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septic smell on cold days

Post in 'DIY and General non-hearth advice' started by TheSmith, Dec 23, 2007.

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  1. TheSmith

    TheSmith New Member

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    I live in a rural area and have a septic system on the property.I noticed when the temp. outside is extremely cold (20 or below) there is a smell of sewer gas.it comes and goes and isnt that strong, but it concerned me since I never noticed it before.I had my tank recently pumped so I called the septic co back, the explanation given to me was sewer gas is heavier than air and in cold temps tends to drop down to ground level faster.I have no problems with slow drains or anything along those lines so everything seems to be working fine.after googling the prob I found the same explanation the septic co told me.Im just wondering if anyone else has had this issue.Its also tough to determine if the smell is even coming from my system.I have 2 neighbors somewhat close to me that could have a issue.The smells wanders and next thing you know its gone so I cant really pin point it.

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  2. Highbeam

    Highbeam Minister of Fire

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    The only way for the gas to exit your septic system is throught the vent stacks on your roof. Go on up and take a wiff. Seriously, you don't need to stuff your nose in the pipe but kind of sniff near it and fan the fumes onto your face. Everyone's tank smells different and you'll recongize it.

    I assume the smell is outside. If the smell is inside then you have plumbing issues.
  3. Ridgefire

    Ridgefire New Member

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    Ok real dumb question on septic tanks. Is it normal for the snow to melt over the tank itself? I noticed there is no snow directly over the tank
  4. Sandor

    Sandor Minister of Fire

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    Smith,

    The smell is coming from the vent. Not unusual in the winter with the right wind and falling barometer. Happens at my house several times per year.

    Ridgefire,

    Septic tanks can be close to the surface. Your dumping (no pun intended) warm water in there. Combine that with the decomposition process that generates heat, and snow may melt on top of the tank. Ever see compost piles steam on cool mornings?
  5. TheSmith

    TheSmith New Member

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    the smell is outside, and yes I have had the pleasure of smelling the sewer vent, I was just concerned since I never noticed this before and I have been in this home for several years.The family is a little larger now so maybe that has something to do with it.Septic problems are never fun, and in the winter its even worse so I was concerned, but hearing other people have had this happen puts my mind a little at ease.
  6. Harley

    Harley Minister of Fire

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    You could also try extending the vent pipe a little bit with a piece of PVC. Not that it will fix the problem, but it may be enough to carry the odor a little farther from the house so you don't notice it.

    The occaisional smell is not unusual and does depend on air pressure, wind, etc.
  7. scfa99

    scfa99 New Member

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    yes its normal, i wondered the same thing and asked the guy when I had the tanked cleaned.
  8. pegdot

    pegdot New Member

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    If you really think it's your tank that's causing the smell you might want to get some Rid-X and treat it. Could be that the enzyme & bacteria levels are too low after the pumping.
  9. BJN644

    BJN644 Feeling the Heat

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    I was told Rid-X type products can actually be harmfull to a septic system. The reason given was the stuff does what it says, breaks down solids, but breaks them down small enough to be transported out in the liquid that goes to the drainage field, plugging it up. Just something I read somewhere and it made sense to me.
  10. pegdot

    pegdot New Member

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    Never heard that. We've been using it for 20 years now, although I'll admit that I often forget to do it every month, with no problems. Just two people in the house but we've yet to have to pump the tank. No problems with the drain lines that I'm aware of but since our house is at the top of a hill the lines do have the extra benefit of some downward angle.
  11. nshif

    nshif New Member

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    The lines in the leech field should be level reguardless of the slope of the ground so that the liquid drains off over the entire run not concentrated at the low end.
    I know people that use RidX and have no problems. I just dump a packet or 2 of yeast down the drain every once in awhile seems to work ok.
    I too notice a sewer smell on occasion usually if the wind is just right and its cold.
    Snow does sit over my tank but its pretty deep (top os about 4' under)
  12. homebrewz

    homebrewz Minister of Fire

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    [/quote] "I just dump a packet or 2 of yeast down the drain every once in awhile seems to work ok." [/quote]

    Thats interesting. I had never considered this before. I wonder if all of the spent yeast from homebrewing I dump down the drain improves the
    biological activity in the septic tank?
  13. nshif

    nshif New Member

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    Not sure if its an old wives tale but Ive heard it from alot of old timers some who have tanks almost 30 years old that have never been pumped
  14. BJN644

