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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. ansehnlich1

    ansehnlich1 Minister of Fire

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    A septic tank should be pumped at least every 2 years. Those that have tanks that have not been pumped for 20 or 30 years are lucky to have a still functioning drain field. Those drain fields are likely in areas where the soil is remarkably capable of filtering effluent. Most septic systems fail when solids get past the baffles in the tank and enter the drain field, thereby clogging the drain lines.

    Rid X is not a miracle cure. Pumping your tank on a regular basis is the best thing you can do for a septic system. Now if there are only 2 people living in a home, you could go longer, but if there are 5 or 6 living there, you should pump it more often.

    Anyway, when I hear people say they have not pumped the tank in 20 years I get this feeling in my gut that what we have is likely a sluggish, nearing the end of it's life, drain field. There are exceptions but the exceptions are few.

    NOW, back to the odor thing. Do you or your neighbors have a grey water line? This would be a line where sink and laundry water are discharged to either a dry well, or to the surface. Where septic systems are failing people often do this to keep excess water from flowing into the septic drain field. These grey water lines can often emit a pretty foul odor to say the least.

    My other suspicions are that your tank has yet to fill with water which could be the cause of the odor coming up through the tank lid.

    Or, you have effluent rising to the surface due to a failed drain field. If your drain field is really green during times of drought, this is a sign of a slow field, if you have effluent at the surface this is a sign of a failed field.

    Did any water pour into your tank after or while it was being pumped???

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  2. fishboat

    fishboat Member

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    I've run a septic system for just a few years however I'm finding that if you have showers or sinks that don't get frequent use you need to run some water every week-ten days to keep the traps full. Of course this is also true of a standard sewerline system. I've had some interior odor on occasion & I've localized it to one bathroom shower that isn't used much...or the AC condensate drain in the basement. I run water in both when I think out it. It's dryer inside in the winter & my traps seem to evaporate more.

    I have had an occasional whiff outside when the wind is in the north...system is on the north side of the house.

    As for not pumping a system in 20 years...I hope the money you would have spent on pumping is going into a mutual fund, you may need it. Mine's pumped every three years, whether I choose to or not...local ordinance...though I'd do it anyway. I'm not at all interested in replacing the system. The last pump/inspection guy said all's-well...and all additives at best do no harm, but are a waste of money.

    ..as for brewer's yeast...I brewed for years. Ale yeast will go dormant at septic temps & lager yeast MAY have a chance at 40-50F, but not much. Brewer's yeast is looking for simple sugars to work on..your body has pretty much consumed them on the first pass through. Now if you want to dump lots of brewer's yeast in to the septic, have it pumped, dry it out, & pelletize the solids...you could call it Milorganite fertilizer like Milwaukee does.
  3. TheSmith

    TheSmith New Member

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    My smell is outside, not near the tank really, im pretty sure it is coming from the vent.My septic co adds water back to the tank after it is pumped also.Its been warmer up here the past few days, and no smell.only in a extreme cold snap has it been noticable.
  4. Highbeam

    Highbeam Minister of Fire

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    It is good that your pumper adds water to the empty tank. Without that water you could have a little problem with flotation of that large boat you call a septic tank. Same with swimming pools in areas of high groundwater.

    Pumping every two years won't hurt but is certainly not needed. The local agencies come up with a worst case scenario and then assign an interval, typically three years, for pumping. This interval is obviously very conservative to account for the overloaded systems. A well taken care of modern system that is not overloaded can easily go ten years. This has risk though and the penalty is severe. I would rather check my tanks and avoid pumping until it is necessary. MOST folks will not be checking their sludge levels and so should give in to the short 3 year or so pump.
  5. reaperman

    reaperman Member

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    Every septic pumper carries, (or should carry) a device designed to check the sludge layer in the tank Its a clear plastic tube with a round ball inside that is designed to accurately check the sludge layer. It is much more accurate than a garden rake. They have been around for many years. And yes, your tank should be pumped every 3 years. There is no such thing as a properly maintained septic tank as long as there are women and children in a house. The average water consumption for a three bedroom home is 600 gallons/day. Sounds unlikely, but according to the University of Minnesota extension, these numbers are in line with reality.
  6. Sandor

    Sandor Minister of Fire

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    TRUE!

