Author Topic: Septic field clogged-- diy replacement possible or legal? (Read 7662 times)

frugalstudio

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Septic field clogged-- diy replacement possible or legal?
« on: November 29, 2015, 10:10:23 AM »
We live in a 1930s mountain house. The old concrete septic tank has been a bit of trouble though the initial home inspection gave a green light to the system. 5 years after buying, the pumping maintenance is not enough and from inspecting the action in the effluent side of the tank it is evident that the drain to the leach field has stopped completely. The quotes to fix this are very high--nearly $10k-- which will basically be an entirely new system with fiberglass tank and new leach field. The components of septic systems are cheap and simple, so i am considering attempting the project with a rental backhoe. The question i have is whether this is one of those leave it to the pros situations due to complexity or codes, or if I'm in my right mind even considering this task. The other question for any septic system experts out there is whether the clogged leach field is repairable? I'm led to believe that chemicals and other treatments are a waste of $$ by most of the decent sources i have checked.

Exflyboy

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Re: Septic field clogged-- diy replacement possible or legal?
« Reply #1 on: November 29, 2015, 10:20:17 AM »
legal?.. maybe in this area to install a new system requires a licensed installer.. check your local codes.

There is nothing complex about septic fields but there are a few things you have to know. The worse thing that could have happened is the ground where you are trying to leech is saturated.

In this case it may not even be possible to install a new system there.. you may need a new piece of ground.

Then again you may just have a broken line and the pipes have filled up with mud.. that's what happened to ours (concrete truck broke it) and I rented a backhoe with a 2ft wide bucket to replace 2 lines.

soccerluvof4

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Re: Septic field clogged-- diy replacement possible or legal?
« Reply #2 on: November 29, 2015, 10:32:22 AM »
^this +1. I had one damage when a few years after a tree put in the line busted so fixed myself BUT you need to diagnose the problem correctly otherwise leave it to the pros.
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Spork

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Re: Septic field clogged-- diy replacement possible or legal?
« Reply #3 on: November 29, 2015, 11:19:50 AM »
**I'M NOT AN EXPERT HERE**

My very non expert (see above) opinion here is that the drain field alone is legal to replace on your own. I'm really just basing this on all the people I've known that have done it, so please do your homework before you take my word on it.

Drain fields do wear out/fail over time. This is especially true of the old clay tile fields. But even more modern ones can get plugged with roots and such.

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frugalstudio

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Re: Septic field clogged-- diy replacement possible or legal?
« Reply #4 on: November 29, 2015, 11:38:30 AM »
One thing to note is that the existing field is in a small level spot in an otherwise ridiculous slope--this is in an appalachian mountain lot 3/4 to the top of a hill valley between two ridge peaks--so if the field area is ruined or non fixable we are sh** out of luck (pun intended). The outlet from the effluent tank is pvc, and starts about 8" under ground level. I could start there digging with a shovel and replace the some of that. It seems like a decent start would be to simply cut as large a section out of that as is reasonable and replace with new. If that fixes the flow then problem solved for $10 and a day of digging. What are your thoughts on that theory?

Axecleaver

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Re: Septic field clogged-- diy replacement possible or legal?
« Reply #5 on: November 29, 2015, 01:48:25 PM »
Not an expert on this, but I have done leach fields on level ground.

It sounds like you want to replace the effluent outflow connection between the septic tank and the leach field. This will only work if the leach field is still good, in other words, the problem exists in the connection between the tank and the field. Most leach field failures do not occur there; they occur because the tank is not pumped adequately and the perforated pipes in the leach field get clogged. Then the tank backs up and you see soggy ground over the septic tank.

The quote you have is to dig a new leach field. It's not particularly difficult, here's a basic picture to show you what you need to build: http://catawbariverkeeper.org/issues/library-of-documents-on-sewage-issues-and-treatment/septictankdiagram.jpg/view

It's possible to build a leach field on a slope. I've never done this, but the basic concept is that you have the effluent pipe connected to a downslope distribution box, which has 4-8 pipes coming out of that and leading to pipes that are downslope of the box. The individual leach field pipes are level and run across the slope, like terrace farming. Picture: http://inspectapedia.com/septic/septic5.jpg

I have never done one on a slope, but seems relatively easy as long as you keep the pipes level across the slope.

