DYE TEST PROCEDURE for testing septic system function.


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