Before digging up your septic tank or calling a septic pumper, if you think the septic system is failed because of
drain blockage or drains backing up into the building, you should to see Diagnosing Clogged Drains: Is it a blocked drain or the septic system? - A First Step for Homeowners. If you link to that text, please return here using your browser's "BACK" button.
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Recently posted questions & answers about detecting a septic system failure: warning signs.
On 2017-04-14 22:39:55.042676 by (mod) re: wet spot may indicate septic system failure: how to check further
If this is the only wet area AND if it's not ground-water leaking into the septic area, you may be able to diagnose the question by watching the hole: After a period of no one running water in the home, check the water level in the home; Then check the level again after lots of water has been run for bathing, washing dishes, laundry; and check again hourly. If you see the water level rising in the test hole AND if there is no outdoor source (rainfall for example) then the water may be sewage effluent in the ground.
The next step would be to look for backup in the Distribution Box and to inspect the septic tank for high sewage levels that can occur if the drainfield is backing up or failing.
DO NOT open the septic tank and lean over the opening - you can be asphyxiated, or fall in - both can be fatal.
On 2017-04-14 21:55:40.192451 by Sharon hatcher
I noticed a small amount of water in my yard not sure if it from my septic it was gone the next morning Wedug a small hole and there is water in it could it be the septic
On 2017-02-23 15:52:08.301134 by (mod)
If your sewer pipes are all connected to city sewer then your home isn't discharging into an old onsite system, but groundwater could be flooding that system bringing odors or old waste to the surface; however a septic tank that wasn't properly abandoned may also be unsafe - risking a collapse, for example.
I'm doubtful the two are connected.
On 2017-02-23 15:44:08.771341 by AnnK
For a few days my bathroom sink emitted a horrid gas odor, which I used vinegar/baking soda & it went away after 2 days - no other drain issues in house. Today the backyard had a gray gritty water patch @ 25' from house. I had switched over to city sewer over 10 yrs ago. The Watershed never had confirmation of my septic/leach fields. I believed my septic tank was 'smashed' & left in the ground. Could the heavy snow melt cause 10 yr+ leach field leaching??
On 2017-02-15 20:56:50.878627 by (mod)
Yes often, Maria, if the plumber uses a sewer line inspection camera the cause of blockage can be seen.
On 2017-02-14 20:05:22.668444 by Maria DeFalco
Can you find things in septic or drains that caused it.. Landlord is blaming me
On 2016-11-07 01:47:15.184990 by (mod)
If you mean that the drainfield pipes will not drain unless Vince are opened in the field I suspect that the septic tank is back flooded or at an abnormally high level, or is blocked.
On 2016-11-06 20:25:17.061161 by Nick
My septic system won't drain if vent tube caps are on what would cause this
On 2016-10-06 02:22:52.895200 by DavidB
Noticed greener grass in a rectangle that follows the outline of my septic tank. Does this mean that the septic tank is leaking between tank and the top cover? The lines that flow away from the ST are green with no wet spots, as if this part of the system is working properly. Should I be concerned about this? (There might be a very, very minor slow drain problem as well...)
On 2016-10-03 14:37:33.558633 by Aine O'Sullivan
I am looking at an very old property in Wexford, Ireland which has not been lived in for at leat ten years. I want to put in an offer but I am worried as the auctioneers says the septic tank would need replacing. Other people have said it may just need a service/clean etc. It it totally overgrown with briars and it is impossible to even see it. I am afraid that the cost or replacing it will be very high. I want to put an offer in for the property but don't know how much to offer as the cost to replace the system may run into thousands of euro.
On 2016-08-28 23:42:33.055506 by (mod)
Backflow into the D-box or one of them suggests that that drainfield line is saturated and failed, or has become blocked.
You don't want to see effluent leaking out of the very end of the drainfield trench - that'd be a different type of septic failure; rather the effluent should be dispersed into soil along the length of the trench.
I'd stop sending effluent into the failed line and I'd suggest using one or several of the other lines, accomplished by adjusting the flow control in each of your nine D-boxes. Use the page bottom CONTACT link if you'd like to send photos for further comment.
On 2016-08-28 02:01:55.745941 by Tony
Thank you for responding. This is where my confusion lies. I have 9 D-boxes and each has a changeable elbow. I believe some are placed incorrectly because I have no drainage at all coming out of either section of the leach bed. However, it appears to be flowing back into the last D-box.
