Author Topic: How to kill a septic system  (Read 18661 times)

Offline Mr. Bill

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Re: How to kill a septic system
« Reply #30 on: December 18, 2009, 06:50:54 PM »
Finally got our septic mess fixed.  I thought I'd do a short post-mortem here in case the info is useful to anyone.

...We have a complex system.  The septic tank drains into another tank, which has a sump pump to send the liquid uphill to the drainfield.

Well, it started backing up a few weeks ago -- toilets wouldn't flush, gas bubbled up through drains. ...

The septic tank needed pumping, but the primary problem was a strainer that prevented solids from exiting the septic tank into the separate pump tank.  The strainer was totally clogged.  Problem was, I didn't even know this device existed, or required maintenance.  So the moral is, if you have a complex septic system, find out everything about how it works.  This is especially an issue if you buy an existing home that already has such a system (as we did).

...Got it pumped. ... It took us about 10 days to fill up all the tanks again, during which we had exceptionally cold weather. ...

That was pretty stupid of us, since the cold weather was in the forecast.

There is a check-valve at the pump to prevent backflow.  So the pipe leading uphill to the drainfield is always completely full of wastewater.  We learned today that, in places, it is only 3 inches below the soil surface!  (Incompetent installation.)

So, yes, it froze.  And when the pump came on, it ran for days against the blockage, until the high-level alarm finally alerted us to the problem.  By that time the pump was dead, and had to be replaced.

Which didn't fix things because, unknown to us, the pipe was still frozen.  An amazingly skillful plumber came out this afternoon, tried snaking out the line from both ends, discovered the ice clog, thawed it with a torch, and... no, that didn't go smoothly, because the pipe split.  But he got the break repaired, and we are back in the civilized world.  Yay!

So one obvious lesson is to time repairs so as to avoid leaving standing water in pipes during frigid weather.  But the real problem here was that some idiot didn't bury the pipe below the frost line.  No easy way to know about that when you buy an existing house, unless you want to do a lot of digging.

Our plumber is contemplating a modification to the system that would allow the pipe to drain back into the pump chamber after the pump shuts off.  If he can work out a way to do this that doesn't risk siphoning out the entire drainfield, we'll probably go for it.  Plus I'll be plowing a lot of soil over the top of the pipe, for a little frost protection.

Offline LvsChant

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Re: How to kill a septic system
« Reply #31 on: December 18, 2009, 10:05:57 PM »
Sage... as for the Oxy-clean... I don't see that it would be any worse on your septic system than any other laundry detergent. I know that overuse of bleach can be very harmful for the little septic pals... although occasional use in a moderate amount shouldn't overwhelm things...

I know that facial tissues are very much harder for the septic system to handle than toilet paper... I stopped keeping the tissue box on the back of the toilet tank so as not to tempt folks to substitute :)

We have an aerobic septic system here... so no drain field. Basically, the system works sort of like a mini treatment plant (at least that's how I understand it) and then sprays the treated water out on the back portion of our property. With that type of system, you have to keep a dispenser filled with bleach (small amount gets added to the water before it is sprayed out to assure sanitization). You also have to have power for it to keep working (not good). It also requires regular maintenance by a certified company (3x per year in our area by local ordinance). I believe initial installation costs for this type of system are a lot higher than the traditional system, too.

Offline Who...me?

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Re: How to kill a septic system
« Reply #32 on: December 18, 2009, 10:50:09 PM »
Well as it is already a complex system here is my idea .  With any luck I can explain it in an understandable fashion.

Install a check valve near the drain field with flow towards the field. This would prevent any flow back towards the tank from the drain field.

Just before that valve install a T-fitting. Off the T fitting install a second check valve with flow towards the T-fitting. This will only allow flow from the tank to go into the drain field. This second check valve is for the air vent you will need so that when the pump shuts off the water will drain from the line back into the tank.  Kinda like when you pull a straw from a glass of water with your finger over the end. Water will not drain back to the glass until you remove you finger allowing a vent to air.

Now after the second check valve (the air vent) install a 90 deg fitting and then a reducer fitting, run PVC of a smaller diameter (cheaper) back to the top of the tank.

So now when the pump runs water, runs up the drain field inlet line through the check valve into the drain field. The air vent check valve will stop any water from entering your air vent line.  When the pump stops running the drain field inlet line check valve will close preventing water from leaving the drain field.  At the same time the air vent check valve will open drawing air from the tank, venting the the drain field inlet line allowing the water to drain back down into he tank. As the air vent line is drawing air from the tank in is sealed and no outside (cold) air will enter the system and you will not have any freezing issues.

