A service technician in uniform and hard hat carefully inspecting an underground septic tank system, checking for potential leaks or malfunctions

Identifying Signs of Leaks or Malfunctions During Septic Inspection

Identifying signs of leaks or malfunctions during septic inspection is crucial. Learn how to spot issues, maintain your system, and prevent costly repairs.

Identifying signs of leaks or malfunctions during a septic inspection is crucial for maintaining a healthy and functioning septic system. A leaking septic system can lead to environmental hazards, property damage, and costly repairs. In this article, we will explore how to recognize the signs of leaks and malfunctions during a septic inspection, and what actions you can take to address these issues.

Key Takeaway

  • Leaks or malfunctions in septic systems can cause serious issues like groundwater contamination and property damage.
  • Regular inspections help in early detection and prevention of major problems.
  • Common signs include bad odors, slow drains, and lush vegetation around the drainfield.
  • Tools and professionals are available for precise detection and repair.

Understanding the Basics of Septic Systems

A professional technician in uniform inspecting and maintaining a residential septic system, checking for leaks or malfunctions

A septic system is an underground wastewater treatment structure commonly used in rural areas not served by centralized public sewer systems. It consists of a septic tank and a drainfield. Wastewater from your home flows into the septic tank, where solids settle to the bottom, forming sludge, while oil and grease float to the top as scum. The liquid wastewater (effluent) then exits the tank into the drainfield for further treatment.

Signs of Leaks in Septic Systems

Unpleasant Odors

Bad smells around your septic tank or drainfield are usually the first signs of a leak or malfunction. These odors are often due to sewage gas escaping from the system. If you notice a strong, foul smell, it’s time to investigate further.

Slow Drains

If your sinks, toilets, or showers are draining slowly, it might indicate a problem with your septic system. Slow drains can be caused by blockages in the pipes leading to or from the septic tank, or by a full septic tank that needs pumping.

Lush, Green Grass

While having a green lawn is generally a good thing, excessively lush and green grass over your drainfield might indicate a problem. The extra nutrients from leaking sewage can cause the grass to grow more rapidly than the surrounding areas.

Common Malfunctions in Septic Systems

A professional technician inspecting a septic system, using tools and equipment to check for leaks or malfunctions in the underground tanks and piping.

Pipe Blockages

Blockages in the pipes leading to the septic tank or in the drainfield can cause backups and overflows. These blockages can be caused by grease, tree roots, or other debris. Regular maintenance and careful use of your plumbing system can help prevent these issues.

Cracked or Damaged Tanks

A cracked or damaged septic tank can allow sewage to leak into the surrounding soil, causing contamination and environmental hazards. Regular inspections can help detect these issues early so they can be repaired before they cause major problems.

Failing Drainfields

A failing drainfield can cause sewage to back up into your home or pool on the surface of your yard. Signs of a failing drainfield include wet spots in your yard, sewage odors, and slow drains. Regular maintenance and proper use of your septic system can help prevent drainfield failure.

Inspection Techniques for Detecting Leaks

An expert technician wearing protective gear inspecting a tank and drainage system for potential leaks or malfunctions using specialized tools.

Visual Inspections

The first step in any septic inspection is a thorough visual inspection. This includes checking the area around the septic tank and drainfield for signs of leaks, such as standing water, lush vegetation, or bad odors.

Dye Testing

Dye testing is a simple and effective way to detect leaks in your septic system. This involves adding a non-toxic dye to the system and checking the drainfield for the dye to appear on the surface. If the dye appears, it indicates a leak in the system.

Camera Inspections

Camera inspections involve inserting a small camera into the pipes leading to and from the septic tank. This allows the inspector to see inside the pipes and identify any blockages, cracks, or other issues that may be causing leaks or malfunctions.

Tools and Technologies Used in Septic Inspections

inspector wearing protective gear and a hard hat is kneeling beside an open tank cover

Soil Probes

Soil probes are used to test the soil around the septic tank and drainfield for signs of contamination. This can help identify leaks that are not visible on the surface.

Pressure Gauges

Pressure gauges can be used to test the pressure in the pipes leading to and from the septic tank. Low pressure can indicate a blockage or leak in the system.

