Septic Tank questions

Discussion in 'Plumbing Forum, Professional & DIY Advice' started by suceress, Mar 18, 2013.

  1. suceress

    suceress Member

    Mar 12, 2008
    I live in a house that is over 50 years old and I know the septic tank was installed before we purchased the house in the mid 80s. The house has a 500 gallon septic tank with one field line. We made sure to get it drained regularly but we had to start draining more frequently in recent years. Last month the toilet wouldn't flush and it bubbled up water in the sink and bathtub. To make a long story short it was determined that our field line was completely shot. The guy from the Board of Health said that he was shocked that the system lasted as long as it did with only one field line. Additionally, the plumber said that the line wasn't even installed properly.

    Anyway, the gentleman looked at the property on google maps and I showed him where things were located and then did the percolation test. After viewing the property he said we needed a 1,000 gallon tank with 330ft of field lines. Since the lines can't be more than 100ft each, he recommended 4 lines. By my estimation they will need to be about 82.5ft each. He then printed out a list of businesses that were licensed to install septic tank systems. I went through and marked off ones that I knew were too far away and then began calling and trying to get estimates based on the information provided. I got estimates from around $2,700 to $4,000 so far. I'm still waiting for some of them to call me back.

    One of the men asked me whether or not I would need a distribution box and indicated that it would cost more to have one put in. Another one said something about only putting in 2 lines but using some sort of different materials. I wasn't sure what he was talking about and he didn't give any names for the products or anything. Another one asked if the permit referenced any possible alternatives.

    The very first one I called before I had the permit initially told me it would be between $2,200 to $3,000 depending on what type of system I would need. After hearing the specifications in the permit he said it would be $3,100 to $3,200. One of them told me that the sheer length of the field lines was making it more expensive than installing some other type of system (although he did not specify which type of system was cheaper).

    I decided to start looking things up after reading the information packet on septic tanks that the gentleman from Board of Health gave me. I was surprised to see that garbage disposals were on the "no" list for septic tanks. The house had a garbage disposal when we moved in, although we rarely use it. It seemed to me that in order to have four field lines it would require a distributor box. Is this correct?

    Lowes and Home Depot have them listed for close to $40. The last installer who called me back was very friendly and informative. He explained the size of the pipes and an estimation of the size of the tank when I told him I was trying to make a diagram. An E-How page said that the holes for the lines have to be at least 6ft apart and that they should be at least 24" wide and 24" to 30" deep. It said the hole for the distribution box would have to be at least 6" wide and 18" deep (I'm sure I broke some grammatical rules by switching up from using ft and then " for inches). Additionally, the last gentleman who called told me that the septic tank has to be at least 10 feet away from the house. I don't think my current one is that far, but I haven't gone out and measured. He also mentioned something called ALC or AFC flu pipe (it was hard to hear on the phone) and he said a 1250gallon tank was around 6feet in diameter. He gave me the number of the place where he buys his plumbing parts and told me to ask for a specific person by name if I had questions. He did say the distribution boxes themselves were inexpensive.

    I will say that I don't know if the estimation on our water usage is right because it sometimes seems to take forever for the water to turn hot and we have to leave it running (albeit slowly) until it gets hot.

    Anyway, I seem to have digressed.

    I am trying to figure out just what I need and what sort of tank I should get (many of the people did not give options but one said he would call back with more info on the different types). None of them mentioned any brands, but the list I was given does have some brand names under some of the businesses. I keep seeing things like Hoot, aqua safe, delta, jet, montgomery, mo-DadII, Solar Air, Jetaire, Cajun Aire, Econo HP, etc. I get the impression some of them refer to pumping systems.

    So, does anyone know about the different brands of tanks and pipes and such that would be necessary? After reading the E-How thing I wish I had a backhoe (and knew how to use one). I don't know if I would be allowed to dig the holes myself. The lines will be going out into a field that used to be a garden. There are still a few small fruit trees in there. I have to make sure that none of the lines will bump into existing water lines (there are two water faucets-- one on the north side and another on the south side of the field) but I don't know the pathing of the water lines. They are basically for running hoses to water things or rinse things off.