On 2016-08-27 21:09:09.694921 by (mod)
Check the D-box to see how those eccenctric holes in the outlet pipes are adjusted; you may want to send effluent into half of the total drainage lines at a time, letting the other field section rest for 5-10 years.
On 2016-08-27 21:08:00.858386 by (mod)
Excellent point, Anon. A check valve or "backflow preventer" is useful on any sewage or septic effluent pump that has to deliver wastewater uphill and as you say, that'll reduce the amount of pump cycling and extend the pump life.
Backflow can also send water back into a pumping station if the drainfield itself is flooded or in failure.
On 2016-08-26 17:28:52.010675 by Anonymous
Hi Bee, My pump was also running 24/7 and my pump also burned up. The guy who replaced it told me that there was no back flow preventer installed. So once water was pumped out it would flow right back into the tank again. There's about 200 ft to my leach bed so that much water was flowing right back in. Worth checking out. 👍
On 2016-08-26 17:08:02.685178 by Tony
Hi, my leach bed is divided into two sections. I've noticed that there is no drainage coming out of either drain pipe from either section. However, there is clear water ( looks like drinking water) flowing into the 9th (have a total of 9) d- box. It is not flowing into the box through one of the pvc pipes but from a smaller hole in back of the box with a black plastic ring around the hole. Any ideas why?
On 2016-07-30 15:02:22.615230 by (mod)
It sounds as if the control, wiring, pump or another component is either improperly installed or is defective and needs repair or replacement. If none of the repair people youve contacted will help inspect, diagnose, and repair the problem then you will need to look further to find a competent repair service close to your home.
Also search InspectApedia for SEWAGE PUMPS to read details about how these pumps work, how they are controlled, and to see common problems, diagnostic step and solutions.
DO NOT try to work on a septic tank yourself; simply leaning over an open tank can be fatal.
On 2016-07-30 01:34:34.949333 by Bee
Hi there. My family and I desperately need help! We had a holding tank with leeching field installed by a professional while building our new home. We have an electric pump in the holding tank which runs 24/7. Literally! If for some reason we loose power to the house, our sewer backs up into our basement. This has happened since we first moved in. The first time it happened I called an emergency tank pump, and they said there was hardly anything in the tank. We have tried to have it repaired, but nobody will help us. Our pumps burn out every few months due to continuous running. Any suggestions??
On 2016-07-15 17:02:08.609458 by (mod)
You asked and we replied to this question at http://inspectapedia.com/septic/Septic_Tank_Tees.php
Please help avoid doubling our already heavy Q&A workload by asking a question in just one article. Thanks. - Mod
On 2016-07-14 07:02:28.931726 by Robert goines henryville ind
My concrete septic tank flow good from house to tank. No backup. But will not leave tank through overflow lines away from tank I need new overflow lines how much is cost I have 3 acres
On 2016-07-01 00:51:09.071398 by (mod)
Brad the lower end of the drainfield, that is the end most distant from the septic tank is one of the more common places for failure to show up first.
Search InspectApedia for SEPTIC D-BOX INSTALL REPAIR - that article may help you find and open the distribution box - that's where you can check for a problem that's overloading one of the drainfield lines.
On 2016-06-30 21:54:32.730601 by Brad
Hi, I have a septic system where at the end of the drain field it is quite wet, I'm not sure if it is more wet than usual but noticeably wet. There aren't any puddles but the soil is saturated. It is only our 3rd year in our house and I know that they had some work done cleaning out some of the drain field pipes a couple of years before we moved in. I am just wondering if some of the drain field pipes might be clogged causing more than the normal share of liquid effluent to be leached by the lines that are working. For the record, there has been no indication of any malfunction from the house or anything like that, this is just from my observation of the lawn. Could I be over thinking this or is there cause for concern? Thank you for your time, the site has been quite informative.
On 2016-05-18 17:41:01.340473 by Ed cook
Septic tank leaking into yard
On 2016-04-21 15:26:54.007937 by (mod)
Sorry Stephani, our malware scanner has trouble if people type a period at the end of a sentence that is followed by another letter rather than a space - it thinks the text contains web links. I have to find and manually "accept" such comments, as I have done with yours below.
If you see sewage on the ground surface
- that is a health hazard and is prohibited by building codes in almost all jurisdictions (you didn't mention where you live) - it means that there is a blockage, either at the septic tank outlet or due to a clogged or failed drainfield pipe - also I agree that sewer gases are more than just smelly: they might contain harmful gases or pathogens and of course if accumulated, the methane can be explosive.
If the property owner won't address an unsafe or unhealthy condition you might have no choice but to ask for help from your health department officials.