Moisture Meters

Moisture meters are used to test the moisture levels in the soil around the septic tank and drainfield. High moisture levels can indicate a leak in the system.

Preventative Measures and Best Practices

Regular Pumping

Having your septic tank pumped regularly can help prevent many of the issues that lead to leaks and malfunctions. Most septic tanks need to be pumped every 3-5 years, depending on the size of the tank and the number of people in the household.

Proper Use of Your Septic System

Avoid flushing non-biodegradable items, grease, or harsh chemicals down the drain. These can cause blockages and damage to your septic system.

Regular Inspections

Regular inspections can help catch small problems before they become major issues. Schedule a professional inspection every 1-2 years to keep your system in good working order.

DIY vs. Professional Inspections

While some aspects of septic system maintenance can be done by homeowners, many inspections and repairs should be left to professionals. Professional inspectors have the tools and expertise to identify and fix problems that may not be visible to the untrained eye.

Common Signs of Septic System Leaks and Malfunctions

SignPossible CauseRecommended Action
Unpleasant OdorsLeaking tank or drainfieldSchedule a professional inspection
Slow DrainsBlockages or full tankPump the tank, check for blockages
Lush, Green GrassLeaking drainfieldConduct a dye test, inspect the drainfield
Standing WaterFailing drainfieldInspect and repair the drainfield
Sewage BackupsBlockages or failing systemSchedule a professional inspection
  • Septic system inspections are crucial in identifying leaks or malfunctions. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), about 20% of septic systems in the United States fail at the design life of 15 years (EPA Source).
  • During inspections, inspectors look for several signs of potential leaks or malfunctions. The National Onsite Wastewater Recycling Association (NOWRA) lists the following as common indicators:
    1. Groundwater Discharge: Excessive water around the septic system could indicate a leak. The EPA states that groundwater discharge can lead to contamination of groundwater and surface water (EPA Source).
    2. Sewage Odor: A strong sewage smell near the septic system could be a sign of a leak or malfunction. The University of Minnesota Extension explains that odors can be caused by various issues, including a clogged drainfield or a damaged septic tank (UM Extension Source).
    3. Slow Drains: Slow drains in the house could indicate a problem with the septic system. The University of Florida IFAS Extension notes that slow drains can be caused by a variety of issues, including a clogged drainfield or a malfunctioning septic tank (UF IFAS Extension Source).
    4. Lush Vegetation: Abnormally lush vegetation around the septic system could be a sign of a leak. The University of Minnesota Extension explains that excess nutrients from the septic system can cause plants to grow more vigorously than their neighbors (UM Extension Source).

Tools Used in Septic Inspections

Soil ProbesTest soil for contaminationIdentifies leaks not visible on the surface
Dye TestingDetect leaks in the systemSimple and effective
Camera InspectionsInspect pipes for blockages and damageProvides a clear view inside the pipes
Pressure GaugesTest pressure in pipesIdentifies blockages or leaks
Moisture MetersTest moisture levels in soilIdentifies hidden leaks

List: Tips for Maintaining Your Septic System

  1. Have your septic tank pumped every 3-5 years.
  2. Avoid flushing non-biodegradable items down the drain.
  3. Use water efficiently to prevent overloading the system.
  4. Schedule regular inspections to catch small problems early.
  5. Keep accurate records of all inspections, pumping, and repairs.

Key Takeaways

  • Leaks and malfunctions in septic systems can cause serious problems if not addressed promptly.
  • Regular inspections and maintenance are essential for keeping your septic system in good working order.
  • Visual inspections, dye testing, and camera inspections are effective techniques for detecting leaks.
  • Proper use and care of your septic system can prevent many common problems.
  • Professional help is often necessary to accurately diagnose and repair issues.


Identifying signs of leaks or malfunctions during a septic inspection is essential for maintaining the health and longevity of your septic system. By being aware of the common signs, using the right tools and techniques, and following best practices for maintenance, you can prevent costly repairs and ensure that your septic system operates efficiently for years to come.

Regular inspections and proper care are key to avoiding major issues and keeping your system in top condition. Schedule your service by contacting us directly at 336-490-5844. We’re happy to serve you anytime!