How Do You Tell if Your System Is Failing?
Septic-system failure is not always evident. However, there are various indicators that are clues to a potential problem.
: Sewage from toilets (a black liquid with a disagreeable odor) may backup in your drains.
: Toilets and other drains may flush slowly, despite the use of plungers or drain-cleaning products.
: Surface flow or ponding of wastewater may be seen on the ground near your septic system (unlike in the house; however, the
water may not have a strong odor).
: Lush green grass may grow over the absorption field, even during dry weather, which indicates that an excessive amount of
liquid from your system is moving up through the soil, instead of downward, as it should. (With due respect to Erma Bombeck,
the grass in a healthy lawn shouldn't be greener over the septic field.)
: Testing of drinking water from your well reveals the presence of nitrates or bacteria, which indicates that liquid from the
system may be flowing into the well through the ground or over the surface. (Water test kits are available on the Internet.)
: A buildup of aquatic weeds or algae in lakes or ponds adjacent to your home, which may indicate that nutrient-rich septic-
system waste is leaching into the surface water (this may also result from excessive fertilizing).
:Unpleasant odors around your house may be caused by an improperly vented plumbing system or a failing septic system.
Remember that effluent on the ground is a serious health hazard and should be corrected as soon as possible. Do not allow
children or pets near a failing disposal field.
What if the System Fails?
Contact your local health department if you suspect that your system is failing. Also seek the services of a professional septic-
system contractor. Work with both of these parties to develop a plan of action. A major concern for older houses is that the
septic system may be underdesigned, improperly located or in a location that will no longer support the type of system installed.
In some cases, where you have enough land, you may be able to just put in a new disposal field. However, in some situations,
particularly where you don't have enough land for a new field, you may have to replace the entire system with a new one that is
up to today's codes. This may involve significant expense. Nevertheless, while it may be costly, a properly functioning septic
system is essential to the use of your home and the health and safety of your family.
A properly operated and maintained septic system can provide you with up to 30 years of service while protecting the
environment from water-quality contamination. While it may seem more difficult to live with a septic system, with only a little
effort, you can have a system that will last for many years. If you don't take the time on a regular basis however, you may have
to pay for major repair or replacement work in the future. In this case the old maxim clearly applies: An ounce of prevention is
worth a pound of cure.
Owners Notebook septic system care 3
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The Owners Notebook - Septic System Care
How to care for, feed & understand your septic system
Septic System Care Page 3 of 3
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