Where is our septic system/leach field? Can we build/play on the lawn?
April 23, 2012 5:14 PM   Subscribe

My wife and I have found a house and we love it, except that it's on a septic system. We don't mind that, but we're trying to find out if the septic/leach is going to make our backyard unusable or not.

The house was built in 1952 and has a 750gallon concrete septic tank. The owner claims the leach field/lines run S/SW. However, I don't see how that's true with the tree cover he has. We don't want to purchase the house if we're going to have massive problems later. So our question is 1) Is 750gallons enough for a family of 2 adults and 2 children who do normal laundry/shower daily and 2) Are we going to be able to use backyard if the leach field is taking up the majority of the yard? The septic tank is backed against the garage and the lines run S/SW from it out the yard. We'd like to put up a swingset and a deck somewhere for summer days. Can we do that with the setup?

Here is the house on Google Earth.
4022 S. Columbia Tulsa, OK 74105
36° 6'17.29"N
posted by damiano99 to Health & Fitness (13 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
750 sounds small to me. Check for local codes, the minimum size has increased around here - I believe it would be 1000 for 4 bedroom, 2 bath.

You can't plant trees over the field, but a swingset should be fine (again check local code but it shouldn't impact the drain field).

Get the entire system inspected before you buy...if they have trees over the drain field the roots could be a problem - and with septic systems an expensive problem.

We have a septic - I was worried at first, but if they are designed well and maintained (checked and emptied 1/yr or as suggested [we moved to once every 2 years since we have a big tank and limited usage]) you shouldn't have a problem...
posted by NoDef at 5:31 PM on April 23, 2012

750 is smaller than normal these days, but you should be ok. You'll have to get it pumped more often than someone with a 1000-gallon tank (I get mine done every 3-4 years, you'll probably want to halve that), but other than that it should be fine. You might want to get a riser and ground level lid put on so that you don't have to have the ground above it torn up for pumping every two years or so - I think mine cost $500 to do, but it'll save me $200 on each pumping in the future.

A swingset should be just fine, but no decks, no parking pads, and no trees. Also, you should understand that you're going to have to have the drain field moved to another part of your yard every 20-25 years or so - the soil around the field will become saturated with solids and lose its ability to drain - meaning that sewage will back up into your house. Get the system inspected by a septic company before you buy, so that you have some idea of the remaining useful life of the drain field - it's a pretty significant expense (mine was $8000), so you're going to want to know how long you have to save up to have that done.
posted by deadmessenger at 5:49 PM on April 23, 2012

We moved into a house recently that had tree roots growing into the leach field. Cost $5000 upfront to replace, within months of moving in. Not happy. Well worth thinking about carefully.

The field kinda has to go S - SW doesn't it? Where else could it fit? If it's working well, that's not a problem, a swing set and a deck would be fine, but if it breaks down for some reason, that would be a disgusting back yard.

If you do go for it, reduce your water consumption - low flow showerheads, frontloading washing machine, dual flush toilet.

(oh, and just as an aside, there is absolutely no way in hell a town of that size and with that population density wouldn't be properly sewered in Australia. That seems really primitive).
posted by wilful at 6:14 PM on April 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

Looking at the density of the surrounding town, I would be very worried about a mandate from the city to connect the house to the city sewer system at your expense. A similar mandate was enacted in Portland a few years ago to much wailing and gnashing of teeth from the affected homeowners. The Portland city website says typical sewer connection costs are around $10,000.
posted by monotreme at 6:38 PM on April 23, 2012 [2 favorites]

Also, you should understand that you're going to have to have the drain field moved to another part of your yard every 20-25 years or so - the soil around the field will become saturated with solids and lose its ability to drain - meaning that sewage will back up into your house.

I've grown up with septic systems (and an obsessive father wrt plumbing) all my life. Never heard this. Cite?

It seems to me that in a properly functioning septic system solid waste won't reach the leach field. That's what the tank is for: to let the solid waste settle, collect, and then get pumped out every couple years.
posted by sbutler at 7:21 PM on April 23, 2012 [2 favorites]

I just purchased a home with a septic system. Some advice and thoughts:

First, 750 sounds very small. While this is a regionally determined thing, our system (in Stow, MA) is designed for 3 people; it is 1500 gallons, with 4 leach pipes running from the system out across a fairly large meadow.