    BJN644 Feeling the Heat

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  15. TheSmith

    TheSmith New Member

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    I use rid-x every 2-3 months or so.I too have used yeast from the kitchen cupboard.
  16. TheSmith

    TheSmith New Member

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    this may be a great excuse to get into home brewing "honey Im helping the septic system out"
  17. nshif

    nshif New Member

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    Guess the yeast thing is an old wives tale. guess Ill make more bread then
  18. cmonSTART

    cmonSTART Minister of Fire

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    Wow am I glad I found this post. I too experienced the same thing within the past couple days and it had me paranoid that when the snow melted, I was going to find some sort of septic disaster in my yard.

    whew!!
  19. velvetfoot

    velvetfoot Minister of Fire

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    Nice link, thanks.
  20. Highbeam

    Highbeam Minister of Fire

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    You don't need to dump anything special down into your septic tank. It is a wive's tale and commercial myth. You can't really hurt anything with these additivies though so no harm done except to your pocketbook. There are way more than enough bugs in one lump of poo to activate the whole system and even the kills done by a typical application of bleach as your cleaning agent won't slow the reaction down. Now if you dump gallons of straight bleach down your drain then you may really screw things up. Oh, and yes, you do need to have your tank pumped. Nomatter how many bugs are eating your poo due to the fancy yeast you might be adding you will still have sludge left over. Nothing eats the mineral ash that will accumulate just as if you incinerated the poo.

    "The lines in the leech field should be level reguardless of the slope of the ground so that the liquid drains off over the entire run not concentrated at the low end"

    True, you want the leech lines to be level but don't be thinking that this will evenly distibute the tank effluent. Gravity leech lines are doomed to failure since the effluent will pour out of the first or lowest perforation in the pipe until that particular area is overloaded and then the effluent backs up to the next hole. The only way to evenly distribute the effluent is by pressure distribution which is superior in many ways including dosing of your drainfield. I always recommend placing the drainfield at a lower elevation that the tank. Septic systems can fail and when they do you will want to have treated effluent rising from the drainfiled area long before you have the septic tank backing sewage up into your home. Have you ever had to open a septic tank lid that was full of sewage and under pressure?

    Poo is my bread and butter.
  21. homebrewz

    homebrewz Minister of Fire

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    Is there anyway to tell when a tank is getting to the point where it needs to be pumped without opening it up?
    If not, what is the average lifetime of a tank before it needs to be pumped?
  22. 'bert

    'bert Minister of Fire

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    My tank is over 8' under ground and I notice that there is much less snow covering it. There is usually almost no snow on the lid to the tank itself.
  23. cmonSTART

    cmonSTART Minister of Fire

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    Anyone else still stuck on this? eew...
  24. Ridgefire

    Ridgefire New Member

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    Yeah but I didnt want to say anything
  25. Highbeam

    Highbeam Minister of Fire

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    It's a pretty cruddy business but dealing with sewage is big business. In my early days I would design the onsite systems and write the operating manuals. I am more into converting people to city sewers now but I am still fond of onsite disposal. Maybe it is the independence of the whole thing, just like wood burning. A guy with a private well and a septic is free of some bills and also independent of failures in those systems.

    Anyway, you need to pull the lid (s) off of your septic tank to measure the accumulation of scum and sludge. Usually the sludge is the first to exceed normal limits and the best way that I have found is to use a rake to feel the top of the sludge then srive the handle to the bottom to measure depth. Don't fall in since they can be 5-6 feet deep. Don't be shocked that it looks full, the tank is supposed to be full at all times but only sertain amounts of sludge and scum. The books say to use a long white rag attached to the tip of a poke stick and push the poke stick to the bottom. The sludge will make a nearly black mark on the white rag since the sludge is quite thick. As the sludge accumulates on the bottom and scum accumulates on the top - your clear zone, the actual working part, of the septic tank gets smaller and smaller and less efficient at seperating the solids from teh water. Before messing with measuring I would go ahead and have it pumped if it has been more than 5-7 years or so. The pumping man will be able to tell you how much longer you could have waited. Best to be conservative and pump too often since sending sludge out in to your drainfield can ruin it and that's when the costs start building up. There is no penalty for too frequent pumping except pumping costs.
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