Here we are. Septic system is backing up. Tank had not been pumped in over 25 years. Never had a problem. Toilets always were flushing. Now this is a very common misconception. Just because the toilet is flushing it doesn’t
mean that the septic system is functioning or needing pumped. Don’t run it till it backs up. It get’s expensive from there.
This is what happens when one waits too long to pump their septic tanks out. Remember a septic tank is a solids separating device. Continually separated water from solids and ejects water to the drainfield. If the tank get’s to full it loses the ability and sends solids out to the drainfield, and packs it full of solids. Imagine 400 feet of 3 inch pipe. It can take 10 years to pack that pipe all the way full before you see signs of backing up in the house. Don’t wait this long, this homeowner has about $2,600 in repairs.
In the first picture Chris Gross is assisting me in locating the distribution box. It’s a tiny tank that distributes wastewater equally to all the lines of the drainfield. As you can see this one is deep. Reason. Homeowner wanted to level off the back yard long after the septic system was put it. So he added a retaining wall and brought in over 3 feet of soil. Making the system very deep. We had to use a trackhoe to excavate.
The next picture is of the distribution box. From the looks of it we are not the first ones to be in there. Whoever repaired this distribution box used some sort of plastic container to plug a hole in the side of it. You just don’t find this kind of craftsman ship anymore. Actually, I hope no one finds this kind of work anymore. I cannot tell you how many times I find such repairs. This is not a repair.
Oh, and I forgot to say. It was completely packed full of solids. I did not get a picture of this. And for that I apologize. The pictures get better. I promise.
Now we ran some simple tests from here. We added water to this distribution box to see if the drainfield would accept water. It would not. The water added just backed up in the hole. That being said, there is something wrong with the drainfield, or the transport lines to the drainfield. Gotta keep digging.
In this third picture we are locating the transport lines to the drainfield. One thing we noticed is that the pipe is a cheap schedule 10 abs plastic. It was packed so full that it split the pipe.
In the fourth picture you can see the solids trying to get out through the splits it made
I know that this is gross. But it’s just a matter of fact. If a septic tank goes too long between pumpings it will lose the ability to separate liquids and solids and send solids out to the drainfield, and symptoms may not show up for 10-15 years. And by the time it backs up, simply pumping doesn’t remove the solids from the pipes. It needs to be cleaned out. And in the case where cheap pipe was used during installation, it needs replaced.
In the next picture I cut the top of the pipe off to better illustrate what is going on inside that pipe.
I know, I know, that has to be the most disgusting thing ever photographed and then posted on a website. But if your gambling your septic system, you kinda have to get over it. Cause someone like me will be out there digging this thing up to remove it. There is only one way to get it out. There is no magic chemical or powder that’s going to do this. This cannot be snaked. This has to by hydro jetted and in this case of cheap pipe, pipe replacement.
Remember when installing a new septic system. Don’t just take the lowest bid without asking questions as to why. Schedule 10 abs pipe is very cheap, very thin. Even snaking the pipe can break it, and create a need for replacement. We replaced with schedule 40.
In this next picture we show a new distribution box with new transport lines to the drainfield. Notice that the distribution box is new, and not repaired with some plastic container. Trust me. It’s hard work to replace a distribution box, and get everything to line up. But to do anything different is just shoddy workmanship.
This is a top view looking down. Remember, only water should see this distribution box. Nothing more. As long as the tank is serviced when needed, solids will never go down here. And there is only one way to tell if a septic tank is too full. One must open the septic tank and take measurements. No one can tell if a septic system is full or not by just looking in the tank. Gotta get the dirty tools out and check. It’s like a dipstick for septic tanks and tells us if it’s time or not. I will post a blog about that later.
In the next picture you can see the distribution box, to transport lines, to drainfield. You can’t really tell from the picture but this is down hill from the distribution box.
Remember the most important rule of plumbing. Water flows downhill. Now where the pipes turn 90 degrees to the left, that’s the beginning of the drainfield lines. There are three in this system. We hydro-jetted them out as well. I am sorry, I didn’t get any pictures of this proceedure. I just didn’t think about it.
This is what it looks like after the 90 degree elbow. Goes directly into drainfield lines which are rock and pipe in this picture.
Here is a picture of the distribution box with the lid on it. Not much to mention here, except this is what it looks like.
And below is finished product. Now remember it’s raining like crazy when these pictures were taken. And it’s really really hard to make it look super smooth or spectacular. But we rebuilt his retaining wall, and brought everything back they way he wanted it. Now it’s time for spreading grass seed.
Now, I don’t mean to beat a dead horse. But simply running it till it backs up can mean expensive damage has been caused. It doens’t mean that all the time. But if you back up, pray that it’s just because the septic tank is too full and won’t accept anymore wastewater from your house. And don’t push it. Not at all. An average pumping is about $400.00. Inspection run about $95.00, and I would have them checked out every year to every three depending on what kind of system you have.
Oh, and most important of all. This homeowner was one of the lucky ones. If those solids make it into the drainrock of the drainfield lines, it would have been a system failure. And needed to be replaced. There is no fix for solids in the drainrock. It simply needs replaced with new. And with the new regulations set up by the EPA, simple and inexpensive gravity systems are harder to get approved. This system would most likely not have been approved for equal replacement. This would have had multiple septic tanks with pumps and a pressurized drainfield. Anywhere from $10,000 to $17,000 to replace. Remember, it’s less expensive to take care of the septic system you have than to replace it.
Thanks for Reading,
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Good article, I learned something from it, though some of the pictures are really, awful to look at. Septic tanks may be a dirty job, but we need them badly, specially when things like this, occur.
Great tips. very well-written, keyword-oriented and incredibly useful. its really interesting to many readers. I really appreciate this, thanks
You mentioned that we shouldn’t run our septic tank until it backs up. This is great to know, especially since we want to avoid breaking it. My mom just moved into her house, and she is thinking that the septic tank isn’t clean. I’ll let her know the consequences of waiting to get it cleaned so that she can look for a sanitation company to help her clean it.
I am glad that you showed pictures of what your tank and lines will look like. It is good to know that it would be smart to think about getting a professional to clean out your home. That is great for me to know because I just bought my first home and it has a septic tank.
I’m glad that you mentioned that you should always get your septic system pumped even if you’ve never had a problem with it. Last night I realized that I haven’t had my system pumped in a long time and I was wondering if it was fine because I wasn’t experiencing any problems. I’ll have to look into hiring a service for septic pumping.
I might have to get my septic cleaned out. I’d want to make sure that there are no clogs. Ending up like the pictures you showed is not what I’d want to happen.
Thanks for elaborating on the importance of doing maintenance on your septic tank to avoid back up and costly repairs. I’ve been living in my house for about 5 years and I’m not sure if the previous owners had maintenance done on the septic tank. I don’t want what you explained happening to my tank so I’m going to call a septic tank cleaning company to that they can come and inspect it.
My dad told me that he does not remember when was the last time that his septic tank was pumped and now he is telling me that some stinky liquids are coming from the septic tank. I like how you said that this is what happens when one waits too long to pump their septic tanks out. I will recommend him to contact a professional company to visit his house and check if his septic tank needs to be repaired or replaced.
It’s good to know that a septic tank will lose its ability to separate liquids and solids if it goes too long without being cleaned. My brother has been telling me about how his septic tank has been full recently, and I think he needs to get it cleaned. I’ll share this information with him so that he can look into his options for professionals who can help him with septic tank cleaning.
I agree that you shouldn’t just run your tank until it backs up. You want to be sure to maintain your septic tank regularly. That way you’ll be able to relax knowing that your tank won’t have any problems.