Secondly, addressing comments about the lifespan of the field itself: yes, your leaching field will need to be replaced or moved eventually. Leach fields do have a limited lifespan, but that lifespan depends upon the soil type, bacteria makeup in the field, and how regularly you maintain (e.g., pump) the system. You can have your field inspected by fiber optic camera by most competent companies; we had a local septic guy come out, dig up the distribution box, and run a camera through each pipe and check on condition for $250. It's well worth doing.

Third, you can certainly use the yard, but you probably don't want to be playing on or doing any planting --even of grass -- where the field is. Get the septic plans, determine your perimeter, and then leave the field alone.
posted by ellF at 8:01 PM on April 23, 2012

I second checking whether the local government may phase out septic systems as it extends the town sewerage system due to new development or other reasons and then expect you to pay for a (mandatory) connection to it. Alternatively, you may be required to change over to an on-site waste treatment plant if the current system needs replacing. I don't think you should panic about it, but it's worth knowing what the future may hold.

My place doesn't have sewerage, wilful and I live in a newly-developed suburb on the Gold Coast. To be fair, though, it's an acreage development.
posted by dg at 8:06 PM on April 23, 2012

You can't plant trees over a septic field, and shouldn't plant them close, either -- you don't want roots in the field. Grass is fine, as are flower gardens (honestly, if the tank is working properly, you can grow vegetables in the field). It's generally a bad idea to put any permanent structures (deck, shed) on a septic field -- field tiles can break, and you'd have to rip out the structure to replace it (you might even break a tile or two during construction). (A properly working septic system will have no effect on the surface of the yard, other than to provide extra moisture and a hot spot over the tank, so allowing kids and dogs to play on it is fine.)

It seems like a small tank, but as it's a mid 1950s construction, it probably has only one bath and no dishwasher (at least when it was built). The only 'problem' with a smallish tank is that it will need to be cleaned more often than a larger tank. Your biggest concern right now should be the health of the field -- if it was well built into well draining soil, it should be ok for a while longer, but you need to have that checked. Also, check to see if the municipality is now/will soon be requiring a sewer connection (when I was in college, the county ran a sewer line down our street, and required all houses to connect to it before they were sold).
posted by jlkr at 9:09 PM on April 23, 2012 [2 favorites]

Most of the wastewater that comes out of a house comes from the shower/bath. That's also the water requiring the least treatment for safe use as backyard irrigation. If you can rearrange your plumbing to divert shower and bath drainage straight out onto your soil (at my house I use a flexible hose that I move from tree to tree each week), you will never have septic tank capacity problems and you will never overload your leach field.

That said: building stuff over the leach field that interferes with the ability of the topsoil to process the leachate is a bad idea, for reasons already mentioned.
posted by flabdablet at 9:28 PM on April 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

Our family has a camp in the woods with a septic system. It would be impossible to connect it to a sewer system (nearest house is over a mile away) so septic is the only reasonable solution. I think ours is 1000 gallon and the leech field is set down a lower level along a hill. That hill grows some of the best blackberries and the flat bit that we mow as a golfing tee has the greenest grass around. Get it inspected and ask around but a septic system isn't that big of a deal. You might want to look into specially septic compatible soaps though.
posted by koolkat at 1:42 AM on April 24, 2012

Contact your local county Sanitarian and tell them your situation. See if they have any recommendations.

Also seconding flabdablet. You may be able to do greywater diversion. Your local Sanitarian will know if this is legal in your county.
posted by MonsieurBon at 3:04 AM on April 24, 2012

Response by poster: Addendum... we just found out the house should hit city sewer in 3 years. They've funded the planning and next year they should fund the actual building of the feed line.
They're going to offer a 3 year abatement to fund each house's connection fees.

With that in mind .. worth it?
posted by damiano99 at 11:37 AM on April 24, 2012

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