blocked soakaway muddy garden

Unblocking a Blocked Soakaway

A blocked soakaway is something none of us wish to encounter but it can happen to the best of us!  Even if you take good care of your wastewater treatment system, external factors can come into play and wreak havoc on your soakaway. This article will shed some light on how to spot a blocked soakaway and how to deal with it.

Identifying a blocked soakaway

Firstly, how do you know if your soakaway is blocked? The most obvious signs will be at or near the location of the soakaway itself. You might see water logging and dips in the ground, or pollution in nearby ditches and streams. Another clue would be strong or bad odours and gurgling sounds coming from drains. Indoors, the toilets might overflow or flush slower than usual. Or, when you empty a sink you might see overflow in the bath or shower.

Reasons behind it

So you suspect your soakaway might be blocked but how did it happen? Due to the fact that the soakaway is below ground level, it can be hard to tell what caused the blockage. If you haven’t had your septic tank emptied within 12 months, it’s likely to be a factor. Otherwise, take a look at the list below for some common reasons behind a blocked soakaway:

  • Compacted soil – this can happen if there’s significant vehicle traffic over the site. The soil particles end up getting so compressed that the wastewater can’t filter through. The wastewater has nowhere to go and ends up backlogging through the pipes.
  • Sanitary products, baby wipes, cotton buds, nappies etc. – stuff that’s not meant to be flushed down the toilet ending up in the pipes. The perforations in the pipes of a soakaway system are very small so that only very fine particles can percolate through the soil. Man-made products and nonbiodegradable items simply can’t pass through and hence cause blockages.

  • Collapsed or displaced pipes inside the soakaway caused by movement of the ground. This can happen naturally or as a result of vehicle traffic over the site. When it happens, the flow of wastewater is disrupted and it floods.
  • Roots from trees growing through and inside the pipes. This limits the space inside the pipes of a soakaway and can cause them to crack and collapse, again disrupting the flow of wastewater.
  • Excessive incoming wastewater – this can happen from above or below. Heavy rainfall can saturate the soil above the soakaway so that it’s temporarily unable to absorb the wastewater. On the other hand, if the volume of wastewater coming from the building is more than the system is designed to handle, it can cause overflow.

Solutions for a blocked soakaway

The best place to start is to have your septic tank emptied and looked at by a local field engineer. If it’s a straightforward “soft” blockage, you can have it cleared by a reputable drainage clearance company. If you discover that the pipes of the system are damaged, the only solution is to replace them.

And now for the bad news, if a blocked soakaway becomes polluted it’s permanently damaged. Solid waste should remain inside a septic tank until it is due to be emptied. If solid waste finds its way into the soil, the entire soakaway becomes useless and dangerous. This can often happen as a result of a faulty or damaged septic tank. The soakaway will need to be relocated and the septic tank either repaired or replaced.

It may be worth considering an alternative wastewater treatment system for your site altogether. You can click here for suitable options or for further information and advice. If you’re installing a new soakaway it’s important that a percolation test is carried out first to ensure that the soil is suitable. Choose a reputable company to do this. You can click here if for further information on arranging a percolation test.

In a nutshell, a percolation test checks if the soil has the capacity to filter the discharge properly. If not, you’re destined to be faced with another blocked soakaway. There are strict regulations regarding discharge to ground and you can find them here [Rep. of Ireland] and here [UK]. A well-designed soakaway together with an effective wastewater treatment system will ensure that your site remains clean, safe and environmentally friendly.

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