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!  

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. 

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. 

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

Sewer Odors Inside

I was asked by a home inspector why there would be a bad smell inside a house that seems to be coming from the bathroom. Here is what I told him to look for:

Often, when a house has a few years on it, homeowners decide to upgrade their bathrooms. Many times, they change their flooring as a part of that process, and tile is a popular choice. When installing tile in a house built on a slab, typically you can just take up the original covering and cement the tile directly to the slab. It is a bit different when the house or bathroom is on a subfloor. You must first install a hard surface like HardieBacker cement board that adds roughly 1/2 inch to the height of the floor. Then you add 1/8–1/4 inch of cement and top it off with the tile, which is about 1/4-inch thick. When you are finished, you’ve added nearly a full inch to the height of the floor.

Why does this matter, and what does it have to do with odors?

When a house is first built, a flange is installed on the surface of the floor to which a toilet is bolted. A wax ring is used to seal the base of the toilet to the flange. Interestingly, toilets are different than any other drains in the house. All of the other drains like sinks, showers, tubs, washing machines, floor drains, etc., have a P-trap under them that always has a small amount of water resting in the bottom of a curved pipe. The purpose is to provide a vapor barrier to keep the sewer gases from coming back up through the drains.

The toilet has a P-trap built into it, and it’s a straight pipe once it hits the floor. Which translates to this: If the floor has been raised by an inch and the flange is still where it was originally, there will be a gap where vapors can escape. The toilet won’t leak at the base when you flush because it’s shaped like a funnel at the bottom and hovers over the flange. It will usually only leak if the plumbing backs up.

The remedy is to install a jumbo wax ring, which is on the same shelf in your hardware store and costs just a fraction more than the standard wax ring. This will fill in that extra gap and give you a good seal at the base of the toilet and should eliminate your odor problem.

Here’s another odor thought:

If your house has been vacant for a while, or if the kids have moved out and nobody has used their bathroom for a long time, the P-traps can dry out and allow sewer gases to escape into the house. This has an easy solution: Simply run water in all drains periodically to ensure there is always some water in the P-trap. You can also add a very small cap-full of vegetable oil to the drain. You only need to add enough oil to form a thin layer of oil on top of the water standing in the P-trap. The oil layer will protect the water from evaporating and water will easily break through it when the drain is used again. The key here is a thin layer. Don’t overdo it.