Wells, septic systems must be tightly sealed Preventing surface water from entering pipes is critical


October 19, 1997|By Karol V. Menzie & Randy Johnson

WATER, water, where it shouldn't be, is a continuing problem for homeowners.

A reader who's arranging some home improvements for an elderly friend in Harford County writes:

"My friend gets her water from an indoor well. Each time it rains heavily rain water and soil sediment spill out of the pump room onto the main cellar floor. The plumber informs me that the well is in good condition and is made of concrete. However, it was probably not grouted or encased, as the house was built in the early 1950s before this was required. Should I be concerned about water contamination from rain water and soil?"

The simple answer to this part of our reader's letter is yes.

A description of a modern well may help understand why. When an adequate water source is found, a 6-inch diameter casing is driven into the well until it reaches a solid rock layer.

The water pipe that supplies the house runs from a submersible pump in the casing near the bottom of the well to about 5 feet below the ground and then exits the casing and runs down to the house.

The electrical line that supplies power to the pump runs in the same trench from the house, then up the casing, and usually goes through a slot in a nonrusting well cap, which seals the casing. Where the casing emerges from the ground, it is surrounded by a small circle of concrete, to seal the ground around it. People often dig a trench around the concrete, especially if the well is located on a slope, so ground water will not sit on the concrete or reach the casing.

It's important to make sure that no surface water can enter the well, because runoff could pick up pollutants from animal droppings, pesticides or herbicides in the yard. A company that installs well pumps should be able to evaluate the existing well and determine whether it is properly sealed, and whether or not the well water needs to be tested for contamination.

Wells can be chlorinated and flushed to remove bacterial contaminants, but you need expert advice on how much chlorine is necessary. Once the system is flushed and there is no trace of chlorine remaining, the well is tested again.

Our reader continued with a question about the septic system at her friend's house:

"My friend depends on a septic system for sewage disposal. We had a hard time locating [the buried septic tank], but finally did and had it pumped and cleaned last October. The young woman who did the job said that the two-chambered tank was made of concrete and, while old, was in good condition. She placed the concrete lids on top, but they don't seem to be very tight-fitting. Should they be? A housing inspector remarked that the lids might be a hazard to workmen and people, like the BGE meter reader, who come onto the property. But he did not cite my friend for this. Should soil and grass or a ground cover be placed over the lids? Should I worry about the not tight-fitting lids and soil or roots growing into the tanks? Also, I noticed an odor from the tanks, but the housing inspector made no comment on that. In two years of living there I have never noticed an odor before and don't notice it now. I attribute it to the drought and hot weather we had this summer. Should I be concerned for the future? Is that another reason to have better fitting lids? What should I do about the possible odor?"

Like wells, septic systems have problems if they are not sealed from outside surface water. Most septic systems rely on buried pipes to get rid of the fluids. If the soil around the pipes gets saturated by water getting into the tanks, the life of the system may be reduced, and the pipes may require relocation.

The lid covers should fit tightly -- if they don't, a company that specializes in septic repairs should be called to fix them. A septic tank stores the solids from drains and needs to be pumped out about every two years, so it's not a good idea to cover the area -- you need to always be sure where to find the tank. Modern septic systems have an 8-inch plastic pipe that rises from the tank to a few inches above grade. The cap can be removed and the system flushed and drained. Something removable, such as a planter, and or some seasonal plantings around the base, can camouflage the cap.

Septic odor can mean there is a leak somewhere. Yellow dye can be placed in the system and shows up in the yard if there is a leak. We would get the system checked out by a qualified septic installation or repair company.

The reader should try to find out if the system has been serviced regularly by a particular company, which might be familiar with the system. If you are arranging renovations, work on the septic system should be at the top of the repair list.

Randy Johnson is a Baltimore home-improvement contractor. Karol Menzie is a feature writer for The Sun.

If you have questions, tips or experiences to share about working on houses, e-mail us at homeworlark.net, or write to us c/o HOME WORK, The Sun, 501 N. Calvert St., Baltimore 21278. Questions of general interest will be answered in the column; comments, tips and experiences will be reported in occasional columns.

Pub Date: 10/19/97

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