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Thread: Uphill septic system

  1. #1

    Default Uphill septic system

    Hello,

    My wife and I are thinking about buying a new home in NC. This is the first time that we've lived in the mountains. The home we're looking at is new construction. I noticed that the waste water comes out of the house, and then it's sent through a pump about 70 feet uphill (backyard) to a septic system at the top of the property. I can only imagine that the septic field then runs back downhill toward the house. Is this a typical/reliable setup? Or will this mean problems in the future?

    They could not put the septic field in the front yard because there is a small stream. County code does not allow septic systems that close to running water.

    Thanks!

  2. #2
    In the Trades Bob NH's Avatar
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    It is done when there is no alternative.

    Be aware of four things:

    1. When the power is off, you have no pumping. The amount of water that you can use depends on the capacity of the sump. If you are on a well, you may not have any water anyway. If you use a generator to supply water, plan on connecting the sewage pump to it. With a gravity system you can flush a toilet with a bucket of water from the stream. You can't do that if the electric sewage pump isn't working.

    2. You will know quickly when the septic system fails or gets flooded because of ground saturation, because water and sewage flow downhill.

    3. You will have to deal with a replacement pump from time to time. You should learn how it works, what it costs to replace it, and the make and model number of the pump. Know who is going to service it. Make sure you are getting a very good and reliable pump with capacity margin; not a piece of junk that will just make it past the house warranty.

    4. A pumped septic system, rather than a gravity system, should REDUCE the value of the home by $2000 to $3000, which is the present value of your future costs for electricity, reduced reliability, service calls, replacement pumps, and reduced resale value. Part of that could cover the cost of an emergency generator.

  3. #3
    In the Trades Gary Swart's Avatar
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    Sure would make me think twice before buying the house.

  4. #4

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    Thanks for the good advice. What about the fact that the house is downhill of the septic system? Is there any health concern there? Would this affect my basement in any way?

  5. #5
    In the Trades Bob NH's Avatar
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    "What about the fact that the house is downhill of the septic system? Is there any health concern there? Would this affect my basement in any way?"

    It depends how far down hill and if surface water from the leach field area is drained away from the house. Also, is the soil surrounding the septic system impervious or granular.

    In recent years it has become a practice to elevate the bed above the water table and protect it from infiltration of runoff. Then the edge of the leach field is sealed with an impervious layer of clay so it won't break out and run down to your house.

    I would be more concerned about proximity to my well.

  6. #6
    Rancher
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    100' from well to leach field, min.... How much elevation change is there? How far in distance from the basement, and what do you plan to have in the basement (I shouldn't be asking basement questions it's been 40 years since I've seen one).

    Rancher

  7. #7

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    I do not see any reduction in value. Appraisers certainly do not have a pumped septic on their downside checklist. Systems now are quite reliable and my own has run for 10 years without fail.

    I have 3 pumped septics, being in a mountainous and rocky area, they are becoming quite common. Granted it is not a situation one wishes for unless there is an option. I pump one because the leach field is on the other side of a river - there is a trap in the line and thus I must push sediment at a certain velocity.

    The idea of properties that cannot be built on due to lack of septic area below a home site has been very good to me. I bought a "unbuildable" 5 acres next to two streams for 12,000$ - on the sheer side of the mountain. Cut in some terraces and pumped to the top one. Sold it for a multiplier of +25 recently.

    ORENCO peddles a expensive system, but now I use my own concoction from Graingers and others to do the same thing.

    If one hooks up 20 or 40 feet of leach pipe on the outlet of the tank [illegally, typically] that will suffice to tide you over with reduced use when the pump fails or the power is out. The pumps are set up to cycle below the tank outlet, so this pipe is a sort fail-safe device that I use.

    If you have a pumped system, then a sanitarian or engineer of that sort designed it, so you need not worry about the down hill issues. Probably you have a neighbor above that anyway with another tank.

  8. #8
    Plumber Cass's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Bob NH
    With a gravity system you can flush a toilet with a bucket of water from the stream. You can't do that if the electric sewage pump isn't working.
    All the lift stations I have worked on were gravity to the lift station which would hold 100s of gallons B4 the pump would turn on. You could easily flush toilets in an emergency with many buckets of water.

    My concern with this type of set up would be that it was inspected, it's proximity to the well and the wells depth and recharge rate I would also want to see a water quality analysis.

  9. #9
    vaplumber
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    Quote Originally Posted by Cass
    All the lift stations I have worked on were gravity to the lift station which would hold 100s of gallons B4 the pump would turn on. You could easily flush toilets in an emergency with many buckets of water.


