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When you rely on a septic system to handle your household waste, a malfunctioning leach field can really disrupt your life quickly. The leach field of your septic system is a crucial element in treating and dispersing wastewater throughout the surrounding ground. The health of the leach field is crucial for preserving your property’s hygienic conditions and operation.

Over time, your leach field will experience problems. When and which problem is up for debate, but all leach fields will eventually fail if used long enough. When your leach field starts to fail, you will need to repair the current system or consider a full replacement.

Below, we examine the nuances of drain field repair versus replacing your septic leach field . We will assess the benefits and drawbacks of each option so you can make a more informed decision.


Septic System Fundamentals

A septic system consists of two parts, the holding tank and the drain field. The holding tank has two main chambers and is buried in the ground near the house. Waste water from the home enters the tank where the first and second stages of separation, settling, and decomposition take place. These steps are the initial stages of water treatment. After the treated water (or effluent) has passed through the second of the two chambers it enters a series of perforated pipes that is buried on a layer of gravel and a layer of soil. Sometimes an additional layer of clay surrounds the pipes.

This whole network is known as the leach field. The effluent inside the leach field pipes will slowly trickle through the perforations and into the gravel. The gravel further separates solid from liquid. The microbes present in the soil perform the final stage of natural water treatment. From there the water is safe to re-enter the local water table. The layer of clay that is present in some septic system drain fields helps prevent the intrusion of untreated water into the water table. It provides a strong natural barrier that helps treated and untreated water remain in the right places and protects existing ground water sources from contamination.


What is a Leach Field?

Also known as a drain field or absorption field, the leach field is a portion of area that is attached to a septic tank for an individual home and makes up the final processing step or sewage treatment in a septic system. The leach field is a network of underground pipes containing many small holes that works as a disposal filter for contaminants and liquids after they have been anaerobically digested and pass through the septic tank. The leach field will typically contain a system of trenches and gravel (or another porous material) covered in soil.

The main purpose of the leach field is to disperse liquids from the septic tank in the an area of soil by means of drains which eventually gets spread out in the large area known as the leach field. When the liquid waste passes through the leach field that is made up of earth, gravel and other similar material, it gets all the organic matter removed and transformed into useful substances.

A properly designed leach field considers hydraulics so the material can properly move through it, and catabolism for the biochemical oxygen demands of the wastewater.


How Does a Leach Field Work?

The importance of leach fields in treating sewage cannot be overstated. Solids in sewage can be removed from them through settling and bacterial digestion in the septic tank, leaving only the liquid waste behind. During this process, wastewater is pumped into perforated pipes buried deep below the surface. As the effluent travels through the pipes, it is dispersed over a larger surface area, slowly absorbing into the soil over time.

Leach fields are designed with a series of trenches arranged in a grid pattern. In these trenches, perforated pipes are buried in a bed of gravel below the surface of the earth, which allows the wastewater to be absorbed in a prescribed rate as it passes through. The soil filters out bacteria from underground water sources as the water is absorbed, which prevents bacteria from getting into the water sources.


Why Do Leach Fields Fail?

There are some common reasons why leach fields fail, including:

    • Excessive water use in the house and leaking toilets and drains
    • Water runoff from excessive rainfall or snow
    • Low liquid storage capacity
    • The original leach field is a system made of plastic
    • Putting chemicals, grease, or paint down your drain
    • Damage from vehicles on top of the leach field
    • Tree and plant roots that interfere with the pipes
    • The age of the leach field


Signs of Failing or Failed Leach Lines

When a septic system fails, it can be difficult to pinpoint which part of the system has failed. Any of these signs can help you identify leach line failure as being the cause:

    • Pungent Odors
    • Stagnant Water
    • Drainage Issues
    • Increased Plant Growth Above or Around Leach Field
    • Return of Flow


Repair vs. Replacement

The expert team at West Coast Sanitation strongly advises against hastily opting for a leach field replacement, especially if your home was constructed after 1980. Repairing the system not only saves homeowners the expense associated with replacement, but also offers a sustainable solution that preserves the existing infrastructure. By addressing the origin of leach field issues, the repair method ensures a more environmentally friendly and budget-conscious approach.

Let’s investigate the variables that influence the decision between replacement and repairs.



Most of the time, a septic tank repair job will require fixing a broken or malfunctioning pipe, the adjustment of the pipe, or the replacement of a component. Even more common than septic tank pumping, however, is the need for septic tank cleaning. It’s best to treat this like any other plumbing repair. You should always keep an eye on your septic tank, even after a repair.

Typically, repair is a quicker and more affordable solution than leach field replacement. If the issue is isolated to a single area or portion of the component, fixing that area may be enough to bring back functioning as a whole. We have found that most sewer odors and drainage problems can usually be solved with a simple repair job that you can do yourself but even those requiring professional help will be significantly less expensive than replacing the whole system. Septic tanks can experience several small problems before they develop into larger ones near their end of life. Regular maintenance is key to spotting and fixing problems before they cause catastrophic damage.



The term “replacement” refers to totally exchanging the current component for a new one. Although this is more involved and typically more expensive than repair, it can have long-term advantages. Be prepared to replace your septic tank if facing a total septic failure or major septic problems. The best way to avoid these issues as long as possible is to maintain regular service and clean your equipment. Nonetheless, your septic tank will end its useful life at some point in the future. Make sure you know when the septic system was installed to decide if you need to replace it now or at some point in the future.

When replacement is advised:

  • Significant Damage
  • Safety Issues
  • Age and Efficiency
  • Technological Advancements


Call West Coast Sanitation Today!

Like everything else, your septic system requires regular maintenance. Have it inspected by a septic company near you at least once every year. During a maintenance session, your contractor will pump your septic system, conduct a drain test, and look for & rectify issues.

At West Coast Sanitation, we know that you don’t have time to deal with septic problems. If you think that your system has reached capacity, please give us a call right away. We have professionals ready to answer your questions and get your system working properly again.