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(probably a) Septic Issue?

Post in 'DIY and General non-hearth advice' started by abrucerd, Nov 5, 2012.

  1. abrucerd

    abrucerd Member

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    After putting my toddler to bed last night, I came downstairs to drain the water from his bath. A little while later, I went down to my (unfinished) basement to get something, and noticed water on the floor. While investigating, I happened to open the top of the washing machine and noticed it was half full with soapy water. I then ran the bathwater upstairs again, returned to the basement and saw that water was coming up the drain and spitting out the area that the washing machine hose connects to the pipes that lead out to the septic (with some of the water making it into the washing machine hose and ending up back inside there)

    The septic is only 5 years old (newly installed when we bought the house in Aug 07), never pumped or inspected. Just me, the wife, and the 3 year old.

    My wife took a shower this morning, and no water in the basement. So it IS draining... just slow I guess?

    I'm assuming that the water is draining slow because the septic is full and should be pumped. Does this sound right to anyone else?

    Should I just have someone come pump it, or should I have them do anything else to confirm it's not a different issue?

    Thanks in advance!

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  2. SIERRADMAX

    SIERRADMAX Feeling the Heat

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    You should have it pumped every other year and inspect the zabel filter. I would venture to guess the zabel is clogged with solids. The zabel filter is a pvc filter inside the septic tank connected to the output to the leechfield (depending on your application).
  3. JustWood

    JustWood Minister of Fire

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    If you've had alot of rain/flooding it could be due to a high water table.
    Could be your drain from house to tank is plugged.
    Or tank needs pumped.
    If its backing up due to a full tank you'll likely have issues further down system also.
    Pull the lid off your tank and see whats going on . If its not FULL to the top you likely have a blockage between tank and house. Rent or borrow a snake and get the blockage out.
  4. firefighterjake

    firefighterjake Minister of Fire

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    I would guess that the problem isn't that the septic system is full . . . but after five years it certainly wouldn't hurt to have it pumped out. My own guess is that you may have a partial blockage somewhere in the line . . . then again . . . I'm not a plumber and next to hanging dry wall I hate plumbing.
  5. Adkjake

    Adkjake Member

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    Yeah, if only 5 years old and there are only 3 of you in the house, probably isn't full, at least of waste. If you have a high water table and have had some recent rains could be full of water, or there could be a problem with the leech drain or field.

    How easy is inspection access? Mine has a threaded nipple in the 90* elbow where the waste pipe goes out thru the cellar wall. I also know exactly where to dig to get to the clean out ports on top of the tank.

    My septic guy reccommends a pump out every 5 years or so.

    I feel your pain, had a similar problem this summer. However my system was over 35 years old and the old steel tank was swiss cheese. Spent around $5000 this summer to have a new system installed.

    Good luck
    Jack Straw likes this.
  6. firefighterjake

    firefighterjake Minister of Fire

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    For the past year or so I've had to deal with a plumbing problem . . . the pipe near the septic tank would plug up and I would have to open up my septic system and ram a piece of plastic pipe through it until the jam would let go and then it was as if I had opened the floodgates to the Niagara Falls (only with more poop and TP).

    I could always tell when things were starting to get jammed up when the water in the shower would start to drain more slowly . . . or when my wife would flush the toilet on the second floor and the toilet on the first floor would blow a few bubbles.

    We dug up the pipe this Fall though and discovered a large rock had crushed the pipe and had made it so that the pipe was actually not graded correctly to the septic system. Replaced the pipe . . . so far, so good . . . but I haven't put away my "Unjamming Pipe" yet though.
  7. thewoodlands

    thewoodlands Minister of Fire

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    We have ours pumped every three years unless we have a problem. Post number eight, it's been fine since.
    http://www.hearth.com/talk/threads/...to-drain-field-check-valve.66524/#post-833845

    zap
  8. jebatty

    jebatty Minister of Fire

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    Septic problems stink! Agree with the rest. Check the tank, but it should look quite full, up to the outlet to the drain field is expected. Probably the line to the tank, but if plugged, why? Does it have a dip in the line which is allowing sediment or plugging? Was a joint not sealed and roots in the line? Might the line have been cracked or broken on install? Try a snake.

