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How to Find a Septic Tank

How to Locate a Septic TankIt is not easy to find a septic tank. The first thing to do is contact the local health/zoning office to see if they have a plan on record.  If the system is fairly new you have a chance, but many states didn't start keeping records until the 1990’s and even still they are spotty at best.  Even if they do have a drawing on file, it probably will not match exactly what is in the ground, but it should be close.  If you can find out who installed the system they should be able to tell you where to find the septic tank..     If none of that pans out, then you will want to identify where the sewer main leaves the house.  If you have a basement or crawl space you can look for a 4” black pipe…look where it goes out of the foundation.  If you don't have a basement/crawl space, or the sewer main is under the foundation, you will have to look for the lowest drain in the house.  This is usually a floor drain in the laundry area and this is generally the area where the pipe will leave the house.   Once you have an idea where the pipe exits the house you want to go outside to that part of the house and take a ¼” or ½” steel rod about 5’ long (concrete re-bar will work but a stainless steel rod is better because it doesn't “stick” to soils as much) and start probing the ground next to the foundation until you hit the pipe.  Be careful.  Poke too hard and you could poke a hole in the pipe, particularly if it is older cast iron pipe. Once you find it you will want to move further out a few feet at a time to track the pipe until you find the septic tank.  Tanks are usually 10 to 20 feet away from the house.  Once you find the tank you will want to probe around it to get the outline.  Tanks can be round, square or rectangular, but once you know the size you can start digging right in the middle.   You are trying to find the manhole cover, it could be in the very center, it could be on the inlet side, it could be on the outlet side, there could be 2 or 3 covers, there could be none.  Sad to say there are no standards when it comes to tanks so you get what the manufacturer had at the time.   Finding the distribution box can be a little easier.  It is usually about 10 to 20 feet away from the tank and sometimes you can spot it just by looking at how the grass is growing.  Often the grass will grow greener over the drainfield lines and if you can see the pattern on the lawn where the lines come together, there it is.  If not you can find the distribution box the same way you found the tank. However, it is seldom a snap process, it can be extremely difficult to find the septic tank and distribution box. Many is the homeowner whose yard looks like a minefield by Sunday night, and they still haven't found the tank or d-box.   The obstacles you can run into are:·        Tight clay soils.  Clay can be difficult not only to stick a probe into; it can be tough to pull it back out.  ·        Rocky soils.  You think you hit the tank so you start digging only to find a rock.  And that can happen over and over.   ·        Deep systems.  More than 2 or 3 feet deep can be a real treat to track and dig.  ·        Older systems.  Back in the old days people did what ever they wanted.  Sometimes you will find pipes that seem to twist and turn then disappear into nothing.  Other times you will find something really inventive, like a Volkswagen buried in the yard and being used as a cesspool.  Swear to god, it happens.   This is why I suggest biting the bullet and hiring a full service contractor to find the septic tank (I say a full service contractor because some pumpers will only pump tanks, they won’t find them).  And often a good contractor can tell where everything is just by the lay of the land.  And if they can't spot it by eye, they have the tools to find them easier, some even have small radio transmitters that they can flush down the drain and track as it goes through the system.      And here is another thing, what happens if you do find the septic tank/d-box…what are you going to do after finding it?  Do you have the tools and know-how to replace a missing baffle?  Do you have a line jetter or rooter sitting in the garage? How about that 3,000 gallon pump truck to empty the tank?  Probably not.Of course once you have the pro find everything, you can mark it (there are small markers you can use to landmark the system) and know where everything is.   No one likes to spend money on things like locating your septic tank, but put it in perspective: if you had city sewer, you could easily spend $300 per year for sewage treatment.  Over 10 years that would be $3,000.  Spending $200 to $500 to have your system located and maintained is not too bad.  And if you take care of your system, which means pumping the tank every 1 to 3 years, practicing wise water/chemical use, an effluent filter in the tank and a washing machine filter in the house, the cost to maintain your system could drop down to $25 per year.  Not a bad deal when you think about it.   

