How to Install a Septic System

Two Methods:Gravity-fed systemAlternative Septic Systems.

Septic systems are used primarily in rural areas of the country where waste water treatment is not available.

In these rural areas, there are two types of systems used - 1. gravity fed and 2. alternative systems including aerobic treatment units (ATUs.) Alternative systems usually include electric pumps. This is a project recommended for a professional with experience in the field due to the potential risk to environment by pollution of the watershed. Yet, it is still possible in many health jurisdictions in the USA for an individual property owner with skill sets in heavy equipment operation to use a backhoe to install a septic system.

Method 1
Gravity-fed system

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    Assemble the equipment and tools needed for excavation (backhoe tractor, trencher, shovel, contractor's dummy level and rod, PVC perforated pipe, embedment material, PVC glue, PVC fittings, hand saw, course file).
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    Comply with state and county health regulations and obtain any required permits. In some areas, this can include federal permits.
    • Part of the permit process will most likely include a test to determine the type and size of drainage field you may need for the system you are installing. This test may be done by the local health inspector or an independent testing lab. Again, this will depend on your local regulations. Once permit is in hand your can begin installation of your system.
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    Plan for the flow to go downhill, as this is exactly what a gravity fed system is all about. It does not use a mechanical means other than gravity to discharge the waste from the tank. Also, it requires only a concrete aerobic divided tank and perforated pipe embedded in gravel.
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    Excavate a hole large enough to set the concrete aerobic tank below ground. The tank normally comes in two pieces. The bottom section shows the division of the tank. The next section receives the effluent material from the house or building. After the initial bacterial breakdown, the effluence flows into that second section where it breaks down further before it flows into your leech field.
    • Lay out and excavate your leech field as it has been determined by the test done in the permit process. When laying out and excavating, remember to maintain a positive flow between the tank and the drain field.
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    Place (in most jurisdictions) "inch-and-a-half washed drain rock" from a nearby gravel pit around the pipe. This is required to hold the pipe steady. See your local health requirements for the size of embedment needed and the size of gravel. The perforated pipe in a gravity drain field has no slope end to end and has capped ends.
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    Cover up the pipe and tank once you have a green tag from the health inspector. All areas depending on the rules of the local health department will require a special filter fabric, newspaper, four inches of straw or untreated building paper to cover the drain rock before backfilling.

Method 2
Alternative Septic Systems.

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    Install a pump chamber after the septic tank. The pump chamber or sometimes known as a pressure tank, or dosing tank contains the electric pump which is utilized to move the effluent from place to place, and eventually into the drain field for final disposal.
    • Set up the pump chamber as you would the septic tank. The pump chamber contains the effluent pump and floats to pump out to the drain field at measured or timed intervals. This is a sealed system. The electrical installation will usually require a licensed electrician to satisfy state regulations. In areas with high ground water, be aware that the pump chamber or additional ATUs may be mostly empty much of the time, and these tanks may have to be protected against flotation by the use of extra weight or other protective structures.
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    The construction details including the layout of all sewers outside of the home, the location and depth of all tanks, the routing and depth of pressurized effluent lines and other system parts such as the drain field and any additional ATUs must match the septic system plans as approved by the local county health department.
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    Cover the tank and pressurized lines once the inspector has given his final approval and the system is activated.


  • Use of aerobic bacterial additives (available at most DIY stores) periodically claimed by manufacturers to maintain a healthy and properly working system is controversial. The septic tank is an anaerobic (wet) environment where most yeasts and other additives will have little or no effect on the sewage. Some old school installers want to put an additive, a shovel full of sludge or a dead cat in a new tank to "start" the septic process. What goes naturally into the tank is all that is required. The aerobic (moist or dry) portion of the system is hundreds of square feet of drain field where additives will not do much good even if they get that far. There is no independent study of the use of additives in septic systems published in any credible scientific journal available anywhere in this country. Your local health department will likely confirm this opinion.
  • Each step of the construction process will most likely involve an inspection by the health inspector before continuing on or covering up the work.
  • The use of a sand embedment is advised on pressurized lines to minimize damage caused by moving soil that has a higher clay content. Pressurized lines can also move when pumps kick on and off. Sand bedding 4 inches (10.2 cm) on all sides of the lines will prevent any sharp rocks from the ground or the backfill from wearing holes in the pipe over the years.


  • When installing the leech field perforated pipe, make sure that you do not turn the holes in the pipe downward. The perforated drain field pipe ASTM 2729 has perforations on both sides of the pipe and must be laid dead level with the printed line on the pipe facing up. All sections of the perforated pipe are glued together and the end of each leach line is capped. This way when waste water enters the pipe, it will fill the pipe to the height of the holes and overflow from ALL of the holes using the entire leach field. Placing the perforated pipe at any slope will direct all of the water to the lowest hole in the pipe creating a concentration of sewage at only a small part of the drain field.
  • You can in some health jurisdictions use waste water for watering grass or ornamental plants, trees, vegetable gardens and fruit trees. However, the water must be treated first by the system (tertiary treatment including disinfection) to ensure that pathogens (germs) from the septic system are not released to the environment. Check with your local health department to see if this practice known as "reuse" is allowed in your area.

Things You'll Need

  • Backhoe tractor
  • Trencher
  • Shovel
  • Contractor's laser level and rod or a surveyor's transit
  • Septic tanks
  • PVC perforated pipe
  • Embedment material
  • PVC glue
  • PVC fittings, an outlet filter for the septic tank
  • Hand saw
  • Course file
  • Effluent pumps and floats if needed
  • If an alternative system, a control panel

Article Info

Categories: Plumbing Drains Waste and Vents