    As to pumping, we pump every 3 years, just the two of us plus occasional family visits. I figure this is good insurance to keep solids out of the drain field and help the system last as long as possible. We installed a new system back in 1992, and 4 years ago in connection with a house addition had to have the system inspected and re-certified, included checking the drain field, and all was OK. Great news.
    Dune and abrucerd like this.
  9. abrucerd

    abrucerd Member

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    Thanks for all the responses. I will definitely pump every 2-3 years moving forward.

    Unfortunately, many of the questions and terms you guys are asking/using are outside my area of expertise (line dip, zabel filter, threaded nipple). There's no apparent access to the tank that I've ever seen in my yard, so I'm assuming it's buried. The only visible piece is what I think is a leech field vent (PVC) sticking up about 3 feet from the ground.

    Given the range of potential issues coupled with my inexperience, I'm calling in the professionals... I'll watch, learn, and maybe save myself some $ the next time around.

    I will update this post when I know more, just to help anyone else down the road.

    Thanks again
  10. jebatty

    jebatty Minister of Fire

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    Nothing wrong about getting a pro. You may learn a lot, ask questions.
  11. firefighterjake

    firefighterjake Minister of Fire

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    Certainly might be worth getting in a professional for this potentially stinky job . . . and yes . . . septic systems are often buried. I ended up getting a plastic tube/cap for easy access to mine for future pumping so I don't have to uncover it every time.
  12. thewoodlands

    thewoodlands Minister of Fire

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    When we had the house built they measured how far the tank was from the nearest corner of the house, from the corner of the steps then made a drawing with the septic tank, distribution box and the leech field.

    I do the digging before the guy comes (saves some money) so when they dig it up get some measurements, chit even pics.

    zap
  13. semipro

    semipro Minister of Fire

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    A couple of clarifications just so you'll understand what the pros do.
    • Septic tanks actually need to be "full" to work properly. Full is when the liquid level is up to the mid-points on the discharge tee that goes out to the drain field
    • If the water level in the tank is higher than this (e.g. overflowing the access port when its removed) then:
      • the outlet and/or outlet filter, if there is one, could be clogged
      • Any of piping or distribution boxes from that point on could be clogged
      • The drain field could be saturated and not allowing water to exit the drain field pipes
    • How often a tank needs to be pumped is highly dependent upon loading and what goes into it. If you have a 4 bedroom house with only three people living in it chances are you don't need to pump for at least 5 years.
    • Its important to pump it when the solids that accumulate at the bottom get close to the level of the bottom of the inlet or outlet tees. This can be assessed with something like the "Sludge Judge".
    Its very possible you have clog between the house and tank. You may find a "clean out" access, usually a 4" dia. PVC pipe sticking up somewhere with a plug in it. You can remove that plug and look for flow or overflow there.
    abrucerd likes this.
  14. firefighterjake

    firefighterjake Minister of Fire

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    Excellent post describing the septic system.

    Just one word of caution on the clean out . . . my clean out is in my basement on a horizontal run . . . I once made the very, very, very bad mistake of removing that plug to see if there was a clog in the pipe . . . let's just say I had to take a shower afterwards . . . or rather a shower after my unplanned shower.
  15. semipro

    semipro Minister of Fire

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    Hah. My parents got the same shower.
    The PVC sewer pipe leaving their house had broken where the back fill around the basement had settled.
  16. Highbeam

    Highbeam Minister of Fire

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    I just replaced the line between the foudnation and my septic tank on Saturday. In 1963 they used these 2-3 foot sections of 4" concrete pipe with big bells that seem to crumble and leak. I love septic systems so I usually get called over to help somebody diagnose.

    The most common cause for a backup into the home is that there is a wad or pile of crap at the inlet to the septic tank. See, at the entrance there is a baffle or 90 degree turn that seems to catch the pluggers. You will find an access port over this inlet to allow you to clear the clog with a stick. If the drainfield is swampy, surfacing sewage, or dead grass from wetness then you may have problems out there instead.

