Can A Septic Tank Be Above Ground: A Practical Guide

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The hum of daily life often conceals the complex world beneath our feet, where pipes, tanks, and drains work tirelessly to manage our wastewater. Traditional septic systems have long relied on being buried beneath the ground, out of sight and out of mind. However, advancements in technology and the challenges presented by specific soil conditions have led to the rise of above ground septic systems. We will explore the question – “Can A Septic Tank Be Above Ground?

The Basics: Underground vs. Above Ground Septic Systems

Underground septic systems are the norm, utilizing a network of tanks, pipes, and drains buried beneath the earth’s surface. These systems rely on the natural filtration and absorption abilities of the soil to treat wastewater. Bacteria play a crucial role, breaking down contaminants before the treated water disperses into the ground.

On the flip side, above ground septic systems take a different approach. While the septic tank itself remains buried, technology or filters above the ground level come into play. The effluent is pumped to higher points for additional treatment before distribution into the soil.

Why Above Ground Instead of Underground?

Several factors may make traditional underground septic systems impractical. High water-table levels, frozen soils, and flooding can pose significant challenges. In cases where there’s insufficient land or the soil conditions are unfavorable, an above-ground septic system becomes the optimal solution.

Consider these scenarios:

  • High Water Table: When the water table is too close to the surface, underground systems become vulnerable to waterlogging, impacting their functionality.
  • Limited Land Availability: In densely populated areas or on smaller plots, there might not be enough space for a conventional underground septic system.
  • Soil Density and Perc Test Failure: Some soils may be too dense, while others fail the perc test by either absorbing water too quickly or too slowly, making above-ground systems a practical choice.
  • Environmental Sensitivity: Living near a nature preserve or body of water may necessitate an above-ground septic system to avoid disturbing delicate ecosystems.
  • Bedrock Proximity: Soil with bedrock close to the surface creates challenges for traditional underground systems, making an above-ground alternative more viable.
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Pros and Cons of Above Ground Septic Systems


  1. Easier Inspection and Maintenance: Accessibility is a key advantage. Above-ground systems are easier to reach, facilitating regular inspections and maintenance.
  2. Lower Groundwater Contamination Risk: With the key components above ground, the risk of groundwater contamination is reduced, ensuring a more eco-friendly solution.
  3. Adaptability in Rocky Areas: Above-ground systems are well-suited for areas with rocky terrain, where excavation for traditional systems may be challenging.
  4. Increased Adaptability: These systems are versatile and can be adapted to various environmental and geographical conditions.


  1. Costly Installation: The initial cost of setting up an above-ground septic system can be higher than traditional systems, deterring some homeowners.
  2. Visual Appeal: Let’s face it—above-ground septic systems are not the most visually pleasing. They may not blend seamlessly with the landscape, impacting the aesthetics of the property.
  3. Higher Risk of Damage: Above-ground systems may be more prone to accidental damage or exposure to extreme weather conditions, potentially leading to malfunctions and expensive repairs.

Maintaining Your Above Ground Septic System

Now that you’ve opted for an above ground septic system, ensuring its longevity and functionality is paramount. Here’s a step-by-step guide to maintaining your system while being mindful of septic tank to sewer conversion cost:

  1. Regular Inspections: Schedule routine inspections to identify any signs of wear, damage, or potential issues. Early detection can prevent costly repairs down the line.
  2. Pump Maintenance: If your system includes a pump chamber, regular maintenance is essential. Ensure that the pump is functioning correctly and consider a professional service if needed.
  3. Effluent Filters: Clean or replace effluent filters regularly to prevent clogs and maintain the effectiveness of the treatment process.
  4. Landscaping Considerations: Be mindful of landscaping around the system. Avoid planting deep-rooted trees or shrubs near the components to prevent root intrusion.
  5. Weather Protection: Implement measures to protect your system from extreme weather conditions. Consider installing covers or shelters to shield it from potential damage.
  6. Professional Help: Don’t hesitate to seek professional assistance for major repairs or if you notice any unusual odors, sounds, or performance issues.
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Exploring Above Ground Septic Systems: Mound and Sand Filter Varieties

When it comes to above-ground septic systems, variety abounds, but two predominant types take center stage: Mound Septic Systems and Sand Filter Septic Systems. These systems offer innovative solutions for challenging soil conditions and environmental considerations, demonstrating the adaptability of modern wastewater management.

Mound Septic Systems

Mound septic systems, often hailed as the stalwarts of above ground alternatives, ingeniously navigate the complexities of challenging landscapes. Imagine a system that pumps wastewater from the septic tank into a sand mound, elevated slightly above ground level. This setup comprises three key components: a septic tank, a dosing chamber with a pump, and the star of the show—an above-ground mound serving as both filter and drainage bed.

How It Works: The process unfolds with the septic tank doing its initial work, after which the effluent makes its way to the dosing chamber. A pump then propels the wastewater to the elevated mound. Here, the magic happens. The sand, acting as a natural filter, refines the water before it gracefully disperses into the soil and groundwater. To complete the picture, the entire system is covered with topsoil, creating a visible mound. Protruding from the ground are an observation tube and an access riser, ensuring accessibility for maintenance and monitoring.

Ideal Conditions: Mound septic systems thrive in environments with dense or shallow soil or a high water table.

Considerations: While these systems are effective, they come at a cost—both figuratively and literally. Mound septic systems typically range from $10,000 to $20,000, surpassing the price tags of other septic alternatives. Ongoing maintenance is crucial to their proper functioning, and an alarm system acts as a vigilant guardian, alerting homeowners to pump failures or rising water levels.

Sand Filter Septic Systems

Enter the sand filter septic system, an alternative that takes a different route but with equally impressive results. Picture a large PVC-lined or concrete box, generously filled with sand. In this system, the effluent from the septic tank travels to a pump chamber, where the magic begins. The pump directs the effluent through the sand, a natural filtration medium that treats and purifies the wastewater before it embarks on its journey to the drain field.

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How It Works: As the effluent winds its way through the sand, oxygen joins the fray, working tirelessly to eliminate toxins and nutrients from the wastewater. This intricate process ensures that the discharged water is of a quality that won’t harm the environment.

Ideal Conditions: Sand filter septic systems come into their own in properties near bodies of water and environmentally sensitive areas. They also emerge as reliable solutions when dealing with shallow soil or a high water table. Unlike their mound counterparts, sand filter systems are versatile and can be either fully above ground or partially buried.

Considerations: While perhaps more space-efficient than mound systems, sand filter alternatives come with their own considerations. A well-designed, constructed, and maintained system is essential to prevent sand from clogging the intricate network. The price range for a recirculating sand filter system typically falls between $7,000 and $18,000.

To sum up, the world of above-ground septic systems offers options tailored to diverse challenges. Whether opting for the raised elegance of a mound or the subterranean efficiency of sand filters, homeowners can find a solution that not only meets environmental needs but also suits the unique demands of their property. The key lies in understanding the intricacies of each system and making an informed decision that aligns with both practical and budgetary considerations.

In conclusion, the decision between an above-ground and underground septic system depends on various factors, including soil conditions, land availability, and environmental considerations. While above-ground systems have their advantages and drawbacks, proper maintenance is key to ensuring their efficiency and longevity. By following these steps, you not only safeguard your investment but also contribute to the sustainable management of wastewater in your community.