Septic System Troubleshooting Guide
Septic Sytem Maintenance
If you wait until something has already gone wrong with your Septic System, you are probably too late to have any hope at fixing it yourself. But, if you can develop a plan of action on How to Detect and see Early Signs of "Septic Tank trouble," you may just prolong the life of your system and save yourself a ton of money!
Septic System's by State
¼ of all homes (approx. 28+ million) in the Nation are using a septic system. What percentage of homes in these state's use Septic System's:
- 55% Vermont
- 48% North Carolina
- 40% South Carolina
- 40% Kentucky
- 10% California
How do I Know if I Have a Septic System?
The easiest way to determine if you actually do have a Septic System is to take a look at your water bill. You should find a line that reads something like "Sewer Amount Charged." If this line reads a $0.00 amount (and you are not operating an agriculture account) you most likely DO have a septic Tank.
How can I find out if I have a septic system:
- Ask your landlord
- Call your city or county water officials
- Ask your home owner insurance Agent
- Check with the title company that manages your property
- Ask a Realtor friend to check for you
- Contact previous owner
- Ask neighbor's (if they have them you probably do too)
- If your home water is from a well, you likely have a septic
- After a frost you see a bare patch (septics generate heat as they decompose material which causes this patch) in the yard
Septic System Leach Field Diagram
How Does a Properly Maintained Septic System Work?
A properly maintained Septic System feeds waste water from your home into pipes that fan out into the drainage field (also known as a leach field because the fluids "leach" out of the pipes and into the soil). The remaining (heavy) waste material will settle to the bottom of the tank. It is this solid waste that can bring significant problems. You have to have it pumped out every year or so, for safe and proper disposal by a professional.
How to Maintain Your Septic System -Troubleshooting at a Glance
Inspect and empty your tank regularly
A neglected tank will cause your system to fail, resulting in sewage backup and posing a serious risk to your family's health.
Experts recommend pumping a septic tank every one to two years.
Keep Chemicals out of Your System
Harsh chemicals and antibacterial agents kill the bacteria your system depends on.
Keep these chemicals out of your toilets and house drains:
♦paint and paint thinner
♦chlorine of ANY kind
Be aware of limiting kitchen waste
Grease and fat from food hinder the septic process by coating drain pipes, interfering with bacterial breakdown in the tank and clogging the loose-fill material in the drain field.
Food desposers overload your system with solid food particles, sometimes doubling the rate of sludge accumilation in the tank.
Throw cooking grease and food scraps in the garbage or compost heap.
Limit water flow
Excess water speeds up the flow through the septic system. The natural bacteria can't do their job, allowing too many solids to pass into the drain field.
Route roof drains outside of the house drain system.
Don't drain a swimming pool or hot tub into the house drain.
Repair leaky plumbing fixtures as soon as possible.
Refrain from using any additives
Biological additives designed to stimulate bacterial growth often harm more than they help. These additives agitate the anaerobic bacteria in the tank, and the increased activity forces undissolved solids into the drain field.
My Plumbing is Draining Slowly
If your drains are working slowly, or not at all, the main house drain may have a clog, or the septic system may be backed up. Check for clogs first, by clearing the main drain with a power auger (some power auger's attach to a drill, while others are self standing machines). You should never use chemical drain cleaners on a septic system as the enzyme's required for proper function will be destroyed. Fewer experts today say you should treat your system with an enzyme replacement agent, even if they do get advertised as a needed tool to keep the tank healthy and functioning in top condition. A very popular septic maintenance product is "RID-X." However, when the research is thoroughly inspected, the best advice remains to avoid the use of any septic additives. These products can actually cause the bacteria to become overly active, which can become more hazardous than helpful to your system. When agitated the overactive bacteria pushes undissolved heavy material into the drainage field before it has been broken down sufficiently, which is asking for a big septic repair bill and a health hazard right in your back yard!
How Do I Know if I Have a Serious Problem with My Septic System
First things first; when dealing with serious problems surrounding a Septic Tank, you must act quickly and very cautiously. Human sewage is very HAZARDOUS WASTE—primarily to humans. There are strict government regulations that apply to its handling and removal. Septic Tanks manufacture explosive methane gas and may contain DEADLY viruses.
If faced with the problems brought on by a damaged or non-functioning septic system at your home, you must contact a licensed sewer cleaning service. Click here for The EPA's (pdf.) guide on Septic Systems Rules.
Septic Tank from A to Z (video)
What if the House Drain isn't Clogged?
If the house drain is not clogged, the problem could be a clogged drain field, absence of bacteria in the system, or your Septic System is full. Two important signs to be on the look-out for concerning these symptoms are as follows:
- Dark-colored water is standing on the surface of the drain field
- A yucky sewage odor can be smelled in or around your home
If you are encountering either of these conditions, you most likely have a serious problem with your septic system and must contact a licensed or certified sewage cleaning service.