I hope that make sense.
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Offline Mr. Bill

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Re: How to kill a septic system
« Reply #33 on: December 18, 2009, 11:09:53 PM »
I hope that make sense.

It does make sense.  Thanks very much -- I appreciate you taking the time to think that all through.

Offline Who...me?

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Re: How to kill a septic system
« Reply #34 on: December 18, 2009, 11:25:56 PM »
No problem...let me know what your plumber thinks.
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Offline shadewolf

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Re: How to kill a septic system
« Reply #35 on: December 29, 2009, 12:59:56 AM »

One question I have for you folks, what do you do with grease???  For instance, when I grill up sausages, I always boil them first, usually in beer, but sometimes just water.  A lot of oils come out, how would I avoid this going into the drain when I dump the pot?  Any suggestions?

Do you have any dogs? You could give some of the grease to the dogs. We have 4 and they get all our scraps that aren't eaten by our chickens and goats and rabbits. You could render the grease/oils and see about making candles or soap, or you could just collect the stuff in jars and dispose of it offsite. I find with our animals we have very little food waste coming out of our kitchen at all. I was going to compost the vegetable matter, but even now with our rabbits and chickens they just eat it all and we use the manure for the compost now! I'm not sure since I don't have any yet till spring or so, but I think pigs might eat the grease too...I'll have to research that.
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Offline Orionblade

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Re: How to kill a septic system
« Reply #36 on: December 29, 2009, 04:05:03 AM »
About three years ago I had a new washer/dryer installed on my back porch between the kitchen and garage. I routed the drain out to the front yard to provide supplemental irrigation to the yard instead of out back to the septic system. I also fixed the sump pump discharge that previously went into the septic tank. I about passed out when I figured out how many gallons of water it takes to fill up a 120 square foot room to 8 inches deep - and it all was going into my septic tank at 500gph!
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Offline HYRYSC

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Re: How to kill a septic system
« Reply #37 on: January 02, 2010, 08:57:17 PM »
One thing to always consider if you have your own space is to make a sess-pool.  We have one after previously having a septic tank.  We love the sess-pool (I guess as much as a person could love something like this). One of our biggest fear was the possible smell of something like this (especially in the summer), but the guy who recommended it said that he would give us $100 if we ever smelled it before we fell into it.  He was right, I mow right around it all the time and never smell it.

The great thing about it is that there is hardly any maintenance (we haven't had any to date).  We were told to ensure that we let the growth (such as lilly pads, pond scum, cattails etc) continue.  It is basically an eco system all to itself, it has frogs, snakes etc. 

To me, this is one of the ultimate TEOTWAWKI set up for waste disposal.

Offline “Mark”

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Re: How to kill a septic system
« Reply #38 on: January 02, 2010, 09:34:39 PM »
Question....

Would it not make sense, if money wasn't an issue, to build two different septics?  One that receives only dark water (toilets). And a second that receives more of the gray water (dish water, shower, sinks, etc.)

Would seem like such would enable a very protected system for the heavy waste treatment. And the second system, which might be more prone to receive an unacceptable chemical or such on occasion, would also have less waste. So if the biological culture was damaged, it would have less work to process before rebuilding.

The grey water can aid the composting process, in two ways. The first is the warmth of the water. The second is the oxygen in the water. From what I understand, the water also helps to mix things better. Lastly, the extra water flow can keep the pipes clean and prevent them from clogging.

One thing to always consider if you have your own space is to make a sess-pool.  We have one after previously having a septic tank.  We love the sess-pool (I guess as much as a person could love something like this). One of our biggest fear was the possible smell of something like this (especially in the summer), but the guy who recommended it said that he would give us $100 if we ever smelled it before we fell into it.  He was right, I mow right around it all the time and never smell it.

The great thing about it is that there is hardly any maintenance (we haven't had any to date).  We were told to ensure that we let the growth (such as lilly pads, pond scum, cattails etc) continue.  It is basically an eco system all to itself, it has frogs, snakes etc. 

To me, this is one of the ultimate TEOTWAWKI set up for waste disposal.

My grand parents did this. They turned a natural V-shaped depression near the house into a pool, and let the outflow drain into it. Theirs was too small to work properly, and should have been several times the size. There was a faint smell on the rare occasion, but it was nothing too unpleasant; I've smelt worse walking down city streets. I think it was about 30 feet in diameter, though I don't know how deep. I remember hearing they had to get it pumped out one year, I think from excess snow and rain. Also, it was too small to get any waves in all but the strongest of wind, so the water was poorly oxygenated. I guess the lesson here is to go big.
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Offline JGreene

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Re: How to kill a septic system
« Reply #39 on: January 19, 2010, 08:26:23 PM »
Good thread.  There should be a manual provided for new home owners on this.  I'm one of those who learned about these things over time.