    I worry because you have a basement with plumbing. Unless you live on a big hill, this means that your tank is deep. At least as deep as the basement. For this reason, inspecting the tank will be difficult and expensive. Don't fall in!
  17. heat seeker

    heat seeker Minister of Fire

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    I second Highbeam's comment on the blockage. I had a blockage Thanksgiving day a few years ago, and couldn't get anyone to come out that day. One septic guy was kind enough to explain to me about pulling the baffle plate up. I did that, and that freed the blockage and cured the problem. Just as Highbeam said, it was clogged, and when I lifted the baffle plate, I hear the "sweet sound" of sewage flowing into the tank. No problems for years afterward, either.
  18. basod

    basod Minister of Fire

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    I'd second Zap's comments about measuring off of the house to other reference points and making a drawing for future reference. If you have trees nearby ensure the leach box is marked. It's a good idea to dump some copper sulfate in it once a year to kill back any roots.

    Sounds like a blockage as the large amounts of water aren't flowing out in a timely manner but are flowing.

    Once you get it all fixed and flowing make sure to run a bleach cycle through the washing machine to sanitize it
  19. nate379

    nate379 Guest

    Up here the clean out/inspection ports are at ground level. Just 4" PVC.

    Bleach in a septic is a big no-no! Why would you "sanitize" a chit tank? You don't want to kill the microbes.
    milleo likes this.
  20. abrucerd

    abrucerd Member

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    bingo.

    Guy is pumping now, but that was one of the issues... clogged at the baffle. Another issue is that the pipe leading to the tank has a slight upward slope. It was probably downward or level at the time of installation, but has bent up for whatever reason. He decided to remove the baffle at the entrance to the pump (he said it's not needed in Mass, and a lot of people don't install it). He said I could dig up the pipe and set it properly, or I could leave it be without the baffle and it may never cause an issue... it's a "crap shoot"

    we had a laugh... poop is funny.

    anyway... that's where I'm at. He also said the washing machine filling up with waste/drain water is a common call he gets. So maybe this post will find someone new in the future.

    Thanks again, everyone.
  21. heat seeker

    heat seeker Minister of Fire

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    I think that the idea was to sanitize the washing machine, which had sewerage water in it. A nominal amount of bleach will not adversely affect a septic system. People bleach their clothes all the time - we have for years, no problems with a load or two a week with a few ounces of bleach each.
  22. semipro

    semipro Minister of Fire

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    It would be worth it to know what it was clogged with.
    Someone in your house may be flushing things they shouldn't.
    Non-flushable (synthetic) wipes, feminine products, etc. are all typical culprits.
    I'm sure the guy working on your system could tell you all kinds of stories.
  23. nate379

    nate379 Guest

    Ah, that makes sense.

    Small amount of bleach is "ok"... ish, but no bleach is better. I don't really have anything that would need bleach in teh wash.

  24. Highbeam

    Highbeam Minister of Fire

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    I have kids also and in the years before the third birthday there were lots of those baby wipes used but not flushed. You can not flush those things, septic or sewer. Once they are old enough to not need those wipes, they are major TP users. Hard for a very young kid to use "just enough" TP. There are other cloggage possibilities but they involve the wife and you are better off not asking her about it, call the pumper instead.

    Not sure how your pipe from the house to the septic became sloped backwards or how the pumper determined this. I could buy the opposite, the tank settled and now it is steeper but unless your house sank, that line was installed with backfall. If the pumper is right about this, then you should never open that last cleanout plug where the line heads from your basement to the tank.

    I'm a fan of inlet and outlet baffles. At the inlet, the baffle prevents the incoming surge of sewage from breaking up and stirring up the scum layer that you want to form on top of the liquid. That scum layer is the fats and grease that float up and you don't want it mixing with the clearish water that lies directly beneath. Way down on the bottom is the sludge which is not protected by a baffle.

    I am not a fan of separate chambers in a septic tank. I am already boring you with details but the separate chambers do nothing but damage the ability of that septic tank to divide the incoming sewage into scum, sludge, and water.
  25. abrucerd

    abrucerd Member

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    It was mainly grease that had been backed up. He poked at it with a rod and told me to go run some faucets. The water pressure behind the clog built up and finally pushed the "toothpaste" (as he called it) into the tank. Soon followed by a few rounds of sh!t and TP... then pretty free flowing faucet water.

    He could tell by the way the PVC pipe leading to the tank was positioned. Even I could notice that it was facing "up" slightly. He said that it was likely level during installation, but as the ground above and/or below it settles, the pipe may have moved a bit.

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