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Why is my soakaway not soaking away?

Sam Warren's Photo
Written by Sam Warren

Is your soakaway not soaking away?

If you're sat in your garden basking in the lovely sunshine that we're currently having, the last thing you want to be interrupting your daydreams is nasty niffs coming from your drainage system. Or worse, your dog rolling around in what looks like dirty water, pooling somewhere near where you think your soakaway might be. So, here's the UKDP guide to why your soakaway may no longer be soaking away - and, importantly, what can be done to sort it out so that you can get back to enjoying the more pleasant sights and smells of nature.

What is a soakaway system?

Modern day soakaways (also referred to as drainage fields) are simple but clever systems. Really, they do what they say on the tin which take the waste water from your septic tank or sewage treatment plant, and disperse it safely through the sub-soils in your garden. This happens because the pipes used to create a soakaway system are perforated or slotted, which allows the water to pass through at various points. The soil provides a certain kind of treatment of the waste water as it passes through - I won't get into the technical detail, all you really need to know is that it does enough to ensure that the waste water doesn't cause any pollution.

So when they work, soakaway systems are great. But what happens when they go wrong, and you start to get soakaway problems or septic tank problems as a result?

There are a few different ways that soakaway systems can become damaged, here's a few of the main ones:

  • Damage to your septic tank or sewage treatment plant - there are certain internal parts within your septic tank or treatment plant called a 'baffle' or 'dip pipe' which help keep your soakaway working as it should. Without wishing to put you off your lunch, their job is to keep the lumpy stuff in the tank (at least I didn't say poo) and to only let the watery stuff through. Soakaway systems are not designed to take anything other than liquid, so anything else just causes a horrible blockage. In some cases, this can cause the whole soakaway to fail.
  • Damage caused by things above ground - not everyone has their soakaway in their garden, sometimes it might be situated on neighbouring land. If this is farm land, tractors and animals can do all sorts of damage to a soakaway system, as it doesn't sit that far beneath the surface. So, if you spot any cows doing a jig on your soakaway system, you might be in line for some problems soon.
  • Tree root damage - roots from nearby bushes or trees can block up your soakaway system and stop it working properly.

It may be that your soakaway isn't actually damaged, since there are other things that can cause problems such as ground conditions or a soakaway system which isn't big enough. Of course, you can also get soakaway problems just because it's failed over time. There's no real or useful guide as to how long soakaways can last, as there are so many things which can affect them - for example, the number of people living in the property, the ground conditions, how often the septic tank or treatment plant has been emptied, even the dietary habits of the people living in the property can have an effect! We have seen soakaway systems as old as 50 years old which are still functioning as they should be, so age isn't always an issue.

So, what can be done to sort out soakaway problems?

No one likes bad news, so let's go with the easy ones first and hope that sorts it out.

  • Get your septic tank or treatment plant emptied - ok, so this might be the only easy solution, but it might just do the job. Sometimes, your septic tank overflowing can cause the wrong stuff to go into your soakaway system, which in turn causes a blockage. Getting it emptied pronto might just prevent any permanent damage. And making sure you get it emptied regularly in future will stop it happening again. Ask your local tank emptying company how often you should be getting it done.
  • Find out what's being flushed down your toilets - no, not the obvious stuff, but anything else that is being put into your property's toilets and sinks can cause all sorts of soakaway problems. Fats, oils and greases in particular being poured down your sink are a real no-no, because they can create an almost waterproof seal within the soakaway pipework, stopping the waste water getting out.

If neither of those things work, then you might want to get a knowledgeable and friendly company out to carry out an inspection (did I mention that UKDP does septic tank inspections which include a survey of your soakaway system?). They (I should say we) would be able to tell you exactly what's going on, and what needs to be done to get things working again.

Can a soakaway system be repaired?

Unfortunately, the problem with soakaway systems is that they often can't be repaired. If it's been damaged or just failed over time, it will most likely need to be replaced. The caveat on that is that the ground conditions would still need to be right, and you would need to have enough space to house a soakaway system that is properly sized for your property. This is what percolation tests are for.

Do it right, and do it once!

It's really important that every factor is taken into consideration when looking at a solution for a soakaway problem, we believe that nothing should be left to chance. Often, a 'quick fix' can also be a quick path back to more problems. At UKDP we carry out a full and thorough technical assessment to ensure that any soakaway solution gives our customers as many years of trouble free drainage as possible. Call us on 0800 028 9903 or contact us to find out more about how we can help.

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Sam Warren's Photo
Written by Sam Warren

Sam's career prior to UKDP was spent in the marketing and service industries, so she is focused on making sure we look after our customers – and getting the UKDP message out there! Sam has overall responsibility for business operations and for delivering the best customer service we can.

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