We've had a long term relationship with the 'Honey Dipper'.  When we moved across town, he had me install a piece of drain pipe about 24" diameter over the septic tank hole, the concrete lid fit right on top of that, this way its only an inch or two under ground.  It saves us $75 to 'expose' the list ourselves.

Offline survivininct

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Re: How to kill a septic system
« Reply #40 on: January 19, 2010, 09:24:13 PM »
Grr, the Water Gods won't let us get through two Decembers in a row without some sort of problem.  This year it's the septic system.

We have a complex system.  The septic tank drains into another tank, which has a sump pump to send the liquid uphill to the drainfield.

Well, it started backing up a few weeks ago -- toilets wouldn't flush, gas bubbled up through drains.  Got it pumped.  Got the second tank pumped too.  Got the filter between the main and secondary tanks all cleaned off.

It took us about 10 days to fill up all the tanks again, during which we had exceptionally cold weather.

And when it came time for that sump pump to do its job -- nope.

Tomorrow morning we find out why.  It's possible that the pipe going up to the drainfield is frozen solid.  That would be a bad thing.

Anyway, the take-home lesson: try to avoid getting your septic tank pumped just before sub-freezing weather.  And that goes quadruple if you've got a pump like ours or some other weird design.


Usually there is a weap hole on the outlet of the grey water pump - yours may be clogged and not letting the water in the pipe back into the storage tank - thus it froze.  Perhaps when the tank was full it did not let it drain out?  When the pump is running, you should see a small squirt coming out above the pump - like a leak (but an intentional one).   Otherwise, it should not be freezing!
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Offline Mr. Bill

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Re: How to kill a septic system
« Reply #41 on: January 20, 2010, 08:21:50 PM »
Usually there is a weap hole on the outlet of the grey water pump...

No such hole on this system.  Our plumber was brainstorming about installing something like this -- I'm not entirely comfortable with it, though.  The air to replace the water in the pipe has to come from somewhere, otherwise there's a chance of siphoning out the whole drainfield.  (Hence the interesting proposal by Who...me? on Dec 18th, above.)

At the moment the simplest option is probably just to bury the pipe deeper.  I already did a little of this with a shovel.  I'll probably be doing (or contracting) some earth-moving this spring to build us a less-steep driveway*, so we'll get it buried at the same time.

*another prepping issue for us.  After heavy freezing rain, we are trapped here.  Not good.

Offline JGreene

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Re: How to kill a septic system
« Reply #42 on: January 21, 2010, 10:58:11 AM »
What has your experience been with the "Terra Lift" concept?   They drill down into your drain field and inject high pressure air to 'soften' or break up compacted soil.  Its not cheap, but a hell of a lot cheaper than rebuilding the drain field.  I don't believe that was/is our problem though.

Our problem was (is) that our drain field (DF) is on a hill, fortunately below the house.  There is very little tolerance for level when they're installed.  On the very bottom corner of the DF, the corner furtherest away from the entry from the tank, there is some seepage to the surface.  Small area, maybe 3' square at most.  Often I can mow right over it without any problem.  I believe that the top layer may have been a little thin when it was built 15 years ago and that over time it has settled, exposing a wet layer.  I had a contractor out (he built the DF at our old house) and he basically came up with the same idea.  He doesn't do Terra Lift, but knows of it and doesn't think too much of it.  In the spring, we're having him come out and build up the area at the bottom of the hill about a foot or so.  (Fill and top soil).
I'm looking forward to the work, it will help with leveling out a couple adjacent areas as well.

Offline “Mark”

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Re: How to kill a septic system
« Reply #43 on: January 21, 2010, 01:40:45 PM »
What has your experience been with the "Terra Lift" concept?   They drill down into your drain field and inject high pressure air to 'soften' or break up compacted soil.  Its not cheap, but a hell of a lot cheaper than rebuilding the drain field.  I don't believe that was/is our problem though.

The question is why is the soil compact? If it has to do with soil consistency, you can assume the soil will become as compact in the future.
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Offline JGreene

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Re: How to kill a septic system
« Reply #44 on: January 22, 2010, 08:31:23 AM »
The question is why is the soil compact? If it has to do with soil consistency, you can assume the soil will become as compact in the future.
Its not sold as a permenent solution.  I guess it depends on your soil type as to how long it says "loose".  Our area has allot of clay, so it compacts pretty hard over time.  I'm not sure anyone does a special 'mix' when they backfill the drainfield.  I'm carefull not to drive or park vehicles over it, other than the lawn mower.