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Laundry Chute Information

Laundry Chute InformationLaundry chutes can be a very convenient way of transporting dirty clothes to the laundry room. However, some people are concerned that laundry chutes might be a fire hazard, helping spread flames upward. Are they? Here is what some experts have to say on the topic:"They can have a chimney effect; you can get smoke and fire up through all the floors," said Karen Harris of the American Institute of Architects.But wait, noted residential fire expert Roy Marshall: "A stairway does the same thing."And fire code expert Bill Rehr has a laundry chute in his Wheaton, Ill., home. "We use it all the time," he said. "My son stuffs his Levi's down there."And, experts point out, most laundry chutes have doors, which further reduces the spread of a fire.Still, they recommend checking with a home inspector or contractor to make sure your laundry chute doesn't empty near a hot-water heater or furnace.But neither Marshall, director of the Residential Fire Safety Institute, nor Rehr, a senior staff member at the International Code Council, knows of any laws prohibiting laundry chutes in single-family homes.If you're still concerned, they say, ask at your city hall.So relax, laundry masters and mistresses, your chute is probably quite safe.Your attachment to it, on the other hand, may be a bit odd.People still recall decades-old laundry-chute adventures.They yell messages through chutes, and use them to eavesdrop on basement conversations. They have special poles to keep the chutes clear.They remember making mischief with them as children, then grow up trying to keep their own youngsters - and pets - from doing the same thing.Gopal Ahluwalia of the National Association of Home Builders is familiar with such enthusiasm for laundry chutes. He also said there's no data on their numbers.The association recently assembled two focus groups in San Antonio to determine what laundry-room features were important to homeowners."Both groups asked us the same exact question. That was a surprise," Ahluwalia said. "In each group someone said, 'Can you build in a laundry chute?' "There's little, if any, research on the history of laundry chutes. Martin Hackl, a building restoration contractor and consultant in Oak Park, Ill., has seen them in homes built as long ago as 1914."I think they were probably earlier than that," Hackl said. "I would guess they go back to the 19th century."He added: "I'll never live in another two-story house without one."The laundry chute in Doug Johnson and Brett Copeland's restored Washington, D.C., brownstone is just as adored."Our house is quite tall, a basement and three floors," Johnson said. "We have laundry chutes in the kitchen and every hall, which I love."Johnson said he does the laundry, so partner Copeland "thinks it's magic" - he puts his dirty laundry down the chute and clean clothes appear again.The only snag is, well, snags. "Stuff does get hung up in it sometimes," Johnson said. "We have an old broom handle so when it gets blocked you stick the pole up there and 50 pounds of clothes fall on your face."Architect Harris, of Denver, said most laundry chutes are framed into a home when it's built. They're often drywalled or lined with ductwork, with a door at the top or on each floor.Homeowners looking for something fancy might consider what may be the most expensive option, a push-button laundry chute door from Herbau Creations of America in Naples, Fla.Manufactured in France by a company dating to 1857, the Herbau Ariege comes in five different finishes ranging in price from $850 to $1,000. "We sell a lot of them," said Herbeau's Randi Durgin.

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Mound Septic System Information

