Drainfield Red Flags

can't see drain field issues

Your septic system is rarely thought of, but it plays a vital role in your everyday life! From laundry to dishwashing, your septic system is in play.

An important part of your septic system is the drainfield. The drainfield is largely responsible for hosting and holding water from the septic tank that will eventually be absorbed into the surrounding soil. When you overload your system, or if your system isn’t working properly, the drainfield can become negatively affected. 

As a homeowner, it’s important to know and recognize the signs of drainfield problems.

Don’t Turn a Blind Eye to Drainfield Red Flags 

  1. Sewage Odors: Whether it’s indoors or outdoors, sewage odors are a big, smelly, red flag.  
  1. Standing Water or Wet Spots: Keep an eye out for anything slimy, standing water, or recurring wet spots in your yard. 
  1. Slow Flushing Toilets: Annoying AND problematic. Slow flushing toilets are definitely a sign that something isn’t working properly. 
  1. Slow Drainage In Sink or Tubs: This is another red flag that something in your septic system isn’t working properly, whether it be a drainfield issue or a clogged pipe. 

Common Causes and Culprits  

The most common cause of drainfield problems is improper maintenance, but other culprits include soil compaction from parked vehicles, tree roots damaging or breaching your drainfield, and excessive grease in your septic system. 

So, What’s The Big Deal?

Drainfield problems, if not treated in a timely manner, can result in both indoor and outdoor water damage. If any of that toxic sewage enters your home, you’ll also be dealing with potential health hazards, mold, and mildew.  

Get Ahead of Drainfield Problems 

A regularly and properly maintained septic system means you can rest easy! Not sure how to care for your home’s septic system? Contact the pro’s here at BBB!  

BBB Solutions: Water Efficiency

All of the water your household uses gets sent down its pipes and into its septic system, and so reducing your water usage, or using your water efficiently, helps avoid potential issues and damages such as septic system overloading or failure, drainfield problems, clogged pipes, and contamination of local water sources.

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Composting: Turning Garbage Into Gold

We shared what foods to avoid putting down your garbage disposal, but don’t worry! We won’t leave you with a handful of scraps. 

Instead of throwing food waste down the drain or into the garbage, we recommend composting. 

The Long And Short Of It

Compost consists of decomposed organic materials, while composting refers to the natural process by which compost is created. Finished compost is dark in color and rich in nutrients, making it a highly valued soil additive referred to by gardeners as Black Gold. 

But Wait! There’s More! 

Composting isn’t just good for your garden, it’s good for the environment and good for your garbage disposal. 

In a 2017 study on household composting, researchers tracked household waste in a series of homes over the course of a year and discovered that, on average, composting saved 277 pounds of waste per person that otherwise would have gone to decompose in landfills. Though organic matter does naturally decompose in landfills, it does so underground and undergoes a process that produces methane – a greenhouse gas that’s bad for the environment and 84 times more potent than carbon dioxide. Meanwhile, composting at home occurs above ground and allows access to oxygen, meaning decomposition can occur sans methane.

(Know your meme! Come on a Neature Walk.)

Composting is also good for your garbage disposal! While your garbage disposal can handle a lot, there are various foods and food waste that require a different method of discard, lest you invite clogging, drainage issues, and unpleasant sink odor. Avoid the mess and stress by feeding your garden instead of your garbage disposal! 

Composting At Home

To start composting at home, all you need is a bin or large bucket that you’ll keep outside in a dry area. Make sure that it has a lid, or that you can easily cover the top of your compost bin – we recommend using a tarp.

And so the science of composting begins! Your ingredients should include: 

Browns – hay, straw, leaves, branches, twigs, and small paper scraps

Greens – vegetable and fruit scraps, egg shells, coffee grounds, and grass clippings

Water 

You’ll want to add your ingredients in layers, and make sure you dampen them with water when you add more to your compost pile. For best results, turn it with a gardening tool every few weeks and make sure it gets up to at least three feet tall so everything heats up nice and even. You’ll know it’s ready to add to your garden when it looks crumbled, and resembles soil rather than scraps! This process can take up to two months or longer, so be patient. 

Do you have your own compost pile? Tag us on social media and let us see your hard work! 

Finding The Source: Five Common Causes For Septic System Damage

Out of sight, out of mind – right? Not quite the case when it comes to your septic system. 