    Another consideration is that I do mow the area with a tractor and I don't want to damage the field lines that way so I don't know how much weight can go over them. I may just have to resort to using a smaller mower or something over the lines.

    I'm attaching a google maps satellite view of the property with some markers. The red lines indicate fences. Yellow splotches indicate poles (powerlines are all above ground). The blue marks are for water outlets. The purple marks the existing septic tank and field line.

    So, any suggestions on how to do the layout for the field lines? Any other advice or tips?

    Thanks in advance.

    Note: Forgot to save edits to the picture before uploading. Couldn't delete the first one. Oops.
    Also, only the house is hooked to the sewage system. The other buildings basically just have water for hoses or water troughs for the barnyard animals.
    Last edited: Mar 18, 2013
  2. wallskev

    wallskev New Member

    May 14, 2009
    Manufacturing Consultant
    North Carolina,USA
    Here is a manual that I used to do the design when I lived in New York State. My design passed.

    When I moved to North Carolina they required a design that had 2 fields. The second for backup that was designed and not built. What a pain.

    But key in both places were Soil Percolation tests and distances from items such as Wells, streams etc. Also I had to show the math. See Page 103 of the referenced manual.

    Good Luck....
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  4. suceress

    suceress Member

    Mar 12, 2008
    Thanks. I looked at it and I noticed one of the first things it said was that it was for archive purposes and not to be used for planning. Or was that just part of it? LOL.
    It's really hard for me to see the pages that are turned sideways. I guess I don't have the right software for viewing it. It does look useful though. I'll have to turn the laptop sideways and maybe zoom in to see better. Some of the pages in the printout from the board of health were so faded they were illegible.

    But it still doesn't explain about the different brands and types of septic tanks and such. While searching for images that showed examples of layouts, I came across something called STCD Dry Plus. Not sure if it is any good or if it would matter for my purposes. I have sandy loam and the water in the holes for the percolation test was pretty much gone in an hour. I'm a few miles from the nearest river and my water well was considered far enough away.

    Anyway, the cool thing about the STCD Dry Plus was the diagram that showed the line layout. It was pretty much what I was thinking of doing. Since there are no licensed septic tank people in my County/Parish, anyone who comes to look and plan one out will have to come from fairly far away and I don't know if they would charge just for a consult or not.

    Some questions I intend to ask the guy from board of health when he gets back into his office on Wednesday:
    1. Are there any acceptable alternatives to the 4 line plan that might end up being less expensive?
    2. Since I'm assuming it will need a distribution box, how far can the distribution box be from the septic tank before it splits into the 4 lines?
    3. What is the angle of incline that will be necessary for the lines?
    4. How much weight can go over field lines without compressing them (since I typically mow the lawn with a Kubota tractor)?
    5. Does the contractor have to dig the holes for the lines or can I do it myself? (I don't have the equipment, but it would be nice to know the answer)
    6. What size field lines did he have in mind when he decided the total length necessary?

    And I just had brain freeze. I have a headache so I'll revisit this when it goes away.
  5. hj

    hj Moderator & Master Plumber Staff Member

    Aug 31, 2004
    Cave Creek, Arizona
    You may have asked too many questions to remember them all. Septic tanks may NOT have a "name". Here, the most common ones go by the name of the company the makes and sells them, but it would have absolutely no meaning to you. The tanks are also normally elongated ovals, not round, and a 1,000 gallon tank is about 4' wide by 12' long. It would be a poor system that used 4 lines without a distribution box to divert the flow somewhat equally. Don't worry about mowing the lawn. The water flows out of the lines and seeps DOWNWARD into the ground, which is why they make a "percolation" test first. The amount of usage and the type of soil determines the size of field needed, NOT some "rule of thumb", so I would question the installer that only wants to install two lines. For new installations in this area, they just bring in an end loader and dig a big square pit, fill the bottom with stones, lay the pipes, more stone, and the cover it all with dirt.

