How do I locate my septic components?

monzamess(8 GA)July 6, 2007

Hi all. I want to do some landscaping to replace the bare dirt that constitutes my back yard, but first I need to find my septic tank and drain field so I don't put inappropriate things over them.

My builder gave me copy of the diagram on file with the county. It's basically a rectangle (the house) with a squiggly line (the drain pipe) on top of it, and it's not to scale. IOW it's pretty useless. I can't tell if the field runs the width of the house, how far it is from the house, etc.

Any suggestions?


P.S. Sorry if this is in the wrong forum but I figure someone has run into the same issue. I've been searching this whole site and Google and haven't come up with anything.

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Hmmm ... Can your builder give you the name of the folks who installed your system? That would be the first call i'd make, i think ... someone there may either remember (if your home is a fairly new construction), or can give you some indication of how to get better "visibility" into what's under the ground?

I don't know really ... i'm a novice at all this too!

    Bookmark   July 6, 2007 at 4:55PM
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littledog(z7 OK)

the grass is always greenest over the septic tank, but in reality, it's the lateral lines that count.

Depending on the age of your home, your septic tank can be as close as within 15 feet of your house, and it's generally in a straight line from the toilet. The easiest way to find that line is to locate the vent pipe on your roof. The septic tank is going to be in a straight line from the toilet bisecting the vent pipe and out into the yard. You can also look for the clean out drain, which should be a fat white plastic pipe with a screw on cap on the ground close to the house. You can also wander around the general area after a good rain with a piece of metal pipe or sucker rod poking it down into the ground to a depth of about two feet until you hit something solid. The main lateral line will MOL be in a straight line following the toilet, drain pipe, septic tank, and then it should branch off to create a drainage field. However; if your home is very old, you might find the line(s) are buried so deep that there are no tell tale lines of green marking the spot. We discovered that our house, moved here in 1929-1930, had one lateral line that was buried over three feet deep thanks to 70 some odd years of silting from the hill. (That and the fact that the Elm tree on the north side of the house had a root actually inside the septic tank that was bigger around than a small child.)

You probably already know this, but the main thing to remember is that unless you'd like to put the plumber's kids through college, you don't want to plant any trees near the laterals. Ditto any large, thirsty shrubs. If you find you do have trees or shrubs growing near the pipes and you just can't bring yourself to remove them, you can purchase copper sulfate to flush down the commode about three times a year to dissolve any roots that may have found their way into your system. Other than that, it's never a good idea to lay a patio or plan a drive way over the drainage field, since Murphy's law says as soon as you do, you'll have to dig it all up.

    Bookmark   July 6, 2007 at 5:01PM
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Different states have different levels of documentation and different rules governing how close one thing is from another.

In Massachusetts, where I live (and work with septic design to some extent), the permitting and record keeping is is done through the local health departments (board of health) with the state setting rules which they must adhere to and enforcing those. My guess is that most states operate in a similar fashion.

Start with your local Board of Health. If they don't have records of your as-built septic system, they will almost certainly be able to tell you if and where you can find them.

    Bookmark   July 6, 2007 at 8:14PM
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monzamess(8 GA)

Thanks for the advice. The problem is, the diagram I have is the official record on file with the county health department.

The house is new. Here's what I can tell from the permit:
I have a "serial" configuration with a single line coming out of the tank. The line is 280ft long and snakes back and forth across the back yard a couple of times. It's 20" deep and the field is 3ft wide along the line.

Here's the drawing on the permit:

The black is the image from the permit. The red I added showing the deck (by the builder) and two mature trees. I can't imagine they were able to run the field under the trees, and there's no room for it to go under the deck, so it has to be farther back than on the picture. I hope!

Also, for the line to total 280ft, the two longer lengths must go the entire width of the back yard, which is a bit wider than that diagram would indicate.

I guess I'll go poking around with a piece of rebar or something...

    Bookmark   July 6, 2007 at 9:25PM
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OK..........don't laugh, but you could always try a divining rod.
I'd always had my doubts about the things, but recently an excavator was working on DS's property and while chatting I asked how he had mananged not to destroy every sprinkler line in the yard. The previous owner had such a mishmash of lines running everywhere that we're still trying to figure them out!

Anyway, he reached into his backhoe and pulled out two copper rods and said he uses them often on every job.
We started walking around the yard and the rods would cross each other and he'd say there's a line around here somewhere. I couldn't see any sprinkler lines/heads in the area but after digging around the overgrown shrubbery we found a hosebib. Then I asked him to try and locate the leach field since we've never been sure if it was partially in the yard or out in the field. Yes, we started out knowing the general area of the leach field (1/2 acre area), but we didn't know exactly where it was nor the direction the pipes were running. As we walked the rods would respond so we marked each location and then went back and measured the distance between each 'rod cross'. Each measured 10'......the distance between most leach field pipes in our area. One area measured 4' and 6', but we found a hosebib nearby which explained the difference.
Within about 5 minutes we had the area of the leach field marked and the direction the pipes were running.

Anyway........I was sold!

DS later found more building records of the septic/leach field location and it's the area the excavator marked.

Here is a link that might be useful: Divining rods

    Bookmark   July 6, 2007 at 10:49PM
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littledog(z7 OK)

I need to mention that before you go poking around with a metal pipe in a wet yard, make sure you know where any electrical or phone lines might be buried. :^O

I wouldn't be surprised if there are two large trees growing directly over or into your lateral lines. Well fertilized and watered vegetation is going to put on some impressive growth in a hurry.