Though your pipes, drains, and tanks lay neatly tucked away, they remain vital parts of a larger system that works to ensure your household is running smoothly, and therefore requires the same care and maintenance as your other everyday appliances. 

Without proper care and maintenance, your septic system becomes increasingly susceptible to damage. Septic damage often makes itself known by way of messy leaks and unpleasant overflow, but what causes the damage in the first place? 

Here are five common causes of septic damage to be aware of: 

Improper Disposal of Non-Biodegradable Materials 

“What do non-biodegradable materials have in common with (most!) canceled public figures?

They’re problematic.” 

Non-biodegradable items such as sanitary wipes, paper towels, band-aids, cotton swabs, and kitty litter are all bad news for your septic system. These materials don’t easily break down and are likely to collect, which can cause troublesome clogs as well as messy backflow. 

If the material you’re considering flushing isn’t biodegradable, or if it falls on our list of top five things to stop putting down your garbage disposal, we urge you to consider proper or alternative methods of discard; for example, some food waste materials that are bad for your garbage disposal can be repurposed into compost! 

Exceeding Capacity 

Many a good septic system has fallen victim to overuse, be it from general water inefficiency or a sudden increase in use (more house guests = more water usage).

It’s important to remember that every septic system has a capacity limit, and when you overload your system, solids don’t adequately settle and necessary bacterial activity becomes limited. This clogs the drain field and can lead to other issues, including reduced septic tank efficiency or a complete septic system breakdown. 

For better water efficiency, try being mindful of your tank capacity, your daily water usage from laundry and dish cleaning, and go easy on those extra long showers. 

Chemical Damage 

With time, or in excess, household cleaners and other seemingly benign chemicals (ex: detergent, drain cleaners, nail polish remover, paint thinners, varnishes, etc.) can be harmful to your septic system. 

These chemicals have varying effects including corrosion of drains, clogging of pipes, killing of necessary bacteria, and potentially damaging the ecosystem or water supply. 

To avoid or stay ahead of chemical damage, dispose in minimal amounts and keep up with your recommended septic maintenance schedule. 

Accidental External Damage

Gardening and landscaping are great ways to upgrade your outdoor space, just make sure you (or your hired professionals!) have a good lay of the land. After all, it’s easy to accidentally hit a pipe or septic tank if you’re unfamiliar with where the septic system is laid, and if you need help figuring it out – give us a ring! 

Natural Causes 

Speaking of external damage, nature sure can take its toll! Common culprits include plant and tree roots, and cold weather. 

Plant and tree roots seek out water sources, and if planted too closely to your drain field they may invade your pipes or tank. We recommend not planting your flowers, shrubs, and trees too close to your drain field, or choosing plants that have shallow roots. 

Now, while cold weather is rather unavoidable, you can work proactively to get ahead of it and avoid the possibility of frozen pipes and drains altogether! Our pros are happy to give your system a good look to ensure all parts of your system are well insulated. 

Raw sewage can be extremely hazardous to your health, so if you’re experiencing leaks, overflow, or other septic issues, please don’t hesitate to contact us

Lou & Swirly Say: Follow These Septic System Do’s & Don’ts

What you do or don’t do for your septic system can make all the difference! To prolong your systems lifespan and avoid costly septic damage, review these do’s and don’ts and share them with your household. 

Septic System Do’s 

  • DO have your septic system inspected annually. 
  • DO call a professional if you have issues with your system.
  • DO keep accurate records of septic system fixes and maintenance. 
  • DO use household cleaners and chemicals in moderation. 
  • DO dispose of food waste, non-biodegradable materials, and chemicals properly.
  • DO spread laundry and dishwashing throughout the week. 

Septic System Don’ts 

  • DON’T let water run unnecessarily. 
  • DON’T expand the size of your residence without adjusting your septic system. 
  • DON’T park over your drainfield. 
  • DON’T use septic tank additives without consulting a professional. 
  • DON’T put non-biodegradable materials down the drain. 
  • DON’T wash chemicals like paint thinners, oils, weed/insect killer down the drain.
  • DON’T flush pharmaceuticals down the drain. 