Mound Septic System Information PageA mound septic system is used for aberrant soil conditions.  In order for effluent (waste water) to be completely treated it must pass slowly through 3 feet of dry soil.  If you have a high water table, lets say at 1 foot below the surface, you need to bring in 2 feet of soil (sand) to get that 3 foot of separation.  Then you build the drainfield on top of that....thus a mound septic system. The pipes in a mound septic system are laid out in a double H pattern. The pipe is 1½" in diameter with ¼" holes. A mound septic system use 2 tanks...this first tank is used as a normal tank (for settling of the solids) and the second tank has a pump in it that when the water level reaches a certain point or with a timer, the pump kicks on and pushes the effluent to the  mound...because of the small pipe and holes, the effluent is distributed (under pressure) evenly throughout the mound.      A mound septic system is also used when you have rocky soil because the effluent will run right through it without being treated.  Conversely, if the soil is too slow mounds can be used because a large portion of the effluent is returned to the atmosphere via evaporation so a mound will make up for slow soils.      The mound septic system is really the grand daddy of alternative systems.  They were developed in 60's by the University of Wisconsin and can pretty much be used in any situation.    The drawbacks to a mound septic system are:   ·        They are more expensive.  To dig a trench and fill it with gravel is fairly easy and therefore relatively inexpensive.  To build a mound is a lot more involved (even requiring special tracked equipment) and obviously cost more to build.  ·      They are ugly.  Essentially they are a lump of dirt in your yard and very few people find this attractive.  However there are people that are using paver blocks and decorative plants to landscape them and many of them actually enhance the yard because they are so beautiful.  The University of Minnesota Extension Service has a publication on landscaping mounds.    ·        They fail more frequently than a conventional system.The 3 main things that kill a mound septic system are:   1. -Suspended solids in the effluent.  A mound septic system, like an aerobic, sand filters, drip and spray irrigation and wetland systems, use pumps to move the effluent through the system.  They also have smaller diameter pipes with smaller diameter holes.    The primary cause of pump burnout and pipe plugging is solids in the effluent.  These solids damage the impellers in the pumps and plug the holes in the pipes.  These solids also plug the pores of the soil (which is the major source of any system failure...tanks don’t fail, the soil fails and the soil fails when it gets plugged with solids).  This is why it is critical to use effluent filters in the tank and washing machine filters in the house to keep these solids out of system.  The total cost of these filters is about $300.    Often the contractor or homeowner plays it cheap and doesn't want to spend the extra money on these filters, but when the system fails in 3, 5 or 7 years, and they find out it is going cost another $6,000 to replace it, that $300 looks pretty small and they wish they would have spent the extra dough in the beginning.  Even replacing a pump can cost $300 to $600 so these filters pay for themselves in short order.        2. -Overloading the system with water. Systems are sized according to the worst case scenario. Most families will only use 100-250 gallons of water per day...but the system will be sized to 500 gals per day, plenty of cushion...but if you have leaking fixtures like toilets and faucets you can overload the system in a matter of days. You avoid this by making sure you don't have plumbing leaks.   3.-Putting too many harsh chemicals into the system killing off the bacteria in the tank and soil. Your system works on a natural bacterial process of bacteria in the soil and tank that "eat" the nasty things in the wastewater. If you put in chemicals that kill these bacteria the system will fail and you prevent these problems by paying attention to what you are putting down the drain (normal amounts of cleaning supplies will not hurt a system).   If the system is overloaded with water you stop using so much and the system will dryout and start working again. If you kill off the bacteria you can stop using chemicals and they will grow back...but if you plug the system with solids it gets tough to recover it...you can jet the lines but you will still have solids in the soil...sometimes you can get them to breakdown, sometimes you can't. The best way to prevent solids from reaching the mound is to install a washing machine filter to keep the very fine solids out of the system and an effluent filter (in the tank) to prevent the larger solids from getting out to the mound or any type of system for that matter.   Not cheap to install and maintain.  Uses pumps that burn electricity and burn out.  Good for removal of pathogens and better at removing nitrogen…an issue near bodies of water.   Sand filters-with a sand filter you have 2 tanks (just like a mound) but the effluent comes out of the tank and is sprayed over a box of sand that is buried underground.  The effluent filters through the sand then is pumped to a regular drainfield or mound.   Not cheap to install and maintain.  Uses pumps that burn electricity and burn out.  Sand gets plugged and needs removal/replacement.  Good for removal of pathogens and better at removing nitrogen…an issue near bodies of water.   Peat filters-same as a sand filter except peat takes the place of the sand.    Not cheap to install and maintain.  Uses pumps that burn electricity and burn out.  Peat degrades and needs replacing every 6 to 17 years.  Good for removal of pathogens and lots better at removing nitrogen…an issue near bodies of water.  Recirculating Sand filters-with a sand filter you have 2 tanks (just like a mound) but the effluent comes out of the tank and is sprayed over the buried sandbox.  The effluent filters through the sand then is pumped to a tank where it is pumped back through the sand filter 4-6 times (for better nitrogen removal) then discharged to a regular drainfield or mound.    Not cheap to install and maintain.  Uses pumps that burn electricity and burn out.  Sand gets plugged and needs removal/replacement.  Good for removal of pathogens and better at removing nitrogen…an issue near bodies of water.