    1. the TOTAL length of the lines is what is important. So, how many is a decision of the installer. Four 100' lines are just as acceptable as four 82.5' ones, or three 140' lines.
    2. As close as he wants to put it
    3. VERY little, You don't want all the water to "rush" to the far ends of the lines.
    4. If they are the proper depth, you CAN'T crush them.
    5. If you dig them the where and how he wants them, then anyone can dig the holes.
    6. 4" perforated pipes are standard.
    Last edited: Mar 19, 2013
  6. suceress

    suceress Member

    Mar 12, 2008
    Thank you! The guy from board of health specifically said the field lines could not be longer than 100 feet each. One of the people said the lines were 24" wide. Or do you think he meant the holes they dig for them? I'm not really sure.

    I figured the angle of incline would not be steep. The plumber told me the current field line was too steep and therefore the water would rush out and leave debris/sediment in the pipe. I know for building decks the angle is something like 1/8th of an inch drop for every foot. Does the angle for the field lines depend on the type of soil? The existing pipe appears to be 4" PVC.

    Mowing the lawn was a concern for me because the warnings for septic tanks and field lines said not to drive heavy machinery over them because it could compact the soil. I'm hoping that the tractor isn't heavy enough to cause any problems. I have to use a bush hog attachment to mow the field.

    Thanks for the answers. Interesting about the shape of the septic tank. My current one is not an oval - but it is old. I think some of the installers mentioned different shapes and materials.
  7. jadnashua

    jadnashua Retired Defense Industry Engineer xxx

    Sep 2, 2004
    Retired Systems engineer for defense industry.
    New England
    There are alternative methods to traditional septic leach fields but they generally tend to be more expensive and reserved for places without appropriate soil or space. You definitely don't want the slope high. In a properly operating septic system, there should be no solid particles in the leach field...they should all, or very nearly all, have settled out in the tank. You might wash some out if you dumped an excessive amount of waste into it faster than it was designed for, though. Keeping the tank's debris level low enough so the new stuff has time to settle out is important, which is why it should be pumped out on a timely schedule.
  8. wjcandee

    wjcandee Wise One

    Apr 27, 2012
    New York, NY
    Out here we have to have an engineer "design" the system, get the plans approved, and then certify that it was done to the plans and provide an as-built drawing. It also has to pass inspection by our local plumbing inspector. In practice, the engineer works with the installer, who often has a better idea of what is going to work best as a practical matter. Out here, a similar system would be a greater-than-4 multiple of the price you were quoted. An alternative to the runs of pipe is one or more cesspool-like rings into which the water flows from the septic tank and leaches from them into the ground. I believe that alternative is more expensive, so if you can go with a standard installation, you're in good shape.

    Perhaps you shouldn't try to plan the thing yourself, but rather see if there's an engineer or at least an installer who will design something that will meet your jurisdiction's requirements and get it approved; you then contract with him IN WRITING to install what's on the approved plans.

    Manufacturer names are unimportant when doing a generic system. Be sure your contractor gives you the specs of the items he plans to use (gallonage, load, etc.) in the contract, so you will get at least that. Check Angie's List or other references for the guy you plan to use; make sure that he has a few clients 5 years out who are happy with his work. The guy we used was actually recommended (on the downlow) by a plumbing inspector in a neighboring jurisdiction as a guy who did the highest-quality work over the years at a fair price and wouldn't overcomplicate things. We then confirmed with a few plumber friends that they had seen this guy's work, including restoration of the landscaping, and that it was impressive. He worked with the engineer to design the system. He wasn't the lowest-bid, but he was the highest-confidence bid. When it came time for our inspection, the inspector showed up, asked a bunch of questions, gave an incredibly-detailed inspection, and said "Cover it up." The contractor said to me, "That's what happens when you do quality work." He and his two sons were the installation team, and they didn't stop working from when they arrived until when they left, except when Mom brought lunch. Maybe that's the norm where you are, but it isn't here, but clearly that's what you want.

    In other words, ask around and you may be happy you did.

    I don't know about where you are but in our county the septic tank size requirement is a straightforward formula based on the number of bedrooms, at least for a single-family home. The theory is that the system has to be good for a future purchaser, not just for the present occupants.

