Troubleshooting Septic Systems

Problems sometimes occur.

  • Keep records
  • Keep a sketch of the location
  • Keep records of repairs, maintenance and pumping for your use as well as if you sell the property

Some of the problems that occur include:

  • sluggish drainage
  • contaminated drinking water
  • wastewater surfacing in the yard
  • odors
  • pipes freezing

If any of these occur, the following troubleshooting tips may help narrow down the cause of the problem.

Septic and Drainfield Troubleshooting

Sluggish or no drainage from fixtures, or back-up of wastewater into the house may be caused by:

  • An improperly design and/or installed system
  • Improper plumbing in house
  • Blockage in house plumbing
  • Improper appliance operation
  • Excessive water entering system
  • Blockage in sewer line between house and wastewater treatment system
  • Improper elevations in wastewater system
  • Pump failure or improper operation if system is not a gravity flow
  • Blockage in wastewater line between house and septic tank
  • Blockage in septic tank
  • Blockage in line from septic tank to drainfield
  • Blockage in distribution box, drop box, or pipe
  • Blockage at the drainfield/soil treatment interface, where wastewater enters soil

Contaminated drinking or surface water may be caused by:

  • Inappropriate or improperly designed and /or installed wastewater treatment system
  • Wastewater treatment system too close to water supply well
  • Direct flow of wastewater to surface or groundwater
  • Improper water supply well construction or damaged water supply well
  • Broken water supply pipe
  • Broken wastewater lines
  • Leaking septic tank
  • A source other than owner's system

Sewage odors indoors may be due to:

  • Improper plumbing and venting in house
  • Traps not filled with water
  • Wastewater back-up into house
  • Wastewater surfacing in yard
  • Unsealed wastewater ejector sump pump

Sewage odors outdoors may be due to:

  • Wastewater surfacing in yard
  • Improper plumbing and venting in house
  • Pump station vent or an inspection pipe located too close to house
  • Inspection pipe caps damaged or removed
  • Wastewater back-up into house
  • Unsealed wastewater ejector sump pit
  • Source other than owner's system

Wastewater surfacing in yard may be caused by:

  • Excess water entering system
  • Blockage at the drainfield/soil treatment interface where wastewater enters soil
  • Blockage in distribution pipe
  • Improper elevation for drainfield
  • Restricted or impaired flow through the distribution box, drop box, or drainfield
  • Undersized drainfield due to design or construction
  • Pump failure or improper operation
  • Inappropriate or improperly designed and/or installed system

Distribution pipes and/or drainfield freezing in winter may be due to:

  • Improper construction
  • Check valve in pump to lift wastewater to tank or effluent to drainfiled not working
  • Traffic over subsurface pipes (drainfield, pipe to drainfild, etc.)
  • Low wastewater flow rate
  • Lack of use

Review of Septic System Operation and Maintenance

  • Maintaining your septic system is your responsibility.
  • Have the tank pumped regularly.
  • Conserve water and spread out use.
  • Manage solids.
  • Keep hazardous materials out of the system.
  • Let the system work naturally.
  • Avoid compacting the drainfield.
  • Avoid introducing excess water to the drainfield.
  • Maintain structural integrity of the drainfield.
  • Mantain a replacement drainfield area for use if / or when replacement is needed.
  • Keep records, sketches of the area, and pumping schedule.

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