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Questions & answers about septic tanks

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Questions & answers about septic tanks:

This article describes frequently-asked questions about septic tanks: how to install the septic tank septic tank location, septic tank pumping, septic tank troubleshooting or septic tank repairs.

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Septic Tank FAQs

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Question: toilet bubbles after flushing means time to pump the septic tank?

(July 7, 2014) Joe said:
When toilet bubble after flushing,is this a sign to get septic pumped

Reply:

Joe

No not exactly. Or at least not necessarily: A bubbling toilet means that the drain is partly blocked or clogged - which could be due to a backing up septic tank.

Pumping the tank gives you a few days to a couple of weeks of "relief" until the tank is filled again. That's all. Pumping a septic tank will NEVER fix a clogged or failed drainfield nor a clogged outlet pipe if that's the problem.

A more complete explanation is given at

inspectapedia.com/septic/Septic_Tank_Cleaning_Mistakes.php

Question: toilets don't flush and sewage is backing up - does this mean the septic tank needs to be pumped?

(Aug 17, 2014) Oona said:
My toilets are not flushing and my laundry tub in the basement is backing up(which happened previously when the tank needed pumped) but it was pumped in April 2013. I had a faucet leaking for about 6 months and was reading that that may cause it to fill up quicker. Could this be the case? Since April 2013 it has just been me living here. I'm 99% sure that they told me it's a 1000 gal. tank. x

Reply:

Oona what you describe sounds like either a sewer line blockage or a failed septic drainfield. A leaky faucet adds to the liquid load of a drainfield and might, if a LOT of water was entering the field, also have shortened its life, but I'd be looking for a blockage first, and a clogged, drainfield second.

Pumping a septic tank does not fix a clogged drain nor a failed drainfield.

Question: leeches in the house and pinned septic system with yeast: what the hell?

(Oct 31, 2014) Anonymous said:
Any reason for a leech to be in the house? Is that mean the system has failed Justinian1954 live on lake in texas.use to be a bed and breakfast. When we bought the owner said she pinned in 1994. She just but yeast in it since.the gray matter line is house filling up with huge trash cans of worms and ouder inside

Reply:

Anon

I don't know what "pinned in 1994" means. Yeast in septic tanks is useless and can be destructive, agitating the seawage and pushing solids into the drainfield, clogging it.

Your description of in-house components is unclear but sounds unsanitary and in most jurisdictions a violation of health code.

Question: has this septic system soakbed or drainage field failed?

(Feb 17, 2015) Lauren said:
Hello, I recently purchased my home 1 year (Last Feb 2014) My fiancé and I are the only two who reside in the home. The home was built in 1989 and for the last 7 years only had 1 old lady living there alone. He husband died 7 years ago. When asked if she had the septic tank emptied prior to us purchasing the home she said she had it done 2 years ago. Well this past august (6 months after purchase) we had a major back up into the home. My main bathroom shower and toilet backed up and overflowed. No other drains seemed to be affected at that time. I called Roto-Rooter and they came to pump the septic. The septic tank is a 1,000 gallon tank and was full all the way to top when they took the lid off. He advised me that since he did not know how long it had been full like that, that my drainfield could be damaged and to keep an eye on it. He showed me where I could removed a lid to a pipe to aerate it if it backs up again.

Fast forward to a week before Christmas, the same thing happened. I went to the cap where he showed me and took it off, leaving it off the let air in. This pipe was completely full of water. After approximately 5 hours of leaving the cap off and checking it every 30 min. The water went back down. At that time we began to use our water sparingly making sure not to do much at once like to many showers and laundry at the same time.

Then on Super Bowl Sunday, it happened again. This time when I went to take the cap off in the front yard it was full of water just like before; however, it was strictly laundry water. No smell or anything.

I have walked over the drainfield area and found no wet soggy areas nor have we noticed any foul smells since we had the septic pumped in august. I know without looking you can't properly diagnose my situation; however, does this sound like a drainfield issue and/or septic tank problem?

Any help you can give me would be so much appreciated.

Reply:

Lauren

Pumping the septic tank regularly can extend drainfield life but it can never fix a failed drainfield. From your description I suspect either a failed drainfield or a partly blocked sewer linr.

A failed soakbed does not always show up as wet spots or smells.

Question: is it necessary to pump a septic tank serving only the laundry?

31 March 2015 Don Stephens said:
I have two tanks; one regular (1000 gallons) and one for the laundry. Two people have lived in the house for 20 years; ages 78 & 74. I have the regular tank pumped every 4 years, but have never had the laundry tank pumped. Is it necessary to pump the laundry tank?