    Everybody says don't use a disposer with a septic tank. It's doable, of course, or nobody would have disposers, but you do want a good sized tank so that the ground-up food material has an opportunity to settle to the bottom and not stay mixed in the water before it leaves the tank for the fields. For what it's worth, some jurisdictions actually make you use a bigger tank if you have a disposer, for that very reason. The material will start in the scum layer, then settle down to the bottom and be acted upon by the bacteria so that it is turned into sludge.

    Get yourself a diagram of how a tank works...scum layer, sludge layer, baffle, effluent, etc. It's worth understanding when issues like "when to pump" come up.
    Last edited: Mar 19, 2013
  9. suceress

    suceress Member

    Mar 12, 2008
    Yeah, I've looked at the diagram. I read in another thread that the water in the tank isn't supposed to be disturbed too much when the toilet flushes, but every time we had the tank open and watched to make sure it was flushing properly, it gushed out and splashed. It actually splashed up with such force that it nearly hit the plumber in the face.

    Only a handful of people on the list of licensed installers had any reviews at all. I didn't call the ones who had one star ratings. One of the ones who had good ratings said my town was too far. The one who had good ratings and was the most informative on the phone said he's got a lot of jobs but if I don't need it done right away he can do it. Is Angie's List a pay site? I don't have a membership there. I know that my plumber recommended a particular person to do the septic tank but the septic tank guy said not to go with him. Now I don't know if it was bc that guy doesn't hire him or what the deal is. I told every one of the ones I called that I have my own person to drain the tank though. I got the impression my septic draining guy and plumber don't like each other. Neither one of them are as good as the guy I had before who used to do plumbing and drain the tank (he was the father of my current plumber but he passed away).

    I had two guys recommended to me by the guy who drains the septic tank (they call him in to drain the tanks for them before they fill it in. One guy said he would have to charge for the dirt to fill in the old tank and I was thinking that wouldn't be necessary if they filled it with the dirt they dug up for the new tank.

    I know one of the guys told me that a nonstandard alternative would be less expensive than doing it the standard way just because of the number of lines. I don't know though.

    Getting all of the things listed on the contract sounds like a good idea. I like itemized lists.

    Are concrete distribution boxes better than plastic ones? I was just reading about distribution boxes.. Hmm.. I guess concrete would stand up better. The stuff they make out of plastic nowadays is so flimsy. I was told the current tank needs to be drained every 2 years. So the new one would be every 3 or 4 I believe.

    This septic tank crap is really cutting in to my plans for the water softener installation and the bathroom renovation. Need to take out that ugly one piece avacado green shower/tub unit with the cracked bottom.
  10. suceress

    suceress Member

    Mar 12, 2008
    Ok, I know I'm replying to my own thread again. I didn't get in touch with the Sanitarian to ask questions yet.

    Does anyone know much about Infiltrator systems? I will need to ask the various installers what systems they use. If I use something other than the standard 4" pipes, would it change the length needed? Or is this something I would need to ask the Sanitarian?

    I watched a video on the infiltrator system. It said it had to be completely level. Looked interesting.

    I'm still trying to figure out what the most efficient option would be. That system indicates I can drive my tractor over it with a minimum of 12" coverage if I drive across it rather than along the length. I'm guessing I would not be able to drive over the tank at all though. So I might have to put it out a bit more from the house than the current one is.

    Is there someplace that has a list of the different types of leach lines and how they equate?

    Edit: I forgot to add that my current system does not have gravel. I don't know if that makes a difference or not.
    Last edited: Mar 22, 2013
  11. Redwood

    Redwood Master Plumber

    Dec 15, 2007
    Service Plumber
    Throw out anything you learned at E-How as it is a useless content farm loaded with useless articles written by useless authors that are clueless...
    Take a look on E-How at a subject matter you have some expertise in and look at it to see how badly they butcher it... You'll see...
  12. suceress

    suceress Member

    Mar 12, 2008
    I think it all depends on the article. There have been some e-how ones that were useful, but I know what you mean. I've seen some that were utterly useless and ones that were just plain wrong on things.

    I plan to leave this job to the professionals, but I want to be informed about my options and materials. I ran into someone who was old dive buddy of my father's and he recommended someone to me (someone I had previously called who was very friendly but who never called me back with more info-- but he did tell me he might forget and that I should call him back). I'm trying to figure out if he would not want me to call on a Saturday. I tried getting in touch with the board of health guy again but he's only in his office two days a week from 8am to 9:30am and 3pm to 4:30pm. Sometimes he's not in his office on those times either.

