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.
General reader comments about this septic system install, inspect, troubleshoot, repair article series
(Jan 22, 2014) Paul G said:
Hey this is a great resource. Thanks.
Question: septic tanksize determination
(Feb 24, 2014) firstname.lastname@example.org said:
what size of septic system would be needed for a 5000 sure ft home?
If you take a look in the ARTICLE INDEX given at the end of any of our septic system pages you'll find this 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.
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
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.
Sounds as if the outlet is blocked or the field is blocked. It's time to investigate the effluent absorption system or drainfield. Meanwhile stop using water as much as you can and pump the septic tank - that will give a few days of relief during which the problem can be diagnosed by your septic contractor or septic engineer.
Question: leaks at septic system 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! email@example.com
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 D-BOX INSTALL REPAIR where I will include your question and our comments
Question: outlet end of septic tank smaller than inlet end
(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.
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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: firstname.lastname@example.org. 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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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.
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