Do you know where your drains are?

25th August 2016

Or more specifically do you know where your septic tank is and what condition it is in? Asks Ben Lambert, Project Coordinator at George F White.

Being a predominantly rural region, many residential properties have their sewerage handled via septic tanks and soak-aways rather than being on mains drains.  However for many, especially those living in older properties the exact location and condition of their septic tank and the route of the drains and soak-aways leading to and from it may be a mystery.

Ben explains “many older septic tanks which are often brick built can have a number of problems which come about through their age and also lack of maintenance.  The worst case scenario can be caused by a blockage in the drains or soakaways which can cause raw sewerage to back up into the property itself.  This becomes a major issue if the location of the septic tank is unknown, as time is spent locating pipes or tanks, rather than dealing with the actual blockage”.

“Often septic tanks have a concrete slab covering over the main tank, which can be 12 foot in length, five foot wide and up to eight foot deep.  The concrete slab may have broken causing a potential health and safety issue for those that work on the land, this can be made worse by the slabs often being covered in overgrowth, and the hazard lying beneath.”

Ben, whose work often involves managing teams of contractors on jobs as diverse as wind turbine installation through to cottage refurbishment, house improvements as well as blocked drains, has seen many septic tank and drainage systems fail due to lack of maintenance.  This can then lead to costly repairs and renewals.  “Often with old salt glazed pipes, the inflow pipes become blocked up with fat which has been deposited down the drains, but another problems at the other end of the scale is where too many chemicals are used.  These can kill the bacteria working hard to break down the sewerage within the septic tank.”

Larger systems, perhaps those designed for a row of estate cottages, may fall foul (no pun intended) where maintenance obligations are now shared between a number of properties, with no one party taking overall responsibility.

DEFRA and the Environment Agency introduced new rules in January 2015 and have just released guidance for households and businesses with septic tanks and small sewerage treatment plants explaining how the rules simplify the way they are regulated in England, whilst protecting the environment and improving water quality.

The Environment Agency are requesting that households and businesses follow ‘general binding rules’, ensuring that septic tanks :

  • Don’t pollute surface water (eg rivers and lakes) or groundwater
  • Are maintained as instructed by the manufacturer – This includes having your septic tank regularly emptied (‘desludged’).
  • Are only used for domestic sewerage – this is typically waste from toilets, sinks and drains in a home or small business eg a nursing home, guest house or pub.

The Environment Agency also urge those selling their property to inform the buyer that the property has a septic tank and its location.

A permit will be required if your septic tank or treatment plant discharges more than 2,000 litres of effluent a day into the ground through a drainage field, eg an ‘infiltration system’ or it discharges more than 5,000 litres of effluent a day into surface water, eg a river, stream or estuary.  (You can’t usually get a permit for a new septic tank that discharges into water).

Ben mentions that “the Environment Agency will investigate septic tanks that are not working well.  Often soak aways are blocked or the pipes are broken and the problem arises on neighbouring property or straight into water courses.  By knowing where your sewerage system is, maintaining it and following the Environment Agency’s guidance you not only reduce the likelihood of blockages and repairs, yet should the worst happen, you are then able  to show the Environment Agency that you have followed their guidance.”

Ben concludes that “really what is under the ground needs as much or more attention to what you see above the ground.  Septic tanks should be cleared off of undergrowth and fenced off, rodding points should be kept clear and householders should understand their maintenance obligations and their rights of access to maintain their septic tank if it is located on another’s land.  The consequences are not pleasant, and as these systems become older and fall into disrepair I foresee much more time and money spent in replacing systems rather than just maintaining.”

If you would like to discuss the above our require advice please contact Ben Lambert – 01665 511982

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