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Gray Water By-Pass


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Well, the saga of our new house continues. In the inspection report our inspector questioned a 2" drain line going out the side of the house, rather than being tied into the main drain going out the front.

Background...

9 year old house in a subdivision that is about 35 years old. Septic was approved when this house was built, but force main sewer has been added to the neighborhood. Previous owner paid the impact fee to connect to the sewer system, but never connected.

When we had the house inspected one septic company said the septic system was probably failing and a second company said it was fine. We still negotiated the price down figuring we would have to do septic work.

Now that I have been in the house I have had time to begin my projects. The first was a small leak in the guest shower drain identified by my inspector. I ran the shower and went into the crawl (OK, to be honest at this end of the house the crawl is over 10' tall) to take a look at the leak and figure my plan of attack. I admit I was under there a while setting up my ladder and pulling back insulation but I was surprised that when I went back into the house the shower pan was filling quickly, draining very slowly.

So, back to the by-pass. I followed the 2" pipe backwards under the house and discovered that it was connected to the following:

  • Master Shower
  • Guest Shower
  • Washer Drain

You can see where the original plumping at all three locations was cut off from the original plumbing and bypassed to this new pipe. This pipe does indeed exit in a direction which makes it impossible to connect to the septic take due to differences in grade between this exit and where the tank sits.

The best I can figure is that the septic is indeed failing and the previous owner decided to remove load from the septic system to make it last.

To add insult to injury, he didn't even make any provision for venting this new drain system. He could have at least given ma a studor valve.....

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35 year old septic.....yeah, it's done.

I'd say your guess about the previous owner reducing load on the tank is probably right.

No, the septic is only 9 years old. The neighborhood has been around 35 years. This is the new house.....

I have to pay attention to everyone's suggestions here and write a little more clearly. My wife says i write like I talk and ramble a little......

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It's possible that someone thought that he was being "green" by diverting the shower & washer water into a drywell, fruit orchard, garden, or something like that.

Either your septic system is failing or it isn't. Get someone who knows what he's doing to look at it and find out for sure.

A 2" line ought to easily be able to handle two showers and a washer. If it's slow, it's either because there's a local obstruction (wad of hair below the shower) or because the drywell (or whatever) wasn't adequately designed. Your septic guy should be able to do some digging to figure out exactly what's going on with it.

Adding a vent or two to the grey water line should be fairly easy.

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No trouble with the master shower drain or the laundry? Then it's just a hair clog. Even with no air vent, water should drain fairly quickly.

I forget, did you not get the septic tank pumped? That would be job one.

A 9 year old system should be working fine, but if sludge is allowed to overflow into the drain field, that would be serious trouble.

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Gray water systems are well described by plumbing code appendices, but are rarely "street legal", as localities have to adopt them piecemeal. Those gathered drains are supposed to be tanked and filtered before exiting to irrigation or other use. With all that crawl height you should be able to do it. Find a plumber who knows how and give it a try. Might be a while before recovering water use costs, but you can have green bragging rights.

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I forget, did you not get the septic tank pumped? That would be job one.

A 9 year old system should be working fine, but if sludge is allowed to overflow into the drain field, that would be serious trouble.

The tank was pumped and when I had it done they said it looks like it was not done too long ago, so I assume the seller did it to avoid inspection issues.

The lot is the low point in the neighborhood and has water issues I am discovering. Talking to the neighbor, the lot originally had a ditch running rear to front that was as he described it "chest high". This would be in the area that the 2" pipe exits the house. before he filled this ditch in the seller installed a 24" plastic culvert from the rear of the property to the street. It daylights in a drainage ditch that runs along the street and there is a concrete culvert that goes under the street at this point. All of the water in the area runs to the lake behind the houses across the street. I guess my house is about 300 yards from the lake.

Gray water systems are well described by plumbing code appendices, but are rarely "street legal", as localities have to adopt them piecemeal. Those gathered drains are supposed to be tanked and filtered before exiting to irrigation or other use. With all that crawl height you should be able to do it. Find a plumber who knows how and give it a try. Might be a while before recovering water use costs, but you can have green bragging rights.