Exflyboy

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Re: Septic field clogged-- diy replacement possible or legal?
« Reply #6 on: November 29, 2015, 07:51:56 PM »
I don't believe its the holes in the pips that screw the leech field up (otherwise you could simply replace the pipes). Rather it is the fact that the solids that foul the soil itself.. i.e after it has left the perforated pipes.

I.e the liquid will no longer soak away down into the soil.

That's why you need to put the leech field in a different place.

I am not an expert either but this is what I gathered from reading about it.

If you have space on a slope you can certainly put a leech field there as Axe describes.. the idea is that the first line fills up, then overflows down to the next line blow it and so on.

Exflyboy

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Re: Septic field clogged-- diy replacement possible or legal?
« Reply #7 on: November 29, 2015, 08:11:27 PM »
Another thought.

Around here at least the design of each home's septic field is kept on file at the local county office.

You might want to see what they have on file (they will photocopy it for you)

The reason I say this is there are two fundamentally different leech system designs. 1) a parallel system, this is what Axe showed in his example.. i.e all the flow goes to a distribution box and then is spread out between each of the lines equally.

2 series system, The flow goes to the first line, after that line is filled it cascades over to the second line.

3) Hybrid of 1 and 2. In my system the first line was parallel with the rest of the system where all the rest of the lines were in series.

Why is this important?.. Well if you have a series system you could have a blockage in just the first line somewhere and this will stop flow to the whole system. So find the blockage and fix.. job done.

If you have a parallel system and the blockage is between the septic tank and distribution box then fixing that will take care of the problem. if however the distribution box is full of water and not going down any of the pipes.. then your leech field has failed...:(

I would be looking for the first distribution box (sometimes called a drop box). If the box is full of water this will tell you the problem is downstream. If it is empty it will tell you the blockage is upstream back towards the septic tank.

frugalstudio

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Re: Septic field clogged-- diy replacement possible or legal?
« Reply #8 on: November 29, 2015, 09:29:58 PM »
Going to the county for a plan is a great idea. At least then I will know what is underground. The tank looks VERY old, but the pipe feeding the effluent to the field is PVC and looks newer, as does the new PVC from the house. One technical question is that I thought the perf pipes from the distribution tank were laid in gravel beds and that the water from the pipes seeps through the gravel on its way out. Are some systems directly in the dirt?

Exflyboy

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Re: Septic field clogged-- diy replacement possible or legal?
« Reply #9 on: November 29, 2015, 10:45:29 PM »
Yes they are in gravel.. but if you stuff enough solids (use your imagination) into the leech field.. well the solids will filter though the gravel to an extent.. but will eventually plug it all up.. eventually the gravel will be under water because it won't go into the soil.

So the system has PVC feeding the septic tank and from there to the LF?.. Hmm, obviously somebody has been making repairs.

So the house was built when?.. I wonder if the original pipes were made of "Orangeburg" pipe.. this is a tube made of tar paper common of houses in the 1950's. Now if so what could have happened is the pipe has simply collapsed as it inevitably becomes saturated.. That's what happened to mine.

I don't know if they used this God awful stuff for the leech lines themselves.. if they did chances are your looking at replacing all the lines.

So I would be wanting to find out what is at the end of that last piece of PVC pipe.. In other words the drop box I mentioned above... that will tell you almost certainly where the problem likely lies.

You could dig up parts of the PVC pipe until you get to the drop box. The orangeburg pipe is black.. Its possible they just replaced a short section of it and it collapsed further down the pipe. you might want to take a piece of iron rod and tap it down until it hits the pvc pipe if the ground is soft.. just keep going along until you can't find it anymore.. you have probably just mashed through the remains of the Orangburg pipe.

Let us know what you find

frugalstudio

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Re: Septic field clogged-- diy replacement possible or legal?
« Reply #10 on: December 04, 2015, 05:41:11 AM »
A week of exploration has led to "the answer". Basically the system is from 1940ish. The concrete tank looks rough because it is homemade. The leach field consists of perf pvc single line down to the lower yard. Then in true appalachian fashion, any water that seeps up from that single line is drained directly down the mountain via a cast iron pipe we uncovered. Once the pvc single line was unplugged, it all flowed again, but there is no way this is OK though it has been this way for 80 years. I guess with the volume of usage it is pretty minimal, and the nearest neighbor is several hundred yards down the mountain. Still...
We have been told the only legal route is to get the city inspector to come out and look. They charge $95 and create a remediation / design for a new system. Then you can DIY as long as it meets their inspection if I understand correctly. A problem for us is that you can't re-use any of the old system. You have to fill it in and choose virgin ground for a new system and field.

