Help! Drainfield Failing - Any ideas? Thanks

14 Replies

We have a drain field on 60 year old home that is "failing".  Everyone's solution is "get a new one" - wow..genius.  Anyway, any other ideas?  House for 60 years didn't have a drain field problem.  In advance, ANY ideas, etc is greatly appreciated. 

Originally posted by @Jay Hinrichs :

genereally that old they are plugged with years of grease etc.. only way to fix is to replace

 Not to mention roots, etc. Once roots are in, it's history.

Can you just hook up to city sewer?  Tenants are probably never going to be as careful with a septic tank system as you would be.

Is there room on the property to move the drain field to another location?  Over time a drain field can get plugged up with the fine material coming out of the septic.  Once the soil in the area of the drain field is plugged up, there's not much you can do besides move it to another area or dig out the dirt and replace it.  Depending on your soil, the system and what's going down it, this can take a long time or can happen quickly.  Some problem just don't have cheap and easy solutions.   This is one of them.

Plant willow trees, they'll dry the place up

Ummm, I think the advice given by @Joe Cummings was tongue in cheek.  One of the worst things you can do is plant any kind of tree near the drain field.  I'm assuming that you are referring to the leach field in the septic system, by the way.

If the system lasted 60 years, it has had a very good life.  Just like roof's, furnaces, and water heaters, leach fields have a life span.  Depending on how well they are taken care of, this life could range from 5 years for poor or no maintenance with trees nearby, to 40 or even 50 years with regular pumping and care not to dump grease down the drain or use of Draino-type products.

Time to face the music, it very likely is time for replacement if you are experiencing problems.  After replacing it, have the septic tank pumped at least every 2 years, more frequently if you have a smaller tank or a large (or multiple) family using it.  When it is pumped, the pumping contractor can tell you if you might be able to lengthen the interval or if you should shorten it.  If you haven't been pumping it regularly, you could be the reason it failed.

A septic system is fairly simple.  The sewer leaves the house and enters a settling tank.  In the settling tank, grease floats and solids settle.  There should be a baffle that prevents grease from floating down the line out to the leach field.  Excessive grease build-up at the top will allow grease to begin leaving the tank.  Excessive sludge build-up at the bottom will allow sludge to leave the tank.  Both scenarios are bad news for the leach field.  In a properly operating system, only effluent, or liquid waste leaves the septic tank and enters the leach field.  Sludge and grease plug lines and reduce the ability to disperse this water.

Maintenance should also include keeping bushes and trees from growing near the system.  It should also include regular mowing of grass over the system.  Contrary to popular belief, most of the water/effluent that disperses from the leach field does NOT go into the soil, it evaporates into the air above the system.  If you don't mow it, it reduces the performance.  As already mentioned in other replies, roots will destroy the system very quickly.  This is true for city sewer lines too, by the way.  I once dug up a city sewer line that was backing up.  We had to use a chain saw to remove the root that was growing down the line from the house into the sewer main.  The root was 5" in diameter!

Yeah I was kidding.

But back in the days of cesspools, it was common to find a willow tree nearby. Old timers planted them there to dry up the wet area created by the cesspool.

A cesspool was at one time a dry well lined with loose-fitting brick or stone, used for the disposal of sewage. Liquids leaked out through the soil as conditions allowed, while solids decayed and collected as composted matter in the base of the cesspool. As the solids accumulated, eventually the particulate solids blocked the escape of liquids, causing the cesspool to drain more slowly or to overflow. Modern environmental regulations either discourage or ban the use of cesspools, and instead connections to municipal sewage systems or septic tanks are encouraged or required.

If it was a newer system , I would dig down to a drainfield pipe and cut out a section and run a sewer snake down the drainfield , then I would follow with caustic soda down the drainfield . I have done this on 25 to 30 year old drainfields with good results . Now you may have drainfield pipe that cant handle a snake ( Old and brittle )  The caustic soda may help , but you have to get the liquid level down in the pipe .  

Hi can't get anyone to "fix"/"repair drain field, everyone wants to put in "new" for $7,000-$12000.  Would really appreciate alternatives. Thanks in advance.

Originally posted by @Ken A. :

Hi can't get anyone to "fix"/"repair drain field, everyone wants to put in "new" for $7,000-$12000.  Would really appreciate alternatives. Thanks in advance.

If the drainfield is clogged there is no benefit in not replacing it. You won't get the clogged sections out (or the debris) without uncovering the field, you won't know where the clogs exactly are, you'll be breaking the old pipework as you go. You are probably spending more time trying to fix an old drainfield than just replacing it.

Frankly, putting in new pipes is probably the easiest and cheapest of all the options.

The reason the septic companies won't want to 'fix' and old drainfield is because it's far too open ended a contract for them, and frankly, if it's roots - you'll be having trouble with it in less than 2 years - roots grow back real fast.

Combined your two threads into one.  Just because you don't want to hear what folks are saying doesn't meant its the wrong advice.  I've spent close to $15K in the last few years replacing sewer lines in three different houses.  These big expenses are just part of owning real estate.

You "fix" a clogged drain field by relocating or replacing the dirt.

I agree with @Jon Holdman .  What we are saying is not what you want to hear, but it is what you NEED to hear.  None of us have anything to gain or lose by giving you our thoughts.  I have installed literally miles of pipe underground, some of it installed in drain fields for both residential as well as commercial systems.  Even if there are no roots, if the trenches are lined with grease or silt, they are ineffective.  Digging them up and replacing them entirely is the only way to overcome that.

What you are asking for is the equivalent of telling your roofer that the roof hasn't leaked for 60 years, so why can't he just tar patch it!  Drain fields have a working life of 20-40 years IF they are properly maintained for their entire life.  At 60 years, you are well past the useful life.  Time to get out your checkbook.

As I said, we have nothing to gain or lose by saying this.  As a contractor that has installed these in the past, I have told property owners exactly this before.  I'm not trying to win a job by telling you the same thing now, it is just the reality of the situation.

Best of luck.

Give this a go.... blows and home sleepo have a drain king.... its a pressure balloon that attaches to a hose and expands in the pipe to seal it from coming out the back end where you are sitting.

Find the distribution box. Being that old there may not be one but look for it.... if you cannot find it dig the line around the septic and about 3 foot away. 

Get some good rubber gloves (not optional) and googles, maybe even a mask?

Cut the pipe there

Stick that bad boy in the pipe away from the septic tank. This will pressurize the whole leach field.  

The balloon is made for clearing 4" drains and works well for that. 

I used it to clear a french drain i put in my old farm house so i could drain the shower and sink into that instead of the septic. 

Let us know if it works out.

Has anyone ever heard of Aero-Stream for fixing septic systems? They claim their system converts the anaerobic septic system to an aerobic system which supposedly can fix failed septic systems and drain fields. We've got a "failed" drain field and are looking at replacing the drain field or giving this company a shot. 

David Boykin, Real Estate Agent in SC (#91868) and GA (#361370)