While I would love the green bragging rights, due to the closeness to Lake Murray the only real choice I have is to reconnect all lines to the septic or convert and connect to the sewer.

As i look at the lot I really find it hard to believe that they originally permitted this house to have a septic system. It is a very wet lot and i find it hard to believe that it percs very well.

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Well, at least you've the best grass in the area, do you?

The grass is always greener over the septic tank, some columnist once said.

Marc

I wish. The grass is dormant and a nice shade of brown now.

The drain field area is nice and wet, but because of the lot so is every other area of lawn. I just keep scratching my head wondering if I'm worrying for no reason.

So far three inspections and I got three different answers:

  • It's bad, replace it
  • It's fine, don't worry about it
  • Hard to tell, it might be bad but it might just be the wet lot

[:-censore

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Well, at least you've the best grass in the area, do you?

The grass is always greener over the septic tank, some columnist once said.

Marc

I wish. The grass is dormant and a nice shade of brown now.

The drain field area is nice and wet, but because of the lot so is every other area of lawn. I just keep scratching my head wondering if I'm worrying for no reason.

So far three inspections and I got three different answers:

  • It's bad, replace it
  • It's fine, don't worry about it
  • Hard to tell, it might be bad but it might just be the wet lot

[:-censore

The only way to know for sure is to have the drain field scoped. They poke a snake camera down the pipe to see what's up.

The hard part is digging up a section of the line, or going in from the septic tank, which would need to be pumped again. But I would dig a bit myself and try to see if the high ground water table is preventing the feild from emptying itself. If that big culvert is working, there should be no major flooding in your yard. Maybe it is clay soil?

The best soil for a septic system is a balance of clay, sand and loam. Clay holds the water back. Too sandy will allow the sewage to flow into the ditch and down to the lake.

IF the owner waited 8 or 9 years before the 1st pumping of the tank, he might have saturated the field with sludge. A good septic guy can clean the drain field with high pressure and a bit of digging. The pipes are relatively new. This is assuming the system was installed reasonably well to begin with.

Naturally, your absolute best solutiion is to connect to the sewer and have your sewage pumped away from the lake.

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What specifically did the inspector that failed the system say was the problem? Did he observe effluent flow into and out of the tank, any run back, etc? I've opened systems that had not been disturbed in over 10 years with no observable issues. I've also failed systems only 5 years old. System maintenance is only one variable, besides design, usage patterns, weather, and critically what is being flushed. Be aware, I've seen inspections consist of a guy poking the scum with a shovel and passing the system (REA darling). If the tank was empty from pumping before the inspection, the inspector must fill the tank to test it for leakage, and run water through the field. Any inspection should minimally consist of a checklist of components and their operation, and a sketch of the tank and field relative to major structures and any wells.

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To answer questions, maybe not in the order asked...

I'm not sure what the inspector who passed the system did, I was not present.

The inspector who "failed" it opened the tank to find it completely full. He then dug up one of the drain field lines to find standing water above the lines.

I'm not aware if either of them had a checklist or did any scetches, but I'm thinking not.

The soil is mostly clay and holds water for days after a rain. Again, I'm surprised that it ever passed a perc test of any kind.

I'm sure the inspections I got were minimal at best, but my gut tells me it's bad.

I do appreciate all the comments and assistance!

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  • 3 weeks later...

As I insinuated in my thread "Can I do this?", I have hired a company to retire the septic system and connect to the city sewer system. The down side for me is that the I live outside the city and they charge higher rates for us "county folks" to keep the rates lower for those in the city[:-yuck]

With the help of the fine folks here at TIJ I have the electric in place for the pump and alarm, no all they are waiting on is the permit to encroach on the road. Once they have that it's a two day job according to them.

We have a 35' travel trailer that usually lives in our barn in North Carolina, but for now will be in the back yard here. For two days it will give us a working kitchen and bathroom[;)]

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  • 1 month later...

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