SEPTIC SYSTEM TROUBLE: WHAT GOES WRONG - CONTENTS: Chapter 4 - What Goes Wrong With Septic Systems - Advice for buyers of a home with a septic system - what to do about septic tank failures - before buying the home
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What kinds of things go wrong with a private septic system, tank or soakbed?
This home buyers guide to septic systems article describes what goes wrong with septic tanks, drainfields, and other septic system components.
Septic backups, failures, breakouts, odors are often traced to clogged sewer lines, failing drainfields or soakaway beds, or improper piping or septic component installation.
This document provides advice for home buyers who are buying a home with a private septic system:
homes using an on-site septic tank and drainfield or similar soil absorption system.
Chapter 4 in this article series outlines what goes wrong with septic systems and their various components.
Chapter 5-recommends and describes septic inspection
and test methods in more detail, explains how to be sure your septic inspection and septic test are conducted properly,
tells you where to get more septic system information about a given property,
and warns of unsanitary or dangerous site conditions.
4-What Goes Wrong with Septic Systems, Tanks, and Leaching Beds?
[Click to enlarge any image]
Do not drive over the septic tank or septic piping
Unless special provisions have been made such as protection of piping and septic tanks from damage, vehicle-rated septic tank covers, or similar steps, do not drive vehicles over the septic system.
Driving over septic tanks, septic piping, or drainfields risks costly damage to the septic system and may also be dangerous.
The bulldozer in our photo (left) was called to help remove a truck which drove over septic system components leading to a surprise collapse.
Home made or "site built" septic tanks, often using dry-stacked concrete blocks or even stone can collapse, a fatal hazard if someone falls in.
The septic tank shown in the photo at the top of this page had a concrete cover
but when the cover was removed we found that the tank
was under-sized, built of concrete blocks, and totally impacted with waste, as shown in this
open septic tank photo. The system was inadequate, not working, and required replacement.
A proper loading and dye test would probably have detected this failure since the new owners had effluent in their yard within 24 hours of moving into the home.
Home made septic tanks which are way too small, such as the 100-gallon home made septic tank shown in the upper left of this photo of a too-small septic tank will simply not be functional for normal use.
Steel septic tank baffles rust off, sending solids into the leach field, shortening its life.
A steel tank baffle is visible in the lower left of this photo.
Watch out: steel septic tanks rust out and collapse, often sending solids into the leach field and reducing its future life as well.
Watch out: Septic tank covers themselves can also collapse, especially if made of steel as shown in the same photo as mentioned above. Falling into a septic tank is very likely to be fatal.
Other septic tank covers may be made of wood which eventually rots and collapses.
Collapsing septic tanks, steel, home made, or any type, are very dangerous. Falling into a tank is likely to be fatal.
Concrete septic tanks such as shown here are pretty durable but they can crack and leak or may have an unsafe cover.
The concrete septic tank shown in this photo is being installed at a new home.
The distribution box has not been placed and is still
sitting atop the septic tank. This is a great time to measure and record the exact location of the septic tank and
its cleanout access covers.
Concrete tank baffles can deteriorate, crack, break, fall off. Baffles are checked when the septic
tank is opened for cleaning.
Fiberglass or plastic septic tanks such as shown just below are also quite durable but may be cracked or damaged during
installation or if driven-over later.
Septic Tanks which are not pumped often enough can become filled with sludge and scum, becoming
totally impacted. Well before this condition is detected, such systems have sent solids into the leach field, shortening its life.
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Portions of the original text were provided by the CT Department of Public Health and Addiction Services. Daniel Friedman (web author) has made
extensive edits and content additions to the original file.
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.
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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Special Offer: Carson Dunlop Associates offers InspectAPedia readers in the U.S.A. a 5% discount on these courses: Enter INSPECTAHITP in the order payment page "Promo/Redemption" space. InspectAPedia.com editor Daniel Friedman is a contributing author.
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