As a master plumber, you tackle all kinds of repair issues. Leaking sinks, busted water heaters, clogged drains, and more. However, one of the more challenging fixes can be dealing with septic tanks and their designated leaching field. 

Even though dealing with septic install and repair can typically be more difficult and very time consuming, most plumbers aren’t charging what their time is worth for such projects. You can charge extra for leaching service repairs, no doubt.

construction worker digging with hands in the dirt

What is leaching?

A septic system’s leach field, also known as the drain field, is an integral part of the system. However, it can also be a significant point of failure.  

Utilizing a leaching field set up linked to a septic tank is a form of commonly used wastewater disposal. It removes contaminants from the liquid sitting in the tank by using the leaching process. That liquid comes from anaerobic digestion or the methods in which microorganisms break down biodegradable material in a space deprived of oxygen, like in a septic tank. 

So, from start to finish,  the process of leaching goes like this:

  1. Greywater, or the water that goes down the drain from the shower and sinks, plus toilet liquid and solid waste exit the house through the sewer pipes.
  2. The sewer pipes move the material down to the septic tank.
  3. The waste is delivered to the first compartment area of the septic tank.
  4. The heavy waste materials sink to the bottom, and the lighter materials, such as oils and grease, rise to form a scummy layer on top.
  5. The liquid wastewater moves through a series of filters and screens to the tank’s back compartment.
  6. The liquid waste then moves through another more fine filter and into the leach lines.
  7. There, the filtered waste liquid drains into the ground.

That wastewater from the lines then sinks into the soil, where it is broken down even further by naturally occurring bacteria in the grounds. This type of leaching system relies on the leach field to filter and naturally disperse waste.  

Signs of trouble

sink filled with water

Generally speaking, when there is an issue with a septic system, it is due to the leach field portion. Though there are always exceptions, there are some very common signs that things are starting to go wrong. 

  • Gurgling sounds coming from the sinks or drains
  • Drainage is slower in the shower and sinks.
  • Water frequently backs up and won’t drain all the way.
  • Sections of the yard become soft and mushy.
  • Areas of the yard develop standing water.
  • The smell of sewage throughout the house or outside
  • The grass becomes greener in a section of the yard, or there is new plant growth.

These are signs that it’s time to call a professional because there is likely a blockage somewhere within the leach field. As a pro plumber, do your customers a favor and get your name out there so they can find your business quickly and you can help them at the first sign of trouble. 

Common causes

When poorly filtered solid waste or wastewater builds up in the soil surrounding the leach lines at the bottom of the leach field, the soil can become plugged up and will prevent proper drainage. These are some of the common causes for leach field problems: 

  • The system is old.
  • Water runoff when there are large amounts of rainfall.
  • The use of water within the house is excessive. 
  • Tree roots growing around pipes and causing breakage.
  • Leaking toilets or faucets that lead to excessive water in the system.
  • When accidental damage is caused from driving over the leach field or construction in the area.
  • When improperly putting chemicals, paint, or grease down the drains that aren’t easily biodegradable.

All of these things can lead to clogs, backups, or breaks in the leaching system. However, one of the most frequent causes of a leach field failure is not having the septic tank pumped regularly, which is entirely preventable. 

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recommends having a septic system checked by a professional on average every three years, and it should be pumped every three to five years. However, the timing on that can vary based on the number of people living in the house and the tank’s size. 

Why you can and should charge more for leaching

hands holding 20 dollar US bills

Needless to say, it can be too time-consuming and, well, a rather dirty job to pinpoint the problem area of a septic system. Often it requires a full excavation of the site just to find the point of failure. 

One factor most plumbers don’t think they can increase their rate for is speedy service. When a homeowner gets a warning sign such as a foul smell coming from their sinks, they expect you to take care of it right away, regardless of the scope of work. 

Depending on the issue, the homeowner will need to decide if they want to repair or entirely replace the whole septic system. For instance, if the issue is simply that the leach lines are old and no longer drain properly, it will be best to replace the whole thing. 

All the while, you are there answering questions to help them make the best decision and waiting for them to come to a conclusion. That consultation time out of your technician’s day alone is worth more than what you probably charge an hour. 

No homeowner wants to sit with their yard all dug up and smelling of sewer, so they will usually make the decision rather quickly. However, some folks take their time with major decisions like this. 

In that case, since it’s not worth your time to sit around while they contemplate their options, offer to work with them via something like Podium’s Video Chat. This handy tool will allow you to communicate with your clients in need while still taking care of business elsewhere. Again, this is the time you are taking to advise them, and it should be billed. 

Not to mention the wide range of tools and extra equipment needed to make the repairs and clean up the area. For instance, some chemicals are often used to help disperse the waste material throughout the soil to prevent further backups or clogs. 

As a plumber, you know that these chemicals need to be environmentally friendly and non-corrosive to the new leach lines. As an expert, you can charge a little more for the use of the appropriate chemicals. Plus, if the whole leach field is an issue, it will require a large volume, and you should charge accordingly. 

How to explain additional charges to customers

The U.S. average for just replacing a broken leach pipe is about $1,500. That’s only for time and labor for a single line repair. But does that take into consideration the fact that the customer called you in a panic and demanded you be there immediately to fix the problem ASAP? Probably not.

If the whole leaching system needs to be dug up and repaired, that can be upwards of $7,000-$10,000. It’s fair to say that most folks will aim for the cost of a simple repair, regardless of whether or not that will fix the issue entirely. 

Try to explain to them that when the leach lines fail, the whole septic system will fail. Putting things in perspective and helping them look at the big picture can point them in the right direction and lessen their stress about the cost. 

It’s also super important to set realistic expectations from the start. As a pro, you can probably gauge the scope of the issue at a glance. Let the homeowner know right from the start that you’ll need time and some extra chemicals and tools to make the repairs happen. Which, of course, will add to the total.

Offer them open lines of communication, be available to answer all of their questions by streamlining your messaging services. That way, they can get a hold of you to ask questions at any point throughout the process. This alone is a tremendous added value for customers. 

Once you have completed the work, make it easy to collect payments by using this excellent Podium tool. After providing stellar service, there shouldn’t be any issues with the quoted rate. 

It’s a dirty job, but someone has to do it

plumber working in water pit with wrench

As a rockstar plumber in the community, homeowners will call you first thing when they have a problem with their leach lines. Being able to set realistic rates for the hard work that you do is critical. 

Think about not only the time it will take and the labor cost of your field technicians but also all the other less apparent services you provide. Being easy to reach via message or text, being their consultant on the matter, and providing speedy service are all super valuable as well. Using tools like Podium can make all that extra work you do a little easier. 

Know your worth, and don’t be afraid to charge for it. The services you offer are critical, and you should be compensated appropriately. 

Jennifer Wilson
Jennifer Wilson Strategic Home Services Account Executive

Jennifer Wilson is a home services professional at Podium, the premiere messaging platform that connects local businesses with their customers.

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