Spring Cleaning In A Time Of Social Distancing

In light of recent current events, many of us are spending an unprecedented amount of time in our homes with limited access to the day-to-day activities that help provide us with a semblance of normalcy. For most, the result is this: lots and lots of down time and a general sense of unbalance. Now, we too have seen much of the mass online messaging that offers the chiding advice to “make the most” of this time, and so we gently say: For those who are using this down time to process, we honor and support you. And for those who feel a desire to keep busy during these strange times, we recommend taking the leap to tackle your spring cleaning.

Spring Cleaning Benefits

For all of our fellow social distancers who are just itching to keep busy, spring cleaning is a great way to occupy time, and it works to uplift your mental and physical health which is certainly a welcome benefit during these trying times. In fact, reports from experts say benefits can range from improved mood and reduced stress, to illness prevention and improved breathing.

Here at BBB we recommend the three C’s approach to spring cleaning: create, clear, and clean. 

Create 

Spring cleaning your entire home might seem like a daunting task. To help negate this, try creating a list or a coming up with a game plan for what you’d like to see accomplished. Consider adding on projects you may typically ignore or push off, like septic maintenance or closet clean outs. And the best thing about a list? The satisfaction of crossing off a completed task! Now, when creating your game plan, think about what sort of cleaning system usually works best for you and/or your housemates. Do you prefer completing one room at a time? Or once you start dusting in one room, do you prefer to go ahead and dust the whole house? Regardless, knowing what you want to do, and how you’re going to do it are helpful in making your spring cleaning feel less intimidating. 

Clear

Clearing away unwanted or unused items during spring cleaning helps to tidy and open up the space in your home. You’ll feel better after this decluttering – we promise. To start, gather up clothes and shoes that no longer fit or go unworn, broken items you never got around to fixing (it’s been years, my friend – time to let it go!), and toys your kid’s have outgrown, and then ready them for rehoming to a place in need or disposal (speaking of disposal, are you using yours properly?). If the items are still good quality, try donating them to a local nonprofit. After all, it feels good to do good! 

Clean

The last, but certainly not least “C”: clean. Now, more than ever, cleanliness is of the utmost importance. With new viruses (looking at you, COVID-19) reportedly able to survive on surfaces for up to 72 hours and seasonal allergies affecting those with sensitive respiratory systems, it’s vital to sanitize and remove dust from surfaces. When spring cleaning, take special note to include those hard to reach or generally forgotten areas, such as tops of ceiling fans, behind heavy furniture, or between appliances.

Happy spring cleaning, and stay safe and sane out there friends! 

Power Outages and Your Septic System: What Homeowners Should Know

Power Outages and Your Septic System: What Homeowners Should Know

Q: What effect does a power outage have on my septic system, STEP system, or sewer system?

A: If you have a completely standard gravity system, it will function normally. However, if your system has a pump and/or alarm system, your sewer system could be heavily affected, depending on how long the power is off. Read more below.

More About Pump + Alarm Systems

In some cases, septic tank outlet water, otherwise known as “effluent”, has to be pushed uphill to the designated absorption area. This “absorption” area, can also be referred to as “lateral lines” or the “lateral field”.  If there exists a pump as a part of the wastewater system and the power goes out, the warning system that exists to alert that there is a problem also functions on electricity and will not work. 

Reasons for having a pump and alarm as a part of the system include: 

  • The absorption area is uphill from the tank location
  • A spider valve or hydro-splitter is used for distribution of the effluent
  • The city sewer hook-up is actually a city STEP system
  • The city sewer hook-up requires a pump (as with the Bella Vista Village Wastewater System)
  • The home has plumbing in a basement below the septic tank inlet and a pump is required to push everything from the lower area up to the tank

In all of these situations, there will be some storage for wastewater available; the storage capacity is generally from 200-250 gallons. Account for 50-75 gallons of water usage per person each day– it doesn’t take long to fill up that storage area! Once that capacity has been reached, the wastewater will begin to back up into the pipes and eventually will end up in the home if water is continually used– a situation neither the homeowner nor septic companies want to deal with. 