On 2016-04-21 06:18:59.619425 by Stephani
About an hour ago I made a lengthy comment and a minute later a short comment. The short one posted. Where's the long one ? The short one makes no sense w/o the longer one.
On 2016-04-21 04:16:05.830656 by stephani
Oops, I forgot to ask the question. What could be wrong with the tank ? Should I be worried about the fumes ? And shouldn't professionals be called out to fix it? also I AM getting headaches.
On 2016-04-21 04:11:50.482363 by Stephani
I live in a mobile home park and the septic tank is right between mine and the mobile home next door. more so under his. We are about 10 ft apart divided by a little picket fence.The other day I noticed that on his side of the fence was a nasty 'pool' of toilet paper, liquid and feces . I told the owners of the park about it ( who by the way don't like to pay and fix things ) after almost a week someone came out and somewhat cleaned it off the top of the dirt. but not all of it. I don't know what they've done about fixing it if anything. the stench is hurendous . Today I notice that about 8 ft away from that spot, still next to his home and also now on my side, the dirt is wet. and it has not rained in awhile. also last nite I heard blub blub blub coming from the ground. Also now there is strong fumes. I can't even open my front door without my eyes burning it smells so bad. The owner said we'll take care of it. That's what he said last time.
On 2016-03-31 18:01:53.264334 by (mod)
I suspect that your drainfield or soakbed is fully saturated, maybe even under-water, and that the result is that effluent, mixed with rainwater, is back-flowing into the septic tank.
WATCH OUT: the risk is a sewage backup in the home. Run as little water as possible until things quiet down.
Check also for water leaking directly into the septic tank.
Ultimately if this problem is frequent and it's drainfield saturation you'll need to either get groundwater away from the septic fields or re-design the drainfield to a higher mound or raised bed type system.
On 2016-03-31 17:00:59.041680 by Bill
We've had some heavy rain and I noticed that smell and I'm seeing bubbles come from the ground above my septic tank. Any ideas on the cause?
On 2016-01-24 02:05:55.356309 by (mod)
Sounds like improperly sloped drain lines or a blockage at the sewer line past the Y junction or at the septic tank, or a flooded septic tank and failing drainfield.
On 2016-01-18 23:21:58.833250 by kristel
We have installed a septic system for our house and shed, connecting them with a y junction. We are finding that some of the effluent from the house is going up the y junction for the shed and smelling. What can we do for this? Are there y junctions with a flap to stop this? thank you
On 2015-12-13 05:29:10.569165 by Anonymous
Possibly yes if it allows surface runoff to enter the tank that could flood the fields.
Or flooded fields may be backing up into and leaking out of the tank
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Septic Tank/Soil-Absorption Systems: How to Operate & Maintain [ copy on file as /septic/Septic_Operation_USDA.pdf ] - , Equipment Tips, U.S. Department of Agriculture, 8271 1302, 7100 Engineering, 2300 Recreation, September 1982, web search 08/28/2010, original source: http://www.fs.fed.us/t-d/pubs/pdfimage/82711302.pdf.
Pennsylvania State Fact Sheets relating to domestic wastewater treatment systems include
Pennsylvania State Wastewater Treatment Fact Sheet SW-161, Septic System Failure: Diagnosis and Treatment
Pennsylvania State Wastewater Treatment Fact Sheet SW-162, The Soil Media and the Percolation Test
Pennsylvania State Wastewater Treatment Fact Sheet SW-l64, Mound Systems for Wastewater Treatment
Pennsylvania State Wastewater Treatment Fact Sheet SW-165, Septic Tank-Soil Absorption Systems
Document Sources used for this web page include but are not limited to: Agricultural Fact Sheet #SW-161 "Septic Tank Pumping," by Paul D. Robillard and
Kelli S. Martin. Penn State College of Agriculture - Cooperative Extension, edited and annotated by
Dan Friedman (Thanks: to Bob Mackey for proofreading the original source material.)
Books & Articles on Building & Environmental Inspection, Testing, Diagnosis, & Repair
Advanced Onsite Wastewater Systems Technologies, Anish R. Jantrania, Mark A. Gross. Anish Jantrania, Ph.D., P.E., M.B.A., is a Consulting Engineer, in Mechanicsville VA, 804-550-0389 (2006). Outstanding technical reference especially on alternative septic system design alternatives. Written for designers and engineers, this book is not at all easy going for homeowners but is a text I recommend for professionals--DF.