    I'm trying to get in touch with Infiltrator Systems to get more information. I found a PDF that said something about the length and percolation but I couldn't make sense of it. I have sort of calculated that based on the 330ft recommendation that my soil percolates at around 3.05 gallons (I *think*)-- a chart I saw somewhere said sandy loam percolates at 2.5gallons. I could be way off since this is far from my area of expertise. But the pdf for the infiltrators was talking about inches and I was confused.

    Will this load for anyone?

    I can't figure out the necessary area of drainfield because this is just so alien to me. I'm waiting for some key piece of info to make it click in place. I have a 3 bedroom house, so I know it should be one of the figures under that. I'm not quite clear what the >12" perc rate thing is about. I don't know how to find the inches in perc rate. I'm just confused.

    Does anyone have experience with these systems? Are there alternative companies that make similar products that are as good or better (or at least less expensive)?
  13. suceress

    suceress Member

    Mar 12, 2008
    An update. After speaking with the guy from the board of health numerous times for clarification on various issues and calling over 20 different contractors (many of whom either didn't answer the phone or said I lived too far away) I narrowed it down to a handful of people. Then I started researching about percolation rates, field line options, etc. I contacted Infiltrator Systems and found out that only one of their field lines was approved for use in my state. I read the documentation for that product and it seemed to indicate that I would need 252ft of field line, but one of the potential installers said it was 198ft. He then told me he could do it all in one run and "they couldn't stop (him)". I didn't like this and told him that the code was no longer than 100ft and he kept insisting he could do it his way but that it would still coast $3200 for a single line of infiltrator. I called the guy from board of health and told him what the installer said and expressed that it made me doubtful of his honesty and I wasn't sure if he was right about the 198ft. He was not happy about the guy's attitude, but I suspect he had complaints before because the first time I ever mentioned that guy's name to the inspector, he cringed ever so slightly and then suggested I shop around. Any time I mentioned that guy's name, he would sort of tense up a little and get this little slight crease line on his forehead. There was a minute shift in his tone when speaking and talking about that guy vs some of the other contractors. I don't want to ruin someone's career, but if the guy is telling customers he'll do something against code, it needs to stop. I ended up calling back a friendly gentleman who had previously given me the lowest price. I talked about the product and what I thought was the right amount of line and asked the price of the actual chambers and he said he normally didn't tell people but since I had taken the time to research he told me. He liked that I was interested in the details. After finding out from the board of health inspector that it was indeed 198ft bc infiltrator has a 40% reduction in length from standard pipe in gravel (and he checked to make sure the license for the guy I was leaning toward was still active) I called the nice informative guy back. I got his answering machine and while leaving a message I got an incoming call. Turns out it was him calling me back. I had e-mailed him satellite photos and permit info and he wanted to talk. I told him the good news about the 198ft (which would end up being 200ft since it is 4ft lengths). He said it would be close to $2800.

    He then mentioned that the septic tank will be a concrete with steel reinforcement thing designed and patented by his father-in-law. He said he can provide me with brochures. I am going to ask for the patent # so I can look it up as well and see the diagrams. I admit I'm a little iffy on going with an unknown tank like that and I'm wondering how to broach asking him to use a better known tank without offending him or causing a dealbreaker. The thing is, I really don't know what tank to go with as an alternative, or if it really matters.

    Any thoughts on that? I've already agreed to use his company as the installer and I requested a detailed itemized contract for my records.

    The fun part will be making sure I can get the inspector and the septic draining guy all out on the same day (or in at the right time for everything to be done). I'll have to give my draining guy (what is the correct term for someone who drains septic tanks?) a heads up.

    The installer gave me a heads up that utility companies would be sending people to my yard to mark lines and make sure nothing gets hit.

    I'm a little bit nervous because this is a big expense but I'm also excited to see how this is done because it is all very fascinating to me.

    On a side note, I bonded with the board of health guy on our mutual appreciation of Mike Holmes. LOL.
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