The_path_less_taken

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Re: Septic field clogged-- diy replacement possible or legal?
« Reply #11 on: December 04, 2015, 05:58:56 AM »
Yikes. I'm so sorry.

I'm sure it's not your first choice, but there are composting toilets that are legal in most locales.

Not to pry, but have you been putting RID or the microbes of some kind down there? Does your family use a lot of bleach?

Because enough bleach, even in suspension, makes for an unhappy tank, which means stuff doesn't break down....

Can you throw a couple of boxes in, wait an hour or so and then put a LOT of hot water through to see if you can melt and/or have the microbes eat the blockage?

Good luck. Not in Appalachia but live in a similar house so will probably have this problem sooner rather than later.

Exflyboy

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Re: Septic field clogged-- diy replacement possible or legal?
« Reply #12 on: December 04, 2015, 10:09:05 AM »
So do you have new ground you can use?

yyc-phil

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Re: Septic field clogged-- diy replacement possible or legal?
« Reply #13 on: December 04, 2015, 10:36:15 AM »

I'm sure it's not your first choice, but there are composting toilets that are legal in most locales.


In many jurisdictions, composting toilets are acceptable as long as they are installed together with a backup system like a septic field, which essentially defeats the purpose. However, some jurisdictions will allow composting toilets in combination with a septic tank (without field) and regular waste pumpout. In such case, pumpout would not be required since your black water would be diverted to the composting toilet, and your greywater would be stored in the septic tank and used for "irrigation" or whatever else you can think of. With this setup, you could simply install a septic tank and a composting toilet yourself and save thousands of dollars. If your jurisdiction allows this, it might be worth looking into it.
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Exflyboy

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Re: Septic field clogged-- diy replacement possible or legal?
« Reply #14 on: December 04, 2015, 04:33:59 PM »
There are several methods and in my region they have been adopting them albeit slowly and with restrictions.

One option is to use what my jurisdiction calls "New technology". This is an over sized septic tank with a number of chambers for aeration and settling etc. This system does not need a leech field.

The downside? You have to have an ongoing maintenance contract with an approved supplier to keep it working. Needless to say this would be expensive. But it is a way to be able to live on a waterlogged piece of property.

Greg

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Re: Septic field clogged-- diy replacement possible or legal?
« Reply #15 on: December 04, 2015, 08:53:34 PM »
$10K sounds awfully high. When I built my 4 BR system in 2005, it cost about $3K. 2 tanks with 3 fiberglass risers, pressure system, 4 lateral field and reserve area.

If you don't have the ground, you can build a mound.

lukebuz

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Re: Septic field clogged-- diy replacement possible or legal?
« Reply #16 on: December 05, 2015, 07:16:17 AM »
Check with your state codes, fo' sure. I had to have mine professionally done. $8800 for an Auqasafe, as my effluent field was saturated. :(

Urchina

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Re: Septic field clogged-- diy replacement possible or legal?
« Reply #17 on: December 06, 2015, 09:51:22 AM »
Drywells may be an option for you as well. These are 4-foot wide cylindrical pits, usually about 10 feet deep filled with gravel that function as vertical leach lines. They are used in our area for tight lots that don't have room for leach lines.

You might see if those are an option where you live. Digging them is not a diy, unless you've got an auger.

frugalstudio

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Re: Septic field clogged-- diy replacement possible or legal?
« Reply #18 on: December 10, 2015, 08:46:18 AM »
Thanks for all the replies folks! Once the inspector comes out I'll post the final decision. A composting toilet may be a solution with the existing tank and "field" if it is only greywater going down. The problem with new ground is that we are on a steep slope and the existing tank and field consume the entire area pretty much. We have used some of the RidX chemicals in that past, though there a some good articles I have read that those are literally throwing money down the drain at best and harmful at worst. Bleach and household chemicals are OK too according to some technical articles I have read, as long as the system is being innoculated regularly with a dose of poop. The system depends on the bacteria to work properly. I'm not sure what that means if we go to composting toilet. Then the chemicals would have no ofsetting bacterial input.