Builder's Guide to Wells and Septic Systems, Woodson, R. Dodge: $ 24.95; MCGRAW HILL B; TP;
Quoting from Amazon's description: For the homebuilder, one mistake in estimating or installing wells and septic systems can cost thousands of dollars. This comprehensive guide filled with case studies can prevent that. Master plumber R. Dodge Woodson packs this reader-friendly guide with guidance and information, including details on new techniques and materials that can economize and expedite jobs and advice on how to avoid mistakes in both estimating and construction. Chapters cover virtually every aspect of wells and septic systems, including on-site evaluations; site limitations; bidding; soil studies, septic designs, and code-related issues; drilled and dug wells, gravel and pipe, chamber-type, and gravity septic systems; pump stations; common problems with well installation; and remedies for poor septic situations. Woodson also discusses ways to increase profits by avoiding cost overruns.
Country Plumbing: Living with a Septic System, Hartigan, Gerry: $ 9.95; ALAN C HOOD & TP;
Quoting an Amazon reviewer's comment, with which we agree--DF:This book is informative as far as it goes and might be most useful for someone with an older system. But it was written in the early 1980s. A lot has changed since then. In particular, the book doesn't cover any of the newer systems that are used more and more nowadays in some parts of the country -- sand mounds, aeration systems, lagoons, etc.
Design Manuals for Septic Systems
US EPA Onsite Wastewater Treatment Systems Manual [online copy, free] Top Reference: US EPA's Design Manual for Onsite Wastewater Treatment and Disposal, 1980, available from the US EPA, the US GPO Superintendent of Documents (Pueblo CO), and from the National Small Flows Clearinghouse. Original source http://www.epa.gov/ORD/NRMRL/Pubs/625R00008/625R00008.htm Onsite wastewater treatment and disposal systems,
Richard J Otis, published by the US EPA. Although it's more than 20 years old, this book remains a useful reference for septic system designers.
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Office of Water Program Operations; Office of Research and Development, Municipal Environmental Research Laboratory; (1980)
"International Private Sewage Disposal Code," 1995, BOCA-708-799-2300, ICBO-310-699-0541, SBCCI 205-591-1853, available from those code associations.
"Manual of Policy, Procedures, and Guidelines for Onsite Sewage Systems," Ontario Reg. 374/81, Part VII of the Environmental
Protection Act (Canada), ISBN 0-7743-7303-2, Ministry of the Environment,135 St. Clair Ave. West, Toronto Ontario M4V 1P5 Canada $24. CDN.
Manual of Septic Tank Practice, US Public Health Service's 1959.
Onsite Wastewater Disposal Books
Onsite Wastewater Disposal, R. J. Perkins;
Quoting from Amazon: This practical book, co-published with the National Environmental Health Association,
describes the step-by-step procedures needed to avoid common pitfalls in septic system technology.
Valuable in matching the septic system to the site-specific conditions, this useful book will help you install a reliable system in
both suitable and difficult environments. Septic tank installers, planners, state and local regulators, civil and sanitary engineers,
consulting engineers, architects, homeowners, academics, and land developers will find this publication valuable.
Onsite Wastewater Treatment Systems, Bennette D. Burks, Mary Margaret Minnis, Hogarth House 1994 - one of the best septic system books around, suffering a bit from small fonts and a weak index. While it contains some material more technical than needed by homeowners, Burks/Minnis book on onsite wastewater treatment systems a very useful reference for both property owners and septic system designers.
Septic Tank/Soil-Absorption Systems: How to Operate & Maintain [ copy on file as /septic/Septic_Operation_USDA.pdf ] - , Equipment Tips, U.S. Department of Agriculture, 8271 1302, 7100 Engineering, 2300 Recreation, September 1982, web search 08/28/2010, original source: http://www.fs.fed.us/t-d/pubs/pdfimage/82711302.pdf
Septic System Owner's Manual, Lloyd Kahn, Blair Allen, Julie Jones, Shelter Publications, 2000 $14.95 U.S. - easy to understand, well illustrated, one of the best practical references around on septic design basics including some advanced systems; a little short on safety and maintenance. Both new and used (low priced copies are available, and we think the authors are working on an updated edition--DF.
Quoting from one of several Amazon reviews: The basics of septic systems, from underground systems and failures to what the owner can do to promote and maintain a healthy system, is revealed in an excellent guide essential for any who reside on a septic system. Rural residents receive a primer on not only the basics; but how to conduct period inspections and what to do when things go wrong. History also figures into the fine coverage.