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Dual Compartment Septic Tank

Some experts believe that a dual compartment septic tank does a better job of settling solids than a single compartment septic tank. A dual compartment septic tank has two compartments. The first is usually longer, about twice as large as the second compartment. One of the disadvantages is that a dual compartment septic tank needed to be pumped more frequently. Dual compartment septic tanks are required by law in some states, one of the reasons they are becoming more common.

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Drain Field Rejuvenation

Drain field failure is actually pretty easy to understand. When a system fails, the tank itself doesn't fail- the drainfield soil fails. In most cases the soil fails when it gets plugged up with solids and won't allow liquid to pass through it. Forexample, it can get plugged with solids from the tank if the tank hasn't been pumped, or with lint from a washing machine. Now for your drain field rejuvenation secrets: (more…)

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Drain Field Ground Water

Drain field ground water problems are pretty common in this country. This is particularly true of shallow ground water. The people that get really sick from it are the young (because their immune systems are not fully developed), the old (because their immune systems are getting weak) and people that are already sick from other things (because their immune systems are already weak).  Healthy adults will build immunities to many of these bugs. Often visitors will get the stomach flu because they do not have these immunities built up. It's the same thing in Mexico.  The first few months you are their you will get sick...but after a while you will build immunities and then you can tolerate it. (more…)

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Conventional Septic System

Advantages of a conventional septic system: Lower cost Simple design, no pumps to burn out or clog up Septic contractors familiar with design Disadvantages of a conventional septic system: Not all locations are suitable for conventional septic systems. These reasons include but are not limited to lack of space for a drainfield, high water table, proximity to wells and/or other bodies of water, inadequate percolation rates etc. (more…)

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Concrete Septic Tank

Concrete septic tanks are used in most septic systems. One of the main advantages they have over fiberglass and plastic septic tanks is that they are less prone to "floating" due to the fact they are much heavier. Concrete septic tanks do have one main drawback. Because they are much heavier than other types of septic tanks, they require heavy equipment to move. Both fiberglass and polyethylene septic tanks can easily be moved by a labor crew, whereas concrete septic tanks typically require a truck equipped with a crane and boom. As as result, fiberglass tanks are often used in areas inaccessible to concrete septic tank delivery trucks. (more…)

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Commercial Septic System

Commercial septic systems are similar to residential septic systems in some ways. For example, they are both used in areas not served by municipal sewer systems. However, there are some special considerations to be taken into account, such as: Higher volumes and/or faster flow Harsher cleaners and chemical in wastewater Other substances in the wastewater, such as greases (more…)

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Cesspool

What is a cesspool? A cesspool is an underground pit into which sewage is discharged. They used to be the standard type of household waste disposal system and still can be found in older homes. There are a number of problems associated with cesspools. First of all, cesspools do not do a good job of treating wastewater. For one, the waste goes too far down into the ground, which is bad for two reasons. First of all, waste is best treated by the top 26 inches of soil, which contains aerobic (oxygen-consuming) bacteria. Aerobic bacteria process waste material much quicker than anaerobic bacteria (which don't use oxygen and are found below this point). Secondly, because the waste goes deeper into the ground, it is much more likely to get into the groundwater before being treated by bacteria. In fact, if you have a well, it can pull the sewage right back into your house. There are still a fair number of homes around the country where you can flush a red dye down the toilet, and 20 minutes later it will be coming out of the kitchen faucet. (more…)

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Chamber Septic System

Chamber Septic System Information Page In a traditional system the trench is filled with gravel. The uneven shape of the gravel performs 2 functions:  The voids in between the gravel are filled with oxygen (most of the time) and these pockets of oxygen allow aerobic bacteria to exist.  The voids also provide temporary storage for the effluent in the trench until it can drain out of the trench into the surrounding soil. (more…)

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Biodegradable Detergent

The vast majority of detergents, particularly the brand name detergents, are not biodegrable. They contain chemicals such optical brighteners, dyes, artificial fragrances, and a number of other non-natural ingredients. You can read about this in more detail in our laundry detergent ingredients article. In general, if the ingredients contain words like "ionic and non-ionic surfactants" you can be sure it is not truly natural, eco-friendly detergent. (more…)

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