    I lived alone in a house in Maryland for 10 years and never pumped the tank, until I sold it. During the septic inspection, they pumped the tank... there was less than a foot of sludge.

    Moved in with the women over two years ago, with her two daughters. Her tank was never pumped for ten years!

    Whoa! The "Puddin" was close to the septic tank discharge, like 4-5 feet of sludge.

    During the pumping process, the sucker kept clogging..... with.....tampons! Hundreds of them!

    So:

    1. Reaperman is correct
    2. Educate the wife/girls about proper disposal of their stuff. (You can tell by the yellow wrappers in the trash can)
    3. Hire a Honeysucker with a modern rig with enough sucking power so you don't end up with a pile of crappy tampons in the front yard.
    4. Go to the local bar while the sucking process is going on. Have the wife inspect the pumping process and deal with any issues.
  7. velvetfoot

    velvetfoot Minister of Fire

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    I would have to agree with #4. Talk about stinky. Whew!

    It also helps to know where to dig for the cover.
    Luckily I had accurate drawings, but now I also have a marker.
  8. Highbeam

    Highbeam Minister of Fire

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    That's freaking hilarious! Did he leave you a mountain of pooey used tampons in your front yard? I would have left them there for a week as a reminder to the women of the house, ha!

    4-5' of puddin.....
  9. velvetfoot

    velvetfoot Minister of Fire

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    Then there was this article today:

    Man stuck upside-down in septic tank
    The Associated Press

    DES MOINES, Iowa --It was a stinky holiday for Robert Schoff.

    The 77-year-old man spent part of Christmas Eve stuck upside down in the opening of his septic tank, with his head inside and his feet kicking in the air above.

    "It wasn't good, I'll tell you what," Schoff said Tuesday. "It was the worst Christmas Eve I've ever had."

    Schoff reached into the tank Monday in an effort to find a clog, but he lost his balance and got wedged into the opening.

    The 5-foot-5-inch, 135-pound Schoff hollered and screamed for help, but it was an hour before his wife, Toni, walked by a window and saw his feet in the air.

    "I saw these kicking feet and ran out, but couldn't get him out," Toni Schoff said.

    She called 911 and two Polk County sheriff's deputies yanked her husband out of the tank.

    "I thought it was the end of my life," Schoff said. "Thank God my wife saw me. I don't think I could have stood staying in there much more."
  10. Harley

    Harley Minister of Fire

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    Actually, mine too, although I don't get out in the field much at all. The worst I usually have to do is go out in the lab and squeeze some samples if there's no one else around and a bid is due.
  11. triptester

    triptester Feeling the Heat

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    In some states septic systems are required to be pumped out a minimum of once every three years by code.

    I had a similar problem with occasional septic smell and was able to eliminate it by extending the vent pipe above the roof peak.
  12. Sandor

    Sandor Minister of Fire

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    Walked far into the woods with a pitchfork. Yikes!
  13. Wolves-Lower

    Wolves-Lower New Member

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    As far as checking sludge depth. I use what is called a "Sludge Judge". This is a basic clear tube that has a ball relief. In essence it is just like a straw and finger.

    I feel fortunate because I intalled a new system last year. I thought I was going to really get stroked. It cost me 2k. And the best part was no leach field. I used a system called a dry well.
    My installed also put a filter at the effluent end that I can change out every two years.
  14. DiscoInferno

    DiscoInferno Minister of Fire

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    Maybe you don't mean what I'm thinking of, but I thought that dumping sewage into a dry well was illegal in most places.
  15. Wolves-Lower

    Wolves-Lower New Member

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    Perhaps I should clarify.
    A Seepage pit. Round tank with River Rock in the bottom and holes in the side to leach the effluent.
    See pic.
    And yes, into an abandoned well would be illegal.
    Dry wells are much easier to maintain.