Grass is Always Greener Over the Septic Tank, Bombeck, Erma: $ 5.99; FAWCETT; MM;
This septic system classic whose title helps avoid intimidating readers new to septic systems, is available new or used at very low prices.
It's more entertainment than a serious "how to" book on septic systems design, maintenance, or repair. Not recommended -- DF.
US EPA Onsite Wastewater Treatment Systems Manual Top Reference: US EPA's Design Manual for Onsite Wastewater Treatment and Disposal, 1980, available from the US EPA, the US GPO Superintendent of Documents (Pueblo CO), and from the National Small Flows Clearinghouse. Original source http://www.epa.gov/ORD/NRMRL/Pubs/625R00008/625R00008.htm
Water Wells and Septic Systems Handbook, R. Dodge Woodson. This book is in the upper price range, but is worth the cost for serious septic installers and designers.
Quoting Amazon: Each year, thousands upon thousands of Americans install water wells and septic systems on their properties. But with a maze of codes governing their use along with a host of design requirements that ensure their functionality where can someone turn for comprehensive, one-stop guidance? Enter the Water Wells and Septic Systems Handbook from McGraw-Hill.
Written in language any property owner can understand yet detailed enough for professionals and technical students this easy-to-use volume delivers the latest techniques and code requirements for designing, building, rehabilitating, and maintaining private water wells and septic systems. Bolstered by a wealth of informative charts, tables, and illustrations, this book delivers:
* Current construction, maintenance, and repair methods
* New International Private Sewage Disposal Code
* Up-to-date standards from the American Water Works Association
Wells and Septic Systems, Alth, Max and Charlet, Rev. by S. Blackwell Duncan, $ 18.95; Tab Books 1992. We have found this text very useful for conventional well and septic systems design and maintenance --DF.
Quoting an Amazon description:Here's all the information you need to build a well or septic system yourself - and save a lot of time, money, and frustration. S. Blackwell Duncan has thoroughly revised and updated this second edition of Wells and Septic Systems to conform to current codes and requirements. He also has expanded this national bestseller to include new material on well and septic installation, water storage and distribution, water treatment, ecological considerations, and septic systems for problem building sites.
Carson, Dunlop & Associates Ltd., 120 Carlton Street Suite 407, Toronto ON M5A 4K2. Tel: (416) 964-9415 1-800-268-7070 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. The firm provides professional home inspection services & home inspection education & publications. Alan Carson is a past president of ASHI, the American Society of Home Inspectors. Thanks to Alan Carson and Bob Dunlop, for permission for InspectAPedia to use text excerpts from The Home Reference Book & illustrations from The Illustrated Home. Carson Dunlop Associates' provides extensive home inspection education and report writing material.
The Illustrated Home illustrates construction details and building components, a reference for owners & inspectors. Special Offer: For a 5% discount on any number of copies of the Illustrated Home purchased as a single order Enter INSPECTAILL in the order payment page "Promo/Redemption" space.
TECHNICAL REFERENCE GUIDE to manufacturer's model and serial number information for heating and cooling equipment, useful for determining the age of heating boilers, furnaces, water heaters is provided by Carson Dunlop, Associates, Toronto - Carson Dunlop Weldon & Associates Special Offer: Carson Dunlop Associates offers InspectAPedia readers in the U.S.A. a 5% discount on any number of copies of the Technical Reference Guide purchased as a single order. Just enter INSPECTATRG in the order payment page "Promo/Redemption" space.
The Home Reference Book - the Encyclopedia of Homes, Carson Dunlop & Associates, Toronto, Ontario, 25th Ed., 2012, is a bound volume of more than 450 illustrated pages that assist home inspectors and home owners in the inspection and detection of problems on buildings. The text is intended as a reference guide to help building owners operate and maintain their home effectively. Field inspection worksheets are included at the back of the volume.
Special Offer: For a 10% discount on any number of copies of the Home Reference Book purchased as a single order. Enter INSPECTAHRB in the order payment page "Promo/Redemption" space. InspectAPedia.com editor Daniel Friedman is a contributing author.
Special Offer: Carson Dunlop Associates offers InspectAPedia readers in the U.S.A. a 5% discount on these courses: Enter INSPECTAHITP in the order payment page "Promo/Redemption" space. InspectAPedia.com editor Daniel Friedman is a contributing author.
The Horizon Software System manages business operations,scheduling, & inspection report writing using Carson Dunlop's knowledge base & color images. The Horizon system runs on always-available cloud-based software for office computers, laptops, tablets, iPad, Android, & other smartphones