Replacing a drainfield, also called a leach field, can be one of the most expensive jobs you'll need to undertake as a septic system owner. A well-maintained drainfield can last for many years, but a poorly maintained one can rapidly clog and become problematic. Unfortunately, many drainfield problems result from improper usage or homeowners not understanding how to care for their septic system.

In these situations, the field may become a significant source of trouble. If the leaching field can no longer adequately treat and disperse effluent, waste can back up into the tank and, ultimately, create blockages in the home's plumbing. In these situations, restoration offers a potentially cheaper alternative to digging up and replacing the entire field.

Understanding the Causes of Drainfield Failure

Whether or not restoration is a viable option for any drainfield depends on the underlying causes of the failure. Leaching fields typically fail when they become "clogged." Although it may seem counterintuitive for soil to clog, it's a more common issue than you might expect. The area around your drainfield pipes must be able to absorb and filter wastewater from your home reliably.

This process occurs with the help of aerobic bacteria in the soil around the drainfield pipes, but that requires adequate soil aeration and water holding potential. Leaching field soil can become saturated, preventing water from percolating down and instead allowing it to seep up to the surface. Clogs in the system can also occur due to solid waste or a build-up of anaerobic bacterial mats.

Although these causes of failure are relatively distinct, they all produce similar outcomes: a drainfield that can no longer handle a sufficient volume of wastewater. When this occurs, you'll usually begin to smell sewer odors or notice puddling on your lawn. These symptoms are a strong indication of an overloaded leaching field.

Restoring Your Failing Drainfield

There are typically two options to restore a failing leaching field: mechanical and biological. Mechanical methods focus on aerating the soil in your drainfield. These solutions are helpful when your soil is heavily saturated and there's no longer a path for the effluent to drain adequately. Restoring your field with mechanical aeration is often far more cost-effective than replacing it.

Biological options are another alternative that can help restore an anaerobic drainfield. A field may become anaerobic following a clog that introduces these harmful bacteria to the area around the drain pipes. Septic drainfields also tend to become more anaerobic with time and age. Biological additives can break down anaerobic bacterial mats and potentially help to restore a clogged field.

While it may not be possible to prolong the life of a septic leaching field indefinitely, restoration is often an option if your field is relatively new and in good condition. Before planning a costly replacement, it's always an excellent idea to first discuss drainfield restoration options with a septic plumber.