Restoration Guide: Site Work: Underground Construction

Shannon Lee

Editor's Note: This is article 4 of 5 in Chapter 9: The Site Work and Landscaping Guide of Old House Web's Home Restoration Guide. This guide was developed and edited for old homes from original materials in the U.S. Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Rehab guide.


Section 1--Drinking Wells

Your old house might be serviced by an underground well for drinking water. A well is simply a deep hole bored into the ground, with casing around the upper part of the well and a mechanism of some kind to move the water from the well into the house. The well is capped and has an air vent to provide sanitary protection. Older wells might have problems with poor water quality or restricted water flow.

1.1: Poor Water Quality

Try sealing the well from the surrounding soil by adding an additional casing. If that doesn't work, you might have to consider abandoning the well. If you do this, seal it completely prior to digging a new well.

1.2: Improper Size

If a well is too small for a household, but the water quality is still good, consider drilling another well in a close location to provide more water to meet peak demand.

1.3: Close Off Abandoned Wells and Boreholes

If an abandoned well has not been sealed, the bad water from that well can migrate into a new, clean well, and destroy the water quality. To remedy this, seal all old wells and boreholes around your old house. Many states have codes regarding this, so do a bit of homework on regulations before starting the work.

Section 2--Waste Water Treatment On-Site

Old houses often have waste water treatment on-site in the form of septic systems, cesspools, drywells, and the like. Many cesspools or seepage pits were simply blocked up and abandoned at the end of their usable life, and a new area for waste water was added.

Older septic tanks were made of asphalt-coated steel, while more modern tanks are made of fiberglass, plastic, and even concrete. Septic tanks can fail if they are not the right size, located in poor soil, badly installed, or not maintained properly.

Aerobic water treatment units mix the water with air, promoting bacteria that digests organic waste. Though the units are more expensive and require more maintenance than traditional septic systems, they are perfect for home sites that are unsuitable for other kinds of waste-water treatment.

Since most water treatment areas are hidden underground, the location might not be evident. Find them by looking at the sewer pipe that leaves your basement or the lowest bathroom. Tap gently into the ground with a steel rod from that point to find the direction of the pipe.

2.1: Repairing a Septic System

Blocked septic systems might result from a problem with drains, tree roots growing into pipes, or issues at the joints. Find the source of the problem and fix it before you go any further.

2.2: Pumping the Septic System

Good maintenance of your septic system requires regular pumping. It should be pumped every three years or so in order to stay in good working order.

2.3: Open the leaching field

A compacted field can lead to system failure. "Fracture" the leaching soil by creating fissures underneath the field, allowing the aerobic bacteria to do even more work.

2.4: Opt for a New System

A new septic system should be big enough to accommodate those living in your house, as well as any additions made during home renovation, such as a second bathroom.

Section 3--Sewer Lines and Water Lines

In order to deliver water effectively and safely, water lines must be in good condition. Problems with water pressure and water quality can usually be attributed to leaks or cracks in the water lines. Problems with sewer lines are often caused by internal clogging, roots in the pipes, or damaged lines.

3.1: Repairing Water Lines

Repairing leaks and broken pipes should be done with local codes and requirements in mind. If you are going to the expense of digging up the pipe, use top-quality repair materials to ensure you don't have to do the same thing again anytime soon.

3.2: Replacing Water Lines

Your old house might have water lines that are in questionable condition. The age and service ability of the line should be taken into account when deciding whether or not to replace it, because the expense can be rather high, and landscaping can be disrupted.

3.3: Repairing Sewer Lines

Sewer lines leading from an old house might be 4-inch cast iron, while newer homes will have PVC 35 plastic pipe. All repairs should be made with PVC, and backfilling the area should be a priority when repairs are complete. The repair can restore the line to like-new condition.

3.4: Replacing Sewer Lines

If new sewer lines are required, the process is much the same as repairing them, though obviously the work is more extensive.

Section 4--Storage Tanks Underground

Storage tanks buried underground are usually used for heating oil. If your old house has a tank buried nearby, it should be tested for safety. Many underground tanks fail thanks to excessive rust, and sometimes the combination of water and sulfur in the fuel can cause a problem.

Old tanks that will not be used should be removed or abandoned. Keep in mind that there are regulations for abandoning tanks, as well as requirements for removal and replacement. Make certain you know what the rules are before you undertake a home renovation project involving underground tanks of any kind or condition.


About the Author

Shannon Dauphin is a freelance writer based near Nashville, Tennessee. Her house was built in 1901, so home repair and renovation have become her hobbies.

Search Improvement Project