I have some pics from our last house, from the installation of a 'new' field.  Pretty interesting, I'll try to remember and post them here for info.

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Re: How to kill a septic system
« Reply #45 on: January 23, 2010, 12:16:45 PM »
I asked this earlier and got no response...any takers yet?
http://www.ascleanedontv.com/oxiclean-faqs.html
Quote
Is oxiclean safe to use in my septic tank?
The only by products of oxiclean are oxygen, water, and soda ash. These natural elements do not harm the home or the environment. By the time the oxiclean mixture gets into a septic tank, most of the oxygen has already been released into the air. Any oxygen left over will not hurt the bacteria in an anaerobic septic system.

Offline survivininct

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Re: How to kill a septic system
« Reply #46 on: January 26, 2010, 06:43:14 PM »
No such hole on this system.  Our plumber was brainstorming about installing something like this -- I'm not entirely comfortable with it, though.  The air to replace the water in the pipe has to come from somewhere, otherwise there's a chance of siphoning out the whole drainfield.  (Hence the interesting proposal by Who...me? on Dec 18th, above.)


You will have to go down several feet to keep it from freezing.  Just drill a hole in the pipe going out, like a 1/4 inch hole, just above the pump and it will drain.  Even if it takes it a few hours, it will drain before it freezes.  It will not take anything from the leach field because there is most likely a distribution box that it goes into first, and that isolates the field.  Plus, chances are, the water drains out of the pipes and into the stone immediately anyway, unless it is backing up in the leach field.  As the pump runs, it will squirt out the hole - but most makes it way up to the field.  If it does not work, just put a piece of plastic or something around it and clamp it tight.  But, it should work as that is how my old one was.
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Offline Orionblade

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Re: How to kill a septic system
« Reply #47 on: February 20, 2010, 03:01:46 AM »
How about a check valve on the "hole" ?

Shouldn't be too hard to tap it for a 1/8" or 1/4" barb fitting and run a small check valve on the end of some silicone fuel line - try a hobby shop for check valves - they're sometimes used in fuel systems for model aircraft so that fuel doesn't inadvertently get siphoned/blown out the vent tube, especially in multiple tank systems where you want to make sure fuel's moving in the right direction.
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Based on thorough experiments involving kissing in the rain, exposing shoulders to direct sunlight, and dancing by the light of a silvery moon,  I have found that, within the bounds of frostbite and decency, hapiness is inversely proportional to the amount of clothing worn.

Offline JGreene

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Re: How to kill a septic system
« Reply #48 on: February 23, 2010, 05:43:16 AM »
How about a check valve on the "hole" ?

Shouldn't be too hard to tap it for a 1/8" or 1/4" barb fitting and run a small check valve on the end of some silicone fuel line - try a hobby shop for check valves - they're sometimes used in fuel systems for model aircraft so that fuel doesn't inadvertently get siphoned/blown out the vent tube, especially in multiple tank systems where you want to make sure fuel's moving in the right direction.

I'd think a check valve in the system would just become clogged with 'stuff'.  I've thought about that when you hear about people's basements becoming flooded from 'city' systems.  A check valve is going to be an obstruction.  Unless you're talking about liquid which is filtered, with no strings or such.

Offline Orionblade

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Re: How to kill a septic system
« Reply #49 on: February 23, 2010, 11:16:31 AM »
Oh, sure, but I'm just saying a small vent hole in regards to the graywater pump anti-siphon issue. Just a little hole in the pipe, tap it for a barb fitting, and keep water from spurting out while being pumped, but let air in behind the water when the pump kicks off, to kill the siphon. a 6" standing tube before you get to the check valve should be sufficient to keep water from ever touching the valve itself.
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Based on thorough experiments involving kissing in the rain, exposing shoulders to direct sunlight, and dancing by the light of a silvery moon,  I have found that, within the bounds of frostbite and decency, hapiness is inversely proportional to the amount of clothing worn.

Offline Mr. Bill

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Re: How to kill a septic system
« Reply #50 on: February 23, 2010, 01:01:27 PM »
You guys are having way too much fun with my septic system!  ;)

Even though it's very, very boring, I'll probably go with the "dump more dirt on the pipe" option.  But thanks for all the suggestions!

Offline Orionblade

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Re: How to kill a septic system
« Reply #51 on: February 23, 2010, 02:09:45 PM »
Spoilsport.


....


....


