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    Septic drain field/ dry well concern

    Asked Oct 18, 2009, 03:42 PM 11 Answers
    We started experiencing problems with our septic a little over three weeks ago. The first indication was "gurgling" from the shower one night. It didn't happen again and all the drains appeared to work okay, so we shrugged it off. A few nights later, the same thing happened. This time, it was a little worst. I could hear the softener/ sump pump was running simultaneously with the gurgling. Also, the shower started to fill with water so I immediately ran down and unplugged the softener and sump pump. The softener, along with the washing machine empties into a sump, which is then pumped into the drain/ septic system. I will be looking to correct this at some point in the near future.

    The last time our 1000 gal septic tank was pumped was roughly 3 years ago. Its just the wife and I and we really don't think we use water excessively. Nevertheless, I dug up the access cover the following day to have a look see and that is when I discovered exactly just how full the tank had become. The inlet from the house was submerged in gray water, so the tank was literally full to the top. I arranged to have the tank pumped asap, and we have since replaced the toilet with a ultra low flow unit that uses between 1.1 - 1.6 gals per flush. The septic guy said that he didn't hear any run back from the dry well, that either we were using too much water or there was a problem in the soil pipe from the septic tank to the dry well. For the last few weeks, I have been running all of our laundry down to the laundromat, and there has been no softener output being dumped in. The softener has not been plugged back in since that night. On a hunch, I didn't back fill the septic access cover because I had a feeling that wasn't going to be the end.

    Over the weekend, I lifted the cover off once again to have a look. Again, the tank is full to the top. It has only been 3 weeks since the tank was emptied. Looking at the diagram the previous owners left behind, we have a dry well and then a drain field. Does that make sense? When we purchased the house, we were told that the drain field had been replaced 10 years before, so the age of the field is roughly 15? From what I have described, what is my most likely cause of failure? I started digging around the tank yesterday in hopes of finding a clean out for the soil pipe. No such luck. Apparently there is no baffle on the outlet side of the tank either, so now might be the time to take care of this. Any advice you all have is welcomed.

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    11 Answers
    truck 41's Avatar
    truck 41 Posts: 221, Reputation: 21
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    #2

    Oct 18, 2009, 09:33 PM
    Hello D.S. if your septic tank does not have a baffle on the outlet side then there is a problem with the tank, there should be a baffle on both the inlet, and outlet side of the tank. Put a hose into the outlet side of the tank and run some water to check and see if the water goes down into the outlet drain, if it backs up then you probably got some solids flowing into the drywell and plugged up the system. In which case you will need to get a septic co. to look into the situation. If there is no baffle on the outlet side then that will have to be addressed, including the drywell or leachfield. If water does go down into the outlet side then you probably have a problem between the two compartments. When dealing with septic systems you should have a licensed septic co. handle it. Goodluck with this.----Zeke----
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    speedball1's Avatar
    speedball1 Posts: 29,303, Reputation: 1939
    Eternal Plumber
     
    #3

    Oct 19, 2009, 05:28 AM


    there is no baffle on the outlet side of the tank ,(see image)
    which allows solids to flow out in your drainfield and clog the pores. I agree with Truck that you need a septic tank company out to repair the septic tank and check your drain field to see if it must be moved and replaced. Good luck, Tom
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    Dragonslayer's Avatar
    Dragonslayer Posts: 61, Reputation: 4
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    #4

    Oct 19, 2009, 08:50 AM
    Thanks for your advice guys. We have been living in the home for a about 6 years now and the tank was pumped/ inspected before we closed. We were told about the missing baffle and we thought they had that repaired before we moved in. We only found out during the last septic service three years ago that in fact there is no baffle and one needed to be installed. By then, the previous owners had passed on. Looking back, I know I should have had that done at least then. No excuse, I owned a business at the time that was barely breaking even and was working more than 100 hours a week and never got to it. The septic guy told me at the time to dig up the outlet and replace it. That the baffle could be as simple as adding an elbow turned downwards and to fill in the gaps with concrete? He told me that this was something I could do. The inlet does not have a baffle either. The inlet will be easier to remedy since you can get to it via the access cover. The outlet will be tricky since you can only see it with a mirror.

    Before I call someone out to condemn my field, I think I will cut into the soil pipe going from to the tank to the dry well this weekend and add a clean out and then try to rooter it. I just want to see if that pipe may have failed/ collapsed? The pipe is iron and has been in the ground for 40 years. If only I am that lucky. If it is the pipe, I could replace that. If it is the dry well or drain field, that is beyond what I can do. If they do have to add another field, we do have ample space available on this 5 acre property. If they do add a new field, should a diverter valve be installed so we can try to switch back to the old field in a couple of years? Will the old field ever recover if given enough time to sit dormant?