The Bottom Line

If you find yourself in the situation, use water sparingly and pay attention to warning signs. Additionally, take these steps to extend the capacity: 

  • Loosen or remove the cap on the main line cleanout, which is usually a 3″-4” white cap located just outside the foundation of the house
  • Loosen the lid to the pump chamber and/or septic tank. 
    • They are usually fastened with a series of screws that will require a regular Phillips or Allen head screwdriver, or possibly a hex bolt head, sized 7/16”, 1/2” or even 9/16”
  • NOTE: When loosening the cleanout cap or the lids, the idea is to allow the extra wastewater to relieve itself outside (as opposed to inside the house). This may be a bit messy, but a mess outside is far better than one inside!

At BBB Septic, we hope to provide you with the best information to keep your home’s septic system functioning properly– especially in times of emergency. If you live in the Northwest Arkansas area and have any further questions regarding power outages and your septic system, please reach out via phone or email. 

Can you landscape over a septic drain field?

Question from Buddy:


Need some expert advice, please. Is it OK to add soil on top of an existing drain field? Our backyard is a slope (of course). We would like to terrace a small part of the yard. It is over a portion of the upper one or two drain trenches. This would add a few inches of soil on 3–4 terraces. Any advice appreciated.

Answer from Jon:

Hey Buddy,

The simple answer is yes. 

To expand just a little, 

  • Be sure to use equipment that will not compact the soil as you are spreading the dirt. We recommend “track” vehicles like a skid steer. Tractors with wheels put more pressure on a smaller space. It’s similar to how a waterbed can be really heavy but, because the weight is displaced over a larger area, it doesn’t put too much pressure on one part of the floor. 
  • Use good soil and plant grass if possible. All of your household wastewater is going out to your septic system, and most of the water will go down through the soil and be purified. However, the roots from plants help to wick some of the water to the top for evaporation.
  • You can plant trees around your system, just be careful about which kind of trees.

A Conversation about STEP Systems

Hey guys,
It’s Amanda Gainey with The Brandon Group. Can you tell me generally how a STEP system works? I have a client I would like to connect with you, but for right now, we are trying to understand the general idea of a STEP system. You guys are always so helpful. Thank you in advance!

Good morning, Amanda.

The term STEP (Septic Tank Effluent Pumping) system refers to the sewer setup you will find in cities like Cave Springs, Bethel Heights, Elm Springs, and subdivisions where there is no city sewer hookup to a standard wastewater treatment plant. In our area, the infrastructure has not kept up with recent growth, so homebuilders are left with a dilemma.

In order for a lot to support its own septic system, it must be very large to accommodate the absorption lateral lines. One method of getting more houses into a smaller area is to incorporate a STEP system. The idea is that every home has its own septic tank, but instead of putting a lateral line system on each lot, the effluent water from all the tanks is sent to a central location where it can be collected, treated, and sent out to the community lateral lines.


In Cave Springs, for example, each house has its own septic tank and pump chamber, and each homeowner is totally responsible for its upkeep and maintenance. The effluent water is pumped from each house to a common pipe that runs to the collection plant behind The Creeks Golf Course. Once they treat the effluent water, it’s distributed throughout the golf course just below the grass and serves as an irrigation system.


Bethel Heights has several fields around town where their effluent water is distributed in the same way, just below grass level. Each house connected to the system has its own septic tank and pump chamber, however, the city takes care of all the upkeep and maintenance out of the sewer fees they collect. The homeowners use the system as if they were hooked up to city sewer.

Hi Jon,

When you say “each house connected to that system has its own septic tank and pump chamber, and each homeowner is totally responsible for its upkeep and maintenance,” what all does that involve? Is there monthly or annual upkeep and maintenance that I will need to factor in? Is there some sort of owner manual that will explain to me the proper way to maintain the tank? And is there an expected lifespan for how long a properly maintained system should last?


Hi Amanda,
Great questions.

  • The city will charge you a monthly sewer bill. There are no reoccurring fees besides that.
  • The septic tank needs to be pumped out every 3–5 years depending on occupancy and use.
  • The only other expenses will be repair costs if you have any malfunctions with the pump or alarm systems. This is not common but can happen. That being said, you don’t ever have to worry about a failure in your absorption lateral field because you won’t have one—the city has to maintain the lines for everyone. 

A septic system can last forever as long as those points are taken care of. There are no manuals about a STEP system’s operations. You can find out everything you need to know about septic systems and best practices for their care and operations on our website, bbbsesptic.com.

Blessings,

Jon J