The vast majority of houses and commercial-use buildings are connected to local governments' public water supply and sewer systems. However, most buildings in rural areas don't have direct access to nearby municipalities' water and wastewater systems, forcing them to install septic systems.
Septic systems are underground structures used to collect, store, and treat wastewater. There are roughly 10 types of modern septic systems, though the most popular of these is the aptly-named conventional septic system.
How do conventional septic systems work?
Homes and buildings in rural areas often manage to source nearby municipalities' public water infrastructure, though they sometimes use wells. Well-connected systems need to be treated differently than those that are attached to public water supply networks.
A large septic tank is buried near a home or a building. All toilets, sinks, washing machines are drained directly to this septic tank. After the waste breaks down, it makes its way downhill to a distribution box.
Several long pipes are connected to the distribution box. These pipes contain holes that allow the treated sewage to evenly find its way across a large area known as a drain field.
With well-based septic systems, drain fields must be positioned so that they release sewage downhill from the flow of groundwater that the well uses.
Now that you know the basic infrastructure that most modern septic systems employ, here are six tell-tale signs of septic system failure.
1. Are patches of ground near the septic system damp?
If you notice that one or more patches of ground roughly above any part of the septic system is significantly wetter than the rest of your property's lawn, your septic system is likely in need of repair or replacement.
Are these patches located directly above or near the septic tank itself? If so, your tank is likely leaking, as opposed to the remainder of the septic system.
On the other hand, if these patches are found throughout the drain field, you need to develop better drainage conditions for your septic system. Fixing problems in the drain field is generally significantly cheaper than repairing or replacing the septic tank.
2. Notice any patches of grass that are outstandingly tall and green?
If these patches are located above or near your septic tank, it's likely that its effluent has seeped out of the tank and into your yard. The reason why effluent leakage causes such effects is that the elements in effluents often act as solid fertilizers.
These patches mean you'll probably need to seal up the leaks in your septic tank.
3. Are your home's or building's sinks, bathtubs, and washing machines draining more slowly than usual?
First, return to all of the drains, fill them full with water, and see how quickly they drain. If all of a structure's drains are letting out water more slowly than usual, though all at roughly the same pace as one another, your septic system is likely in trouble.
If - and only if - the above is true, either there's a blockage between the septic tank and the drain field lines or the septic tank's exit drain is blocked.
However, if only one of your drains is emptying slowly, that particular drain is most likely clogged. Administering drain cleaner or using a drain snake to take out any potential blockages are the two best options for this situation.
4. Has the soil above your septic system's drain field been compacted since its installation?
One of the best conditions for septic system drain fields is that of soft, loamy, uncompacted soil, which helps treated sewage readily escape from the system.
If you notice any of the aforementioned symptoms, strong sewage-like odors, or sluggish toilets, your septic system's drain field might not be draining as well as it's supposed to. Further, if the soil above the drain field has been compacted by things like a lot of vehicular traffic or the use of heavy equipment, your drain field might need replacement.
5. Does your plumbing gurgle when water exits via drains such as toilets and sinks?
This symptom could mean that debris is stuck in your home's plumbing. However, in most cases, it means that your septic tank is getting full. Seeking a professional's help in removing excess waste from your septic tank is often the most appropriate course of action.
6. Notice any new blooms of algae in closeby lakes and ponds?
Algae tends to grow in the presence of animal waste, among a variety of other substances. If your property hosts a body of water or is close to one and you see more algae blooms than usual, your system's output might be leaking into the ground without fully breaking down.
Abby Drexler is a contributing writer and media specialist for Septic Solutions.