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  • Writer's pictureDon Magruder

A New Reason for Septic Tank Failure

Septic tanks are commonplace throughout Lake and Sumter Counties and the most discouraging sound any homeowner can hear is a gurgling noise coming from the drains in their home. This is usually followed by a drainage slowdown, which leads to a sewage backup in the tub, shower, or toilet. As you can imagine, the clean-up is disgusting. Even worse, is the cost to fix it. The homeowner’s first call is to the septic company, which will come out for around the cost of $300 to inspect, pump, and clean your septic tank to ascertain the problem.

The normal septic system that is in most homes in the area is a pure gravity situation from the home to the septic tank and then the drain field. The liquids and solids flow from the home into a multi-chamber septic tank, which breaks down solids to liquids, and flows from one chamber to another through a septic tank filter down a multiple row of drain field pipes.

One reason why a septic tank gets clogged is that the solids overwhelm the tank. As a result, the system must be pumped. Another reason a septic tank gets clogged is when its filter is filled with solids, non-disposable items, and paper products that are not septic safe. Sometimes, the drain field is ruined because oils and greases overwhelm the system, and this effluent enters the drain field creating a biocrust, which does not allow the effluent to leach into the ground. Essentially, the oil and grease build up in the drain field, which stops the system from working properly. When this happens, the only remedy is replacing the drain field and dirt in the area. For this reason, a homeowner should never put any type of grease or oil in their septic system, because it could ruin the drain field.

Although there are other septic systems with pumps and other arrangements for special circumstances, each homeowner should understand their system and seek expert advice when a failure occurs.

Last month, I ran across a couple that had a septic system failure, which was related to the drain field that was not from one of the conditions described above. In fact, these homeowners in Marion County did everything correctly and were still stuck with a nearly $3,000 bill for replacing the drain field. These particular homeowners built their home in 2006 and installed a septic system, which relied on a three effluent outflow drain field. There were three rows of drain field to handle the effluent from the tank in their front yard. A couple of years later, this young couple added a child to their family and that is when they started having problems with their septic tank. It seemed like the system would start gurgling when the washing machine would run. Oftentimes, they would have to call a septic company to pump the tank and they were accused of flooding the system—putting too much water in the drain field.

After their second child was added to the family, the problem worsened. They were told that they had damaged the drain field and they spent most of their time restricting water usage.

Last winter, the problem became untenable and the couple spent the money to have the septic system replaced. The issues with the septic system created a lot of angst for the family. While the septic system was being replaced, the couple asked the septic company to evaluate what had gone wrong with the drain field—was the failure caused by biocrust, flooding, or another reason? To their surprise, it was not any of those reasons. Rather, their original septic system failed because it was installed incorrectly. As I mentioned earlier, septic systems are gravity fed. In the case of this particular system, two of the drain field outlets were installed too high, which prevented the effluent from flowing into them. Effluent cannot flow uphill. In fact, the septic company said those drain fields were completely dry.

An incorrectly installed drain field created 15 years of problems, angst, and expense for these homeowners. The installer of the original septic system did not take any accountability because there was no proof and the people who had installed and inspected the system were long gone. This septic system failure was not the homeowners’ fault and this situation clearly demonstrates how a poor installation on anything around the house can create a lifetime of distress.

A good lesson for everyone—the next time something fails around the house, check the original installation, and make sure it was done properly. Do not be so quick to blame yourself, spouse, or others for the failure.

Don Magruder is the CEO of RoMac Building Supply and host of Around the House, which can be seen at

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