That said, I have to tell you that is the strangest septic field I have ever seen. Sketched out in a bird's eye view, most would have a line running from the house to the tank, (with a vent pipe on the roof, and a clean out drain on the ground -before- you get to the septic tank), then continuing straight out from the tank with lateral lines branching off like the letter "E". After we finished reworking our septic system, our lateral lines form a modified "Y" because we had to work around existing mature trees, but the idea is to make it as easy as possible for water to drain away from the tank. It's JMHO, but a giant, elongated "s" shape would be highly inefficient to carry water; too many hairpin turns for something to back up and block the system. Not that someone couldn't put in such a system, just that it doesn't look like it would work well enough to be worth the effort.

You don't say how old the "new" house is, but if it's less than 10 years old, you should be able to track down the plumber who was contracted by the builder to put the septic system in and find out what's up. You might also try calling a few local businesses that clean out septic tanks. The actual tank needs to periodically have the solids pumped out and disposed of. It could be that a previous owner has had that done, (especially if they had multiple children in the home), and the local company might be able to tell you something about the place. Once upon a time, you could have used a metal detector to find cast iron pipes, but nowdays, everything is plastic. :^/

    Bookmark   July 7, 2007 at 2:41AM
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monzamess(8 GA)

Yeah, I thought it was strange too, but it's a legitimate configuration here. Our previous house has a septic system too but it is based on a distribution box (after the tank of course) and three lines running out into the yard.

This house is brand new construction. The septic permit is dated May 2006. The trees are 40-50ft tall so I'm pretty sure they predate the drain field.

The frustrating part is, I've asked the neighborhood supervisor and a plumber about the lines and the best they could tell me was "they're in the back yard" and that the permit would hold all the secrets! :) That's when I realized I'm on my own.

When the cable guys buried my cable, they used a device to locate the sprinkler lines first... but they're only 6" deep. Would something like that work on a septic field?

    Bookmark   July 7, 2007 at 10:02AM
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Does anyone know how we can get help with a septic tank insurance claim.
Ours has failed and we need help with the Insurance company.
We had septic cover but it has got VERY complicated.
Anyone got any ideas ?

    Bookmark   October 22, 2007 at 12:09PM
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Does anyone know how we can get help with a septic tank insurance claim.
Ours has failed and we need help with the Insurance company.
We had septic cover but it has got VERY complicated.
Anyone got any ideas ?

    Bookmark   October 22, 2007 at 12:19PM
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davidandkasie(Z8 MS)

neville, the claim is goign to depend on whether the failure was due to lack of maintenance or due to uncontrollable circumstances. this is the very reason i did not shell out extra bucks for the option, they are going to try and deny you anyway, so why fight it.

what is the failure you had?

    Bookmark   October 22, 2007 at 3:00PM
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mjsee(Zone 7b, NC)

Yesterday I had a customer in the GC who wanted to plant pear trees over his septic field. "They have shallow roots, right?" I THINK I convinced him not to do so...


    Bookmark   October 22, 2007 at 7:03PM
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madtripper(5/6 Guelph)

I think you are up the creek without a paddle - sorry.

I had the same problem with my 6 year old house which I recently bought. All I got was a sketch of where the system might be. I don't agree with some of the advice above, so here is my story.

The health department had lost the drawings, but were able to give me the engineer company name. Around here they have good drawings which they need to get permission to design the system. I got those drawings. Problem was they showed the weeping bed in the middle of some mature trees and a hill - so the drawing was useless.

Don't use diving rods - load of bunk. That has been proven over and over again.

My system is not lined up with any of my toilets.

Luckily, the former tenants had the tank pumped out just before we moved in and I could see where they dug to get to the tank. A bit of digging and I found the outlet line to the weeping bed. With a bit more digging (just pilot holes) I followed this to the end and even found a few of the side lines. Based on the specs from the engineer drawings, I know the spacing and length of the lines.

In winter, snow on the tank melts much faster than snow not on the tank - especially on a day that is not to cold.

"things grow better over the weeping bed" - not in my case. The lines are deep enough, and are covered with so much sand and little top soil that even the grass does not grow. Besides the system is far too big for us - the lines are almost dry towards the end.

    Bookmark   October 22, 2007 at 9:50PM
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Hi monzamess,
This advice is from my husband who used to work as the septic inspection for our county. He understands your problem esp. with horrid septic diagrams like yours. He says you're on track with the probing idea. The inspectors locate the field by using a metal T-shaped bar they gouge into the ground. You know you hit the field when you feel gravel. He says it won't harm your system a bit. Even if you by chance happen to hit a septic pipe, it won't hurt it cause it already has holes in it to allow sewage to seep out. He says call your health department and ask for the septic inspector to come out and mark out your system. He says that's what they get paid to do. Of course, the county may or may not charge a small fee for the service. Good luck.

    Bookmark   October 24, 2007 at 12:48PM
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srosso(z6 NY)

try a geiger counter -- if the tank is metal, it will respond.

    Bookmark   November 5, 2007 at 3:49PM
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Some septic inspectors have a device that they call a "mouse" that they can flush and detect its pat using another device. I don't know if they can use it in the leaching area or only between the house and the tank.

    Bookmark   November 5, 2007 at 5:19PM
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