If you have a septic system in your home, it has two basic components: the septic tank, and the leach field (or drain field) that liquid waste drains into. The septic tank typically gets the most attention when it comes to septic system maintenance, but it’s important to remember the leach field is there as well. Numerous problems might call for a leach field replacement, or at least calling in experienced septic system plumbers for repairs.
So, in this article, we’re going to focus on leach fields: what they do, what can go wrong, and what you need to know about calling for a leach field replacement.
I. What Is A Leach Field?
When wastewater flows out of your home and into a septic tank, the materials first go through a separation process. The heavy materials sink to the bottom of the tank, while leaving relatively light and clear liquid at the top, called effluent. In addition, microbes in your septic tank will eat away at the organic materials, helping the separation and filtration process.
As the tank fills up, the effluent on top will periodically drain away – by going into the leach field. This is an underground structure made mostly of rocks and gravel which provides a natural filter. It’s typically located near the tank and is connected by pipes. The effluent flows into the field, then slowly seeps into the ground below, returning fertilizing agents to the Earth and allowing the liquid to rejoin the water cycle.
II. How Leach Fields Fail
The most common reason for problems with leach fields is if the septic tank becomes too full, and starts sending more effluent into the drain field than it can handle. Also, it’s possible for leach fields to become clogged up with foreign materials such as food waste which has been improperly sent into the septic tank. Grease and oils can build up in the leach field, causing serious problems over time that prevent it from functioning properly.
For this reason, we strongly discourage people from using a garbage disposal in conjunction with a septic tank. Sending food waste through the system will only cause problems, and lead to expensive septic system repairs. Basically, if you have a septic system, nothing should be sent into it except wastewater, human/animal waste, and toilet paper.
If your leach field is having problems, there are going to be a few big clues:
- Bad odors. Your leach field should be odorless, even if you’re standing on top of it. Should you ever smell “swampy” water or anything that smells like sewage, that means the field isn’t working properly. The effluent should be draining down into the soil, not rising to the top.
- Standing water. Another big clue you’re having drain field issues is if you ever find standing water above or near the field. Again, this means it isn’t draining properly.
- Increased plant growth. It’s an old joke to say that “the grass is greener over the septic tank,” but in fact, this shouldn’t be the case. At least, not by much. If you notice significantly greener or more lush plant growth over the drain field, that means it’s not doing its job properly.
- Backflow. In worst-case situations, if a septic system or leach field has become completely clogged up, it might start sending septic water back into your home. This is dangerous (and disgusting) since effluent is potentially toxic, and you should call for emergency repairs ASAP.
III. How Much Does Leach Field Replacement Or Repair Cost?
There’s no sugar-coating this one: if your leach field needs to be replaced or even substantially repaired, it’s going to be costly. Since the field is buried underground, some amount of excavation is almost always going to be required, which quickly drives costs up.
If the field simply needs repair, this is called leach field rejuvenation. It’s typically a combination of cleaning out the leach field, as well as pumping out the septic tank to ensure the problem isn’t due to a full tank. This alone can cost at least a thousand dollars, and possibly much more if extensive digging is required.
Should the leach field become completely clogged or the ground it’s in can no longer accept all the wastewater, you may have to move the entire drain field. This is a bad situation since you’re looking at around five thousand dollars at a minimum for all the work that has to be done cleaning up the old field and then digging and installing a new one.
Obviously, you want to avoid having to do this.
IV. Protecting Your Septic System And Drain Field
So what can you do to prevent costly drain field repairs?
First, again, we cannot stress enough how much you should not allow food waste to go into your septic system, through any route. If you come from the city and are accustomed to having a municipal sewer system that can handle food waste, you need to understand that septic systems are much less resilient.
Likewise, avoid flushing any solid objects such as sanitary pads, tampons, used condoms, etc. Anything like this can and will clog up the system. Even if it’s gross, it needs to go in the trash, not into your septic tank.
Also, in general, look to reduce water waste. The less water that flows into your septic system, the less chance that it will become flooded or overburdened. Plus, you’ll save money if you reduce water waste. Consider installing low-flow sinks, toilets, and showers to reduce water use.
Finally, remember that your septic tank will need to be pumped out, typically every 2-4 years. Allowing it to become totally full will put the leach field at risk!
Roto-Rooter California Knows Septic Systems
We have deep experience with septic systems and leach field repair. If you suspect problems with your septic system, don’t ignore them. Problems will only get worse with time, and can potentially become a health hazard.