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3 Common Septic Tank Drain Field Problems and How to Prevent Them

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If you have a septic tank in your yard, then you need to ensure you are taking every step that you can take to preserve the integrity of your septic system drain field. A typical septic system drain field can last 20 years or longer without needing replacement.

However, the Environment Protection Agency (EPA) reports that over half of all septic systems fail before they reach this age, often due to problems with the drain field. Read on to learn three common septic tank drain field problems and how to prevent each one.

1. Compacted Drain Field Soil

The soil in your drain field serves an important purpose. After your septic system separates wastewater, called effluent, from solid waste called sludge, effluent is sent into your drain field. The soil in your drain field actually purifies this wastewater to EPA standards to make it suitable to release back into the environment without spreading disease.

How can soil purify water? The soil in a drain field is covered with a layer of bacteria called a bio-mat. These bacteria naturally remove contaminants from the wastewater pumped into the drain field by digesting them, breaking them down, or absorbing them.

Many of the bacteria in a drain field are aerobic, meaning they need oxygen to survive. If drain field soil becomes compacted, then the very small pockets of air that lie between soil particles are eliminated and the aerobic bacteria can die. When these bacteria die off, they cannot clarify wastewater properly.

Consequently, you must keep the soil in your drain field loose. Thankfully, you can easily prevent soil compaction by keeping heavy machines and structures off of the field. Do not park cars on the drain field, do not drive over the drain field, do not build sheds or other small storage buildings on drain field, and do not place pet kennels or other heavy objects on the drain field.

In addition, if you enjoy hosting backyard parties with large numbers of people, be sure to keep foot traffic on your drain field to minimum.

2. Over-Saturated Drain Field Soil

Another drain field problem that can occur is over-saturated drain field soil. When the soil is too saturated with water, it cannot process effluent properly and can even lead to wastewater backing up in your septic tank and then into your home’s plumbing fixtures.

There are many ways to help prevent drain field saturation. First, never place anything over your drain field, such as a tarp, that will keep water from evaporating from its surface.

In addition, you can help aid water evaporation from your drain field’s surface by planting flowers and shrubs with shallow root systems on top of it. These plants require water to thrive and will suck up water from the drain field to help avoid soil over-saturation.

Additional ways to help keep the soil in your drain field from becoming over-saturated include:

  • Avoid using too many water fixtures in the home at once. When too much water runs down your home drains into the septic system at once, it all flows into the drain field at the same time and can cause drain field flooding.
  • Ensure all home gutter downspouts are directed away from the drain field. While rain that falls directly on your drain field can over-saturate it on occasion, your drain field is more likely to become over-saturated after a rainfall if your home gutter downspouts are pointed in the direction of the field.
  • Don’t point lawn sprinklers toward drain field. Any plants and grass on top of your drain field should soak water and nutrients directly out of the soil and not need extra water.

In addition, be careful what you flush down your toilets to avoid septic tank back-ups that can cause your drain field to flood. Be sure to use toilet paper labeled septic-tank friendly.

3. Tree Root Infiltration

Along with plenty of soil, your septic system drain field is also filled with a series of pipes that distribute wastewater evenly throughout the drain field soil. It is important to protect the integrity of these pipes, just as you do the soil. One way to protect the integrity of drain field pipes is to avoid tree root infiltration.

Tree roots can enter drainage pipes through joints or any small cracks in the pipes and form blockages that lead to wastewater backups. To prevent drain field tree root infiltration when planting new trees, take note of the average height of a tree at maturity, and then plant the tree at least that number of feet away from the drain field.

Once tree roots penetrate your septic system drain field pipes, you must seek help from a septic tank professional who can repair the pipe system. Then, remove the offending tree and kill its stump to keep its roots from penetrating into the septic tank drain field again.

While it is important to protect the integrity of your septic tank, remember that it is also important to protect your septic system drain field. Contact Rob’s Septic Tanks, Inc., if you suspect you need septic system drain field repair.

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