Here's another idea - just put a piece of pipe onto a T with the end of your pump. If the pipe is as tall as the rated "head" on your pump, then you won't get any water coming out the top!

or yo ucould just pile dirt on it...
You can't run away on a world that's round.
You're only comin' back to where you'll be found.

Based on thorough experiments involving kissing in the rain, exposing shoulders to direct sunlight, and dancing by the light of a silvery moon,  I have found that, within the bounds of frostbite and decency, hapiness is inversely proportional to the amount of clothing worn.

Offline Mr. Bill

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Re: How to kill a septic system
« Reply #52 on: February 23, 2010, 02:36:39 PM »
Here's another idea - just put a piece of pipe onto a T with the end of your pump. If the pipe is as tall as the rated "head" on your pump, then you won't get any water coming out the top!

It would need heat tape to keep it from freezing in the winter.  But with that much height, I could mount a small wind turbine on top to charge a battery bank to run the heat tape.

or yo ucould just pile dirt on it...

I suppose I could.  ;D

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Re: How to kill a septic system
« Reply #53 on: July 12, 2010, 10:16:25 PM »
It's important to realize that your septic system is more like a pet than a city service.

Would you feed a pet bleach? Ammonia? Detergent? Probably not - so you don't want to feed these poisons to you septic pals. Most sink, laundry, and shower wastes can be easily directed into a gray water system and it takes a LOT of strain off the septic. If you're only putting toilet wastes down the septic, you're tank pals will thank you and you will have far less trouble.

Be careful with the toilet paper you select - one ply, septic safe only please. And get in the habbit of tossing non-toilet use tissues into the waste paper basket for the burn pile rather than taxing your little "buds in the suds"
 --
Jeanette


I was going to put my plumber two cents in but this post covered what I was going to say. Professional drain cleaners love TP such as Chamin. It's good for business because it's too thick and doesn't break down quick enough and if you have a toilet with a smaller discharge opening they cause many clogs in the toilet.

Offline EMichael

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Re: How to kill a septic system
« Reply #54 on: July 19, 2010, 02:45:48 PM »
I removed the modern high efficiency '1.6-gallons per flush' toilet and installed an old style 5-gallon per flush model.  You cannot buy the old 5-gallon ones any more, so it is a bit of scrounging to locate one.  They are porcelain, so no matter how old they are, they will clean up like new.

Why?  Well to provide more liquid to my septic system.  I believe this will help keep the system flushed through and working better then the new modern style low water toilet.

Am I wasting water??  Not at my place.  My well is in a natural spring.  The spring overflows the well and runs year round.  So what if I pump a few extra gallons out of the spring, run it through my home, and put it right back in the ground via my leech field.  Maybe a few amps of electricity here & there, but that is it.

Oh, and by the way....  No more plunger needed when a user provides excess solids.

Offline radtke

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Re: How to kill a septic system
« Reply #55 on: July 20, 2010, 02:22:35 AM »
i used a metal detector to find my septic tank. it picked up the metal handles on the lid.hope this helps  :)
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Offline JGreene

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Re: How to kill a septic system
« Reply #56 on: July 20, 2010, 10:03:13 AM »
i used a metal detector to find my septic tank. it picked up the metal handles on the lid.hope this helps  :)

Of if you can find where the main drain exits the house, just follow it straight out.

Offline endurance

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Re: How to kill a septic system
« Reply #57 on: July 20, 2010, 11:23:50 AM »
I grew up with septic systems and I've had them several times as an adult.  As we're moving into an older home with a brand new Advantex septic system (seriously overly complicated tank with filters, pumps, and alarms hooked to your phone system), it's been good to find this thread.  First off, like Mr. Bill, our leaching field is uphill from our tank and our pipe that runs up the hill to the leaching field couldn't be buried more than 6" deep.  However, it is vented and designed to run back into the tank after the pumping cycle is completed.  Mostly, I'm having to train the GF on proper care and treatment of the system.  That meant talking her out of the in-sink disposal unit, explaining why the separate grey water sytem for the kitchen sink was an ideal way to effectively take most of the grease out of our expensive new septic system and get free water for our fruit trees, and why she won't be able to have a box of kleenex in the bathroom.

Thanks for the valuable discussion.  My fingers are crossed that this system lives up to the hype.  It's the new standard for the community and everybody is required to upgrade to it when they have to replace their systems.  I have a friend offering to put in a 4" valve to a holey 55 gallon drum buried next to the system as a backup and I just might take him up on it.  It may not be an ideal back up, but it sure beats no back up!
"There are things that you don't question when your home always smells like baking bread."  From The Hunger Games

“No nation could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare.”   James Madison