Reply:

Don,

Is your laundry "tank" a drywell or does wastewater flow out of it into a drainfield? If the latter, it would be prudent to have it cleaned. If the tank is really a drywell then you won't gain much by pumping as the clogging that occurs is in the soil surrounding the drywell bottom and sides

If you're unclear on this search InspectApedia for DRYWELL DESIGN & USES to see the difference between a drywell and a septic tank and a cesspool

Also take a look at GREYWATER SYSTEMS.

Mar 31, 2015)
AUTHOR:Don Stephens (no email)

COMMENT:Thank you for your rapid response. I have a drainfield and I know the large tank drains into the field; therefore, I assume the laundry tank does also. Is that a good assumption?

Moderator reply:

NO Don,

You will need to consider site layout, distances, slopes and to trace piping. But first, if it is possible to do so safely (DO NOT WORK ALONE) you need to open the laundry "tank" to see what the heck it is; for example it may be actually a holding tank that sends water to a drainfield but more likely it's operating as a separate drywell.

Question: is our septic system big enough to add bathrooms?

(Oct 1, 2015) WE have a 1250 gallon septic tank with 3 aults. We want to add a toilet and build a granny flat. IS our septic adequate for one more toilet? said:
We have a 1250 gallon septic in 3 bedroom house with 3 people. We want to build a granny flat and add 1 more toilet. Will a 1250 gallon septic accomodate a 4th toilet and a fourth person using it?

Reply:

Anon: your local building department may accept the tank size, but it's the drainfield or soakbed size and capacity that is also critical. We're missing that data.

Question: sewage overflow in the yard

(Dec 30, 2015) jt said:
What should I do if there is sewage overflow in the yard and our landlord just covered it with dirt and told us to stay out of the yard.

Reply:

IF the septic system has failed and sent sewage to the yard surface, it's likely to reappear; just tossing on dirt won't fix that problem; in my OPINION, which you may share with your landlord, it is less costly to find and fix the trouble now than to risk a costly and unsanitary sewage backup in the building that may also occur.

If you believe your home is unsanitary or unsafe due to a sewage problem and your landlord won't respond you may face the unpleasant task of asking for help from your health department.

Question: how often do I pump out a cesspool

(Jan 28, 2016) Anonymous said:
I still dont know how often you have to empty a cesspool.we just bought a property that has been vacant for about a year and we have lived here for 3 months how or when do we know when to empty the cesspool?

Reply: maybe never: replace it

Cesspools, unlike septic tanks, are not pumped regularly, though a septic company may offer cleaning and (somewhat of dubious use) rejuvenation. Beware that pumping some cesspools, depending on how they are constructed, can cause collapse, even injury or fatality if someone falls-in. When the cesspool level is near the top the unit is no longer working and needs to be replaced. Often the new cesspool is simply dug nearby and the overflow output from the old (failed) one is piped into the new one.

See CESSPOOL FAILURE CRITERIA

Question: septic system condition evaluation for a 25-year old lakefront cabin in Northern Minnesota

2016/04/10 Ron said:
I'm looking at cabin to purchase on a lakefront in norther Minnesota. The owner has lived in the cabin fulltime for about 25 years. She says the septic has never been pumped since she lived there. Just guessing, but isn't this a red flag for me, a potential purchaser? I am trying to avoid too much excess in expenses just fixing up the cabin and having to add (potentially) a new septic system is disconcerting for me. Can you tell me if big bucks are on the horizon or maybe not?

Reply:

Ron,

Watch out: I'd assume, for planning purposes, that you need a septic system. Without regular pumping to keep from sending solids to the drainfield, even if the system is not currently in "failure", we can't be confident of its future life when the system has gone un-maintained for so long.

In addition, often on sale, the level of use of a septic system changes. For example changing from a single elderly occupant to a family of four dramatically increases the daily wastewater flow. So an old septic system may have been able to limp along because of very low inflow rates but it may show up as a failure as soon as the inflow rate of wastewater is increased.

Worse, because of the cold climate in Northern Minnesota, septic drainfield trenches are often buried quite deeply in the soil. So a failing septic system may not show up as sewage on the yard surface. Instead it shows up as algae growing in the lake along the lakefront edge of your property, or it shows up as wastewater back-flowing into the septic tank when the tank is pumped, or worst, it shows up as a sewage backup into the home.

Check lot and zoning to be sure repair or replacement will be permitted under current zoning regulations. For example, in some Minnesota communities, an old septic system may have been installed closer to the lakeshore than current codes will permit. Your local building department might or might not consider the old septic system "grandfathered" and permit repair, but they are less likely to permit expansions or any new installations too close to the lakefront.

Often an engineered system, above ground, is needed where the shorelines are rocky, such as along much of Lake Superior. On the North Shore I've seen peat mound systems approved and I suspect that more conventional raised-bed or mound septics may be approved too as long as they're sufficiently distant from both the lakefront and any nearby wells, streams, rivers.

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