Understanding Septic Drain Failure (And What You Can Do)

Septic drain fields are one of the most essential parts of your water system and when it fails you're in for some trouble. Understanding the function of your septic drain field, the symptoms of its failures, the causes, and what you can do about it can help you get it fixed as soon as possible.

Understanding How Septic Drain Fields Work

A septic drain field is build up of a series of tanks connected to the water outlet of your home. These tanks are designed to filter your waste using materials such as clay, sand, and gravel. It traps solid waste material and lets the water filter out and back into the ground around your home.

Symptoms of Failure

The failure of a septic drain field is not an overnight process: in fact, it may take several months or years. Watch out for the following symptoms that indicate one of three types of failure: mechanical, physical, and biological. These symptoms include:

  • Bad scents in the pipes or in your yard
  • Standing water above the field
  • Excessively green grass near the field
  • Poor drainage when flushing water

If these symptoms occur occasionally, your septic drain field may not be damaged. Heavy rains can cause many of these symptoms, as can a clog. Only sustained instances of these problems indicate a serious drain field problem.

Common Causes of Failure

Septic drain field failure has a wide range of causes. Sometimes, a field is just too old: other times, failure comes from outside sources. These causes of septic field failure include:

  • Clogged soil or pipes
  • Decreased biomat (the material that degrades the waste material)
  • Sealed ground on top of the field
  • Physical damage caused by heavy objects, such as cars
  • Poorly constructed protection mounds
  • Tree roots breaking through the surface of the tank

Fixing a Clog

While most drain field failures will require completely replacing the field, there is one problem you should be able to fix: clogs. This common problem is relatively easy to fix and can add extra years to your septic drain field.

Common clog busting procedures include:

  • Flushing a septic system bacteria packet once a month
  • Decreasing water usage
  • Keeping chemicals (such as toilet bowl cleaners and drain cleaners) out of the drain
  • Using lighter and more environmentally-friendly toilet paper and soap

While breaking up a clog may help fix many of your septic drain field problems, they can't fix them all. If you suspect your field is close to failure based on the following symptoms, call a septic repair technician, like Mr Bob, as soon as possible.