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It’s that time of year when everyone is calling to either get their tank pumped or discuss issues with their septic systems.  An item that is a biggie with many systems is water usage.  Why?  Septic systems are designed to handle only so much water so, if you go over that amount, your systems will let you know….kinda like Christmas dinner makes the pants tighter?  Too much water will show up in standing water on laterals or sometimes back-ups in the house.  I can’t help you with your snug-fitting jeans (shouldn’t we just be able to eat what we want without consequences?), but I can assist with trying to figure out water usage issues!


First and foremost, your system is sized based on the number of bedrooms in your house.  It is assumed that there is at least one person per bedroom using approximately 100 gallons of water a day when sizing a system.  Obviously, there is no way to know exactly how much water will be used in the home, but to date this is the most logical way to assume approximate water usage.  When a customer calls because they have standing water over their laterals (aka leaking laterals) one of the first things we try to assess is the amount of water coming out of the house.  As hinted above, one thing septic systems are good at, is showing you when you’ve used too much water.  If you can think of your lateral field as being a 5-gallon bucket, but you give that bucket 20 gallons of water, what will happen?  It will overflow and cause pooling water over your laterals.  So, with that in mind, let’s consider where these water sources might be coming from!

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Water pooling over your lateral field can be an indicator of a few things going awry.  One, can be a sign of crushed lateral (i.e. driving something heavier than a lawnmower over this area can cause this issue).  Two, it can be age of the system (unfortunately, nothing lasts forever including the soil’s desire to continue absorbing water after 20 years or so).  Three, it can be a distribution box that needs adjustment.  However, much of the time it is a sign that too much water is coming out of the house than what the system was designed to handle or a constant leak of water never allowing the laterals to dry out.  (Again, asking that 5-gallon bucket to hold 20 gallons of water – or as mentioned above asking your high school jeans to perform the impossible after years of Christmas dinners…)


If someone calls our office with the problem of standing water over the laterals, we want to first make sure this isn’t an issue from a leak inside the house.  I’m using the word “leak” liberally here because what we find over time is that it’s not a leaking faucet, but maybe a toilet that is sticking or a flapper that isn’t sealing.  Sometimes this “leak” can be a water softner that might be re-circulating more frequently than need be.  With newer homes, sometimes a whole house humidifier might be malfunctioning.  This past year, we saw a number of basements being remodeled and homeowners installing stand-alone icemaker machines which generated much more water than expected.  Or sometimes it can be a three-bedroom home occupied by 6 people.  These aren’t the only ways excessive water can make its way out to the lateral field, but they are usually the most common form of “hidden” leaks.  In all these cases, more water was being used in the house than the system was designed to absorb thus keeping the lateral field in a constant state of saturation.


Now, sometimes these listed items are NOT the issue and the lateral does need to be added to, but before we go digging and charging for our services, we want to make sure water usage isn’t the culprit.  Otherwise, we will come in, tear up your yard, send you a bill and then within a matter of months you will have water standing in your laterals again.


Hopefully this is helpful information as you continue your septic-living life!  If you have questions, never hesitate to call our office or check out our TIPS button at!