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Old 04-05-2009, 07:39 PM   #1
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Septic Newbie Needs Advice


I have never owned a septic before but I recently purchased a house that has a septic system. I need advice.

The law here in MA requires the buyer to pay for a septic inspection prior to sale. The state certifies who can perform the inspection and stipulates what items must be inspected before the property can be sold. The previous owner obtained an inspection that showed the the septic to be in fine condition. In addition the realtor indicated that the system was sized for 4 bedrooms (the house is only two bedrooms). The house was built in 2001 so the septic is only 8 years old. I assumed that the septic was properly constructed and in good shape based on this information but now am I not to sure.

With the weather thawing and most of the snow gone, I got my first good look at the leach field last week. There was a small pool of water at the base of the leach field (it is mounded) on the downhill side (the leach field is on the side of a hill). This water was clear but had an oily sheen on top. The bottom of the puddle was brownish (this is was contrast to other puddles of standing water on our lot which had no oily sheen and a sandy or gravely bottom). The water did not smell of sewage but I poked a stick in the bottom of the pool (in the brown stuff) and got a faint odor of sewage.

It is worth mentioning that our water usage since we bought the house has been exceedingly low.

Its also worth mentioning that water table on this property seems to be very high (particularly with all the snow melting). We are on the top of a hill with shallow soil on top of bedrock. The water runs down the hill along the top of the bedrock and on wet days comes up on the surface wherever the topsoil is particularly thin.

I am wondering how concerned I should be about the pool of water near the leach field. My initial fear was that the site simply was not appropriate for a septic system with the high water table and thin soil. Presumably it passed a perc test but perhaps there was some funny business ? Is it possible that this is just a seasonal thing and it will fix itself once things dry out ?

Another question I had is about trees near the septic. The property is forested. The builder cleared trees to install the system but the forest is reclaiming this land. Keeping the full extent of the system clear of tree roots is pretty daunting because the run from the tank to the leach field is quite long (I am guessing about 400 feet). The land is also quite rugged so I will have to clear trees by hand. I presume that I will need to find a way to clear trees growing directly over the leach field but how important is it to keep the area around the tank free of roots ? Can I allow trees to grow around the pipe that runs from the tank to the leach field ? Are there tree species that would be safe around a septic ?

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Old 04-05-2009, 08:43 PM   #2
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Mound systems are used when the soil does not perc out. A 400 foot leach field? Did you mean 40 feet? Or did I read that wrong? My mound system at the lake is sized for a four bedroom home and my mound is 40 or 60 feet I can't recall for sure.

I wouldn't be to concerned about the water until the ground has had a chance to thaw. I could be this is just a low spot in the yard were water puddles.

You said the buyer pays for the inspection, that would be you, you should have had a say in who was inspecting the system. I for one would never go with anyone recommended be a realtor, they get a little cozy with the inspectors and the inspectors do not want to kill the deal for fear of loosing future business.

Try not to let trees grow by your mound they can clog up the drain field. It is OK to plant flowers on it if you like. Trees by the pipe running to the spectic is OK.

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Old 04-06-2009, 12:10 PM   #3
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Thanks for the info.

Just to clarify:

I made a typo when I wrote that the buyer pays for the inspection. As you suggested brokenknee it is the seller. I assumed that I could trust a state licensed inspector but perhaps that is not the case.

The 400 foot run is the pipe from the tank to the leach field. The house is at the top of the hill, the tank is a little down hill (I think) and the leach field is quite a ways down the hill. The pipe down to the leach field appears to be PVC. Any risk of tree roots cracking the plastic ?

Not sure of the size of the leach field but the mound itself is about 25 feet in diameter.
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Old 04-06-2009, 02:37 PM   #4
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Has the septic tank been pumped recently? This is a regular (averages every 3 years) maintenance item.

If the tank is not pumped in time, solid matter and grease gets into the outlet pipe and clogs the leach field. A thick layer of grease can float in the tank and some is scooped by the outlet pipe each time the liquid level fluctuates.

As far as smelling like sewage goes, this is not unusual. As new sewage comes into the tank, liquid (regardless of degree of decomposition) exits. It's supposed to be filtered and any additional decomposition of organic matter completed in the soil in and around the leach field.
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Old 04-06-2009, 04:17 PM   #5
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That is a good question about the pumping.

I believe that it was pumped before the inspection. The inspection took place in late 2007 but the septic has not really been used much since then (the previous owner left the house vacant for about six months before I bought it).

Is the the tank level something I can check myself ?
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Old 04-06-2009, 06:05 PM   #6
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Sure, I use a long DRY 2x2, I don't know how deep your tank is but keep a good grip on it as to not lose it in the tank if it is really deep

Drop it down, wiggle it around to make sure it's good and bottomed out though all the sludge, if you want mark with a sharpy right at ground level, that way you can tell how deep your tank it in case you're wondering...

Pull the stick out... wet mark is the water level (the level of the outlet pipe), black mark is the sludge level. Never let the sludge meet the water level or it'll spill out and clog everything up!

and if you're REALLY curious like I was with my current first ever septic system, you can take a digital camera, strap it to that 2x2 (use a DRY part of it ) and set the 10 second delay and drop 'er in! Later you'll be asking yourself, hey when did I eat THAT....


Last edited by johnnyboy; 04-06-2009 at 06:08 PM.
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