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Why is my septic alarm going off?

Why is my septic alarm going off? or My septic alarm went off? or Septic alarm what to do? When a Septic alarm goes off it’s almost an emergency. Or it can be. There is a small potential that the alarm is malfunctioning, but remember why the alarm was installed in the first place. It means that the levels in the tank are above normal operating levels, and something is wrong. Usually when the alarm goes off, septic back-up is imminent. Traditional gravity systems don’t have an alarm. Reason, gravity has not failed us yet. That’s right, gravity is doing all the work, we’ve all heard, water flows downhill. Same thing in a gravity system. But in a system where your drainfield is located up hill, well, there is a tank and a pump to send the water uphill. Since there maybe a blown pump, the water has nowhere to go and it will backup in the house or out in the yard. This is why they install High-Water alarms in these systems. Now there are Pressurized Drainfield systems, this is where the drainfield, can be located anywhere on your property, uphill or downhill, but your whole drainfield goes under pressure, and mists the waste water throughout the entire drainfield. In this case a high water alarm was installed in case something went wrong with the pump or drainfield.

Now there are timer systems as well out there. You may ask yourself, why does a septic system needs timers and programmable logic controllers? There are many reasons, but the easiest to explain is how drainfields like to work. They like small doses all day and all night long. All the time everyday. Traditional systems are “on demand” systems. The holding tanks and pumps wait for their to be enough water in the tanks. Then “on” they go and the send out whatever water they gather. Pump runs until the on/off switch says there’s no more water, turn off. This is on demand.

Now imagine your septic system in a church. They get most of there wastewater during Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. A traditional drainfield would not survive very long here. It would be deluged with water during the weekend, and hopefully recover by Thursday night. This is one step forward, then two back. It won’t last long. Our history and data agree.

Now, put in the standard septic tank with a huge holding tank. But now we’ll call it a timed dosing tank. Now we program the pumps to only allow water to go to the drainfield every 2 hrs. And we only allow the pumps to come on for 45 seconds. Depending on the tank size, that’s usually 22 gallons every 2 hrs. Now I know what you’re thinking, it won’t take long to fill those tanks. During the weekend rush, the water will be going in faster than what is being treated and released. Correct. But we put in a big enough of a surge tank to handle that. So when Monday morning comes, it is still discharging 22 gallons every 2 hrs. and it will process that all the way through through Thursday night. Ready for Friday to begin.

Now, you’re thinking, what does that have to do with the Alarm? Okay, here it goes. There is a high level alarm. In case you have a huge wedding and party on the weekend at this church. The alarm bypasses the timer and goes back to on demand dosing, but gives you an audible warning saying, “hey, you are giving me too much water to handle” you better cut back, or it can hurt the drainfield.”

This is true, now in some jurisdictions, this Safety feature is disabled. It is disabled in our County. We are not allowed to have this feature here. In Clark County if the alarm goes off, you just simply better stop running water. Or wastewater is coming back into the church. Now at first glance you’d think, what are they thinking? It makes sense to have the alarm go off and have the pumps go into an “emergency state” and discharge the water. But in my experience, and those in the Health Department, this will turn into a regular occurrence and problems wont be addressed or corrected.

If this problem is frequent enough, or it happens all the time. Then a bigger surge tank needs to be put in and a bigger drainfield to handle the church’s new wastewater load.

This timer system isn’t only for churches, it’s good for bars and nightclubs too. Think about it. Their wastewater surge is between 9-2 am. And it’s a huge wastewater load too. It would flood the drainfield, and then it better dried up and ready again by nightfall. Not a very good way of treating wastewater.

Another component in some septic systems is a Sand Filter. A Sand Filter is basically a giant bathtub installed in the ground, with different grades of gravel to sand at different stages put into it. Then there is a pump at the bottom. This pump waits until there is enough water to send a dose out to the drainfield.

Now a Sand Filter is an Aerobic Environment. What does that mean? Okay, Simply put the bacteria in the Sand Filter need Oxygen to survive. The Sand filter does it’s treatment in an Aerobic state. If the pump was ever to fail the water would fill the Sand Filter, and then it would go Anaerobic, and die. Effectively drowning the Sand Filter, if you have one of these components, you need to call someone quickly. You don’t want your sand filter to drown. Sometimes, they won’t come back. and need replaced.

I know I rambled a lot on this question. There are many reasons why the alarm maybe going off. But honestly, you better make a call quickly. Cause something bad may happen.