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Septic tank sketch with house

I speak to many customers about how their systems function every day.  Several “new to country living” homeowners do not fully understand how their system works.  I will  admit, if I wasn’t in the industry, contemplating where my poop drained to after I flushed wouldn’t preoccupy my thoughts on a regular basis either.  I mean, who thinks about that stuff?!  However, not being completely informed can lead to messy and expensive troubles down the line if you don’t have some understanding of how your system functions and how best to take care of it.  (It is approximately a $10,000 “appliance” for your home, so isn’t it a good idea to take care of it??)

With that in mind, today I will elaborate on the septic system drainfield and the best way to care for it.

In the diagram above, you can see all the components of a septic system.  There is a tank and a leachfield/drainfield.  When I talk to customers, many of them are confused as to what makes up a septic system.  I would say many think that all they have is a tank and that is it.  However, the bigger portion of the septic system (and also the most expensive part) is the leachfield/drainfield/lateral field.  This part of the septic system is where the final treatment and drainage takes place.  It is also very important to know where your lateral field is located.  If this portion of your system becomes damaged or inhibited in any way, it will ruin the functionality of your septic system.

Below are two examples of a lateral field being installed.  In the last ten years, these are the two main styles of lateral that have been used by installers. You’ll notice the black plastic chambers situated in rows in the top picture.  The picture below, is lateral called EZ Flow which is piping surrounded by a filter media.

lateral picture 4


No matter what kind of lateral you may have, there are several things I tell people about their lateral field/drainfield care.  Here are the biggies:

1   Do not drive on your laterals with anything heavier than a lawnmower

Looking at the pictures above, understand that eventually all these components will be covered with dirt and over time, should have nothing but grass growing on top.  Though the black plastic chambers are hard and strong enough to the support the weight of your average man, it is not strong enough to withstand the weight of a car, truck or large vehicle.  The EZ Flow may give a little here and there, but again, this isn’t something to drive over.  Those vehicles could crush both even under the ground.  The whole point of a lateral field is to “create air space” underground for water to collect.  If this area gets crushed, then the water that is collecting there, will start leaking to the surface.  Not good.

2   Only plant grass or vegetation with short root systems on your lateral field

I love the top picture to show how a lateral field is laid out and installed, but what I do not like are all the trees surrounding it.  One, you really don’t want to plant anything more than grass on top of your lateral field, but you also want to keep it away from trees too.  The state guidelines suggest a minimum of 25 feet from trees as their root systems can extend extremely far.  Roots can clog and ruin a lateral field too.

  3  Do not build on top of your lateral field

Believe it or not, people forget where their lateral is and then will sometimes build over it.  Again, this area needs to be kept open so it can breathe and evaporate water!  Nothing stops evaporation quite like a solid building!

4   Do not lay sprinkler lines on top of your lateral field. (Also, beware of runoff water).

If this area is supposed to absorb water and act like a sponge for both your home and from Mother Nature, do not “feed” it more water from a sprinkler system.  If you constantly keep it wet, there will be nowhere for your water to go.  This can lead to gross, standing water on top of the laterals or back-ups into your home.  Also, beware of how the guttering off your house drains.  Make sure it bypasses this area so it can stay as dry as possible as often as possible.

That’s the basics of lateral care.  Again, it’s not rocket science, but it is something to always be mindful of when caring for your system.  If you want more tips about what to plant, check out our website at and click on our TIPS button.  I have a designated area that discusses safe vegetation.