    Attached Files:

  16. velvetfoot

    velvetfoot Minister of Fire

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    Interesting. I didn't know that was possible.
  17. DiscoInferno

    DiscoInferno Minister of Fire

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    I wasn't thinking of an abandoned water well. A "dry well" to me meant an essentially unlined man-made cavity (covered pit) in the ground with a pipe dumping into it and no septic tank in between. My grandfather's cottage had one before modern septic systems became the norm. What you're showing just seems like an alternative to a drain field.
  18. Wolves-Lower

    Wolves-Lower New Member

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    That sounds like a small lagoon?
    The funny thing about my old septic system was that it was an old VW bus! I am not kidding!
    They put a concrete baffle down the middle of it, and burried it.
    Bad Bad Bad!
  19. TheSmith

    TheSmith New Member

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    wow and I thought my steel 50 gallon drum as a seepage pit they found when they replaced mine was unusuall! was it the camper model? :p
  20. reaperman

    reaperman Member

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    What state do you live in? That type of system was used many years ago (50+), sometimes with more than one seepage tank. Now they are not legal in many states. Most states require the bottom of the drainfield to be no deeper than 4 feet, and must be at least 3 feet above any sign of groundwater. Making many system very shallow or even mound systems. The filter on the outlet end of the tank is nice, but I would make sure you clean it more often than 2 year intervals. Otherwise you may find your basement floor doesnt make a very nice drainfield. I'd clean it (rinse with garden hose) at least every 6 months.
  21. Wolves-Lower

    Wolves-Lower New Member

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    I live in Iowa. And it was a special circumstance permit.
    The land my house is on is a flood plain. My yard has a high area and a low area. To do a leach field would have required that the Leach Field was in the lower land, closer to the lake area, and sometimes under water. A seepage pit was a better alternative for both me and the environment.

    It was the camper model!
    2 times a year to clean the filter? That seems often! I better get to it this spring. Now I just have to find that lid from the diagrams I drew up when we installed it :shut:
  22. Highbeam

    Highbeam Minister of Fire

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    Effluent filters on the line out of your septic tank are a great idea. They are usually coarse plastic and easily cleaned with a garden hose. You want to keep them clean rather than wait for them to plug and even partially back up your tank. Becuase when you finally do withdraw the filter to rinse, the rapid flow of effluent into the disposal bad will be likely to wash the filtered solids right down the line. I would recommend a premanent access riser (the round irrigation valve box from HD) be placed over the filter so that you can easily clean it out.

    If you have an effluent filter then I would advise that you compromise a cleanout lid or other lid on the system to leak sewage in the event of a plugged filter. It will leak onto the ground surface and that is bad but it is not as bad as flooding your home.

    In the midwest especially they still have lagoons and cesspools. Basicaly a hole that you send all your sewage to. Some are covered and some are not. They should all be well above the seasonal high groundwater level to prevent direct contamination of the groundwater. It may not be very civilized but it isn't much different than doing your business in a hole you dug in the woods.
  23. skeetska

    skeetska New Member

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    If the sewer Gas is coming from the vent there is cap called a Studer vent which has a one way flapper to let air in and no gas out. Had to put one on a friends house, you couldn't set on the back deck. Yes the are legal to install by the IRC Codes
  24. Highbeam

    Highbeam Minister of Fire

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    A one-way valve on the main stack vent is no good. They are fine on individual waste vents but your main stack's purpose is to allow the nasty gas to leave your system.

    As things decompose they produce methane and other nasty gasses. Ever seen an elk rotting in the sun all bloated up and ready to burst? That'll be your house if you don't allow the gasses to leave the vent stack.

    I suspect that the studer you put on your friend's house just created enough pressure in the ventilation system to push the nasty gas out of the smaller plumbing vents.
  25. verne

    verne Member

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    They make oderhogs or carbon fiter caps to put on your vent stack . they work good and the carbon lasts for a few years so I am told.
    I made my own out of pvc couplings paintstrainer mesh and fish tank filter carbon. works for me and I had bad oder cause of down drafts. My house is up against a huge ridge
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