    Out of curiosity, how deep is the drain field and how big does it have to be? We had a privacy fence installed when we moved in. Prior to doing that, I was afraid that when we dug down to set the post holes that we may damage something. So, I called several septic installers and they told me that I had nothing to worry about because it had to be below the frost line and the likelihood of hitting the components wasn't that great. Also, why does my system have a dry well and drain field in series?
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    speedball1's Avatar
    speedball1 Posts: 29,303, Reputation: 1939
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    #5

    Oct 19, 2009, 04:53 PM


    how deep is the drain field and how big does it have to be?
    It must be under the frost line. The size and type of drainfield depends on the estimated daily wastewater flow and soil conditions. The septic tank size depends on the size of your house and family. Here's some guide lines.
    One or two bedrooms: 750 gallon tank
    Three bedrooms: 1,000 gallon tank
    Four bedrooms: 1,200 gallon tank
    Five or six bedrooms: 1,500 gallon tank
    Good luck, Tom
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    ballengerb1's Avatar
    ballengerb1 Posts: 27,292, Reputation: 2274
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    #6

    Oct 19, 2009, 05:15 PM



    Let me mention this for your consideration. A fully functioning septic tank is nearly full to the top 100% of the time, it is supposed to be that way. The baffles are needed to stop solids from getting into your leach field and clogging the lines but the tank must get full for the gray water to over flow and run out to the distribution box and then the field tiles. The fix is frequently beyond the reach of a DIYer due to the weight of the lid, not the clean out cap but the entire lid. I recently had a septic act like your and it was the pipe between the tank and the distribution box. I did not have heavy equipment so I hired a pro, I hate that, but he only charged be $400 for the whole job. The pipe was exactly 40 years old and had reduced to a golf ball size.
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    speedball1's Avatar
    speedball1 Posts: 29,303, Reputation: 1939
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    #7

    Oct 20, 2009, 05:46 AM
    Let's hop[e it was the dry well that trapped the solids and not your drain field. Get some septic tank people out there to run a absorption test ion the drainfield. If you're luck the dry well can be bypassed. ( Don't know why it's there in the first place.) and put the drainfield back in operation. Good luck, Tom
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    Dragonslayer's Avatar
    Dragonslayer Posts: 61, Reputation: 4
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    #8

    Oct 24, 2009, 04:29 PM
    Well we dug up the soil pipe between the septic tank & dry well today. I am much relieved to say that the problem appears to be a failed soil pipe. I am not sure what it was made of. Initially I thought it was an iron pipe, but it feels more like ABS plastic or some sort of fiber. About a foot from the dry well, the pipe had failed and there were some large chunks missing. The pipe was almost completely clogged with debris, roots and so on. We discovered that the dry well had a cover, and the level wasn't all that full either causing the lack of flow. Although it does appear as though the dry well has been acting as more or less of a second septic tank thanks to the missing baffle in the septic tank. We did replace the failed soil pipe today and I have added a baffle into the septic along with a clean out. Hopefully this will solve the problem and the drain field didn't suffer much. Tomorrow we will back fill the trench and I will have the dry well pumped next week.
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    speedball1's Avatar
    speedball1 Posts: 29,303, Reputation: 1939
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    #9

    Oct 25, 2009, 05:42 AM
    Great! Glad you located your problem. I was concerned that you would need a new drainfield. I've never seen a dry well in series with the tank and drainfield but it saved then drainfield. You old pipe looks like Orangeberg ,(see image). Made out of fiber and tar. WE discontinued using this pipe back in the 60's in the Tampa Bay area. Regards, Tom
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    Smykowski's Avatar
    Smykowski Posts: 2, Reputation: 1
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    #10

    Aug 18, 2014, 06:41 AM
    Did you have any indication something was wrong at grade level? Soggy ground or puddling water? Or did you only discover the broken pipe once you dug it up?

    Also, I know I'm resurrecting a 5 year old thread, but this is exactly the problem my parents are having and I'm looking for a little insight into the OPs dianosis process.
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    Dragonslayer's Avatar
    Dragonslayer Posts: 61, Reputation: 4
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    #11

    Aug 18, 2014, 08:35 AM
    We did not have any indication of a problem at grade level nor did we have puddling water anywhere. The only indication of our problem was the "gurgling" when something was being added into the sewage; sump pump running, flushing of toilets, etc. The problem in our instance was the soil pipe between the septic and dry well.

    As far as diagnosing the problem, it was just a matter of trying to figure out where the blockage was. Do you have a diagram that indicates where all the components are in their septic system? I learned a lot about "how it works" by getting my hands dirty. I knew our blockage was downstream from the septic when the septic tank levels got full so quickly after having it pumped. After that, I just went digging. I was fortunate enough to find the dry well, which was downstream from the septic. The dry well wasn't full, meaning the inlet wasn't submerged. So from that, I deduced that the problem had to be between the two. I understand that our septic system was a bit odd in the fact that they "added" on a drain field after the dry well. Personally, I think they did that because the dry well might not have been absorbing properly after so many years??? In essence, the dry well was more like a second septic tank. It has been 5 years now and everything has been working perfectly. Lots of digging and less than $100 worth of replacement piping for me.
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    Smykowski's Avatar
    Smykowski Posts: 2, Reputation: 1
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    #12

    Aug 18, 2014, 10:15 AM
    Awesome info. Thanks for the fast reply.

    Couple more questions for you if you don't mind (it looks like we might be attempting a similar job as yours in a few weeks, and I want to lay out as much planning as I can ahead of time). Also, to frame the discussion, I (along with my Dad) have plenty of DIY plumbing experience, both PVC and copper. Just nothing involving a septic system - yet.

    How long is that run, and how far down is that pipe? How long did it take to excavate the whole trench?

    How big was the replacement pipe?

    What fittings did you use to connect the pipe to the drywell and the septic tank?

    Did you end up doing any repairs re: the lack of a baffle?

    When you backfilled, did you put gravel or any other kind of aggregate underneath the new pipe, or is it just resting on the soil?
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