    My concern with this type of set up would be that it was inspected, it's proximity to the well and the wells depth and recharge rate I would also want to see a water quality analysis.
    >>>If your thinking about buying this property, I assume youll have a mortgage, and most lenders will want the water tests and system inspections anyway. There are a lot of these type systems here with so many homes being built on mountain sides and hill sides
    >>>Most Ive worked with are set up like this, many actually using a separate smaller septic tank as the pump chamber, and you should get by easy in an emergency

  10. #10

    Default pumped septic field, not so scary

    the pump and control box in a pumped septic system is a relatively small portion of the whole system monitarily. A pump will run you less than $200. the box, also less than $200. labor to replace either or both, that's another story. What IS expensive is drain field repair. Logically, a pumped septic field is LESS likely to fail than a gravity field. Since the effluent is pumped after considerable seperation from solids (at least in the one I just put in) by having a primary tank with a seperated cavity that collects the solids in the 1st chamber, flows into the second which in turn flows into yet another pump tank, the solids are removed pretty effectively even when badly neglected.

    In a gravity fed system, if not pumped out on a regular basis, can allow solids to flow into the drain field. Now you're looking at probable drainfield failure. That involves replacement of that field in the "repair area" that you hopefully have. The biggest expense in the system. If you don't have a repair area, then you're looking at a possible pressurized system or something of the like.

    Now THAT's scary

    As for power outages. If you lose power just be mindful of the pump tanks limited capacity until power is restored. If you have a backup generator, even a small one, it's a simple matter to rig the pump up to temporary power to evacuate the tank. should you be out of power for an extended period.

    John
    Last edited by John_NC; 12-18-2006 at 10:41 PM.

  11. #11
    Rancher
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    Quote Originally Posted by John_NC
    Logically, a pumped septic field is LESS likely to fail than a gravity field. Since the effluent is pumped after considerable seperation from solids (at least in the one I just put in) by having a primary tank with a seperated cavity that collects the solids in the 1st chamber, flows into the second which in turn flows into yet another pump tank, the solids are removed pretty effectively even when badly neglected.
    What you've described is essentially two septic tanks in series, which is what the Rooter guys recommend, you still need to pump the first tank or it will over flow the solids into the second tank and then eventually the solids flow out into the leach field.

    I believe what was being described was a normal septic tank at the top of the hill with adjoining leach field. The waste would be pumped up there using a sump type pump, much like what you would do if you had a bathroom in a basement.

    Rancher

  12. #12

    Default You are correct Rancher

    I was describing the pumped system I just installed, 2 tanks, 3 chambers in all. The first tank has two access covers, I plan to pump out both on a regular basis.

    By the way, I opted for the innovative drain field. Cool stuff, no gravel, just a 3' half pipe upside down buried about 3-4' down. I can't see that field ever failing. We also have "Chapel Hill grit" here, very good perking stuff. In fact when I bought my existing house with a conventional drainfield, the septic tank was found to be nearly full. The old owner had to pump it. I asked how often he had done this in the past 20 years he owned the house he said "You need to pump these"? In other words, NEVER. I insisted that the drainfield be spot checked to check it's health. The 1st 15' of the corregated pipe was completely blocked with roots and sludge. once that was replaced I also insisted on verification that there were no obstructions further down the line. Long story short, they ran a big fish tape down the line and it was completely dry and clear. The field was nearly virgin. The effluent was being absorbed in the first 15' of clogged line for who knows how many years!. Now that's some good perkin'

    This may also explain why the water tables around here are reportedly pretty stable around here, a lot of rain water is absorbed when it does rain rather than running off. In the down-side my pond suffers in dry years. The water level goes down an inch or so a day without regular rain in the summer.

    Feeling good about the prospect of a trouble free system on the new house, you bet.

    John

    'Even a blind dog finds a bone every once in a while'
    Last edited by John_NC; 12-19-2006 at 04:23 PM.

  13. #13

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    I would not be too enthusiastic about fast perk rates as those on the high and low end of the scale require engineered systems. Such a fast rate may mean there is a direct connection to the water table from your leach field.

    The "infiltrator" plastic chambers are indeed great, and probably one would suffice for you rather than the 15 or 20 mandated by the county.

    Pumping the tank frequency is determined by the type of use or type of family. 5 american kids and 2 garbage disposals - pump every 2 years. 8 Slovak kids and 5 pigs in the yard- pump every 25 years.

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