What are the most common septic tank problems and how to fix them?

About 20% of homes use septic tanks to dispose of and manage waste, most frequently in small populated areas not served by public waste systems. Septic tanks can be an efficient way of managing wastewater and protect the environment, public health, and your wallet when properly installed and maintained. But they leave many people turning their heads wondering what living with a septic tank requires. Read on to learn everything you need to know about septic tanks from our experts – αποφράξεις Athens .

How a Septic Tank Works

A septic tank divides and processes wastes. From the waste that flows into the tank, large solids sink to the bottom, creating a layer of mud. Greases, fats, and thinner solids rise to the top, creating a film of scum. The area between these two layers fills with fluid effluent that can flow through the vent pipe to the sewer field system.

Inside the tank, anaerobic and facultative micro-organisms feed on the solids in the sludge and scum, breaking down their size. This process creates gases, like carbon dioxide, hydrogen sulfide, and others, that exit through the vent pipe at the roof.

The precise size of a septic tank links to the number of bedrooms in a house. The tank will typically collect solids for 3 to 12 years. The tank should be watertight. That means that septic tank should be built in a way so that groundwater cannot leak into the tank and seepage cannot leak out. If groundwater flows into the tank, it will raise the diffused oxygen level in the tank, which will restrain the biological processing, cause septic tank problems, and lead to unexpected failure of the drain field.

What are the most common septic tank problems and how to fix them?

Do septic tanks impact water quality?

When designed, installed, and managed properly, septic tanks successfully treat wastewater without contaminating water and the local environment. However, when not installed and managed properly, they can contribute to problems like ground and surface water contamination, phosphorus pollution, excessive discharge of nitrogen into coastal waters, and contamination of the water used for swimming.


Where Is the Septic Tank?

You’ll need to know where your septic tank is buried for inspection and pumping, and so that you can avoid driving over the tank or leach field with heavy equipment or doing other work that might damage the system.

If you don’t know where it is, you may be able to obtain records from your town or city hall. Otherwise, you can hire a septic contractor, who may find it with an electronic detector or by probing the soil with a long metal rod. Once you’ve located your septic tank, make a map that shows its location and put the map where you’ll be able to find it in the future. Also, mark the tank’s location with a permanent stake or stone.

Tank Inspection

Have your tank inspected by a septic tank professional every three to five years. Even more frequently if your family uses a lot of water and a garbage disposer. You can reduce the strain on your septic system by using less water and staggering showers, clothes washing, bathing, and other heavy usages.


What Not to Flush

Be aware that what you flush or wash down the drain can damage the system. Don’t flush dyed or heavy toilet tissue or paper towels, feminine hygiene products, condoms, or disposable diapers.

Though some disinfectants, ammonia, and cleaners are not likely to significantly damage a system, avoid washing quantities of chemicals—particularly chlorine bleach—into the system.

Never pour chemical drain cleaners, solvents such as paint, motor oil, pesticides, poisons or chemicals into drainpipes. Minimize use of a garbage disposer and don’t put fat, grease, or coffee grounds into it.

Beware that commercial flush-down septic treatments may not work and may damage it. They can promote the flow of sludge into drain lines, clogging the drain field. Before using such a product, check with your health department to see if it has received state approval. Periodic inspection and pumping of your septic system are the best ways to ensure it operates for many years.

Septic Tank Problems or Failure

Take some of these steps if your septic tank continually displays problems or is clearly in full failure mode.

To Minimize the Strain on Your Septic System

  • Increase the size of the absorption field. This will help if the original field was too small for the size of your family or if the soil does not allow water to percolate very well.
  • Conserve water in your home on a long-term basis. The smaller the amount of water flowing through your system, the longer the system will last. For systems that perform marginally or leak nutrients into nearby lakes and streams, this is a good alternative.
  • If periodically saturated soils are a main cause of problems, consider installing perimeter drains. This system involves installing tile drains underground at a specified distance around the absorption field to help lower water levels. This works in some but not all situations and requires the assistance of a qualified contractor. Your system’s location should also be evaluated by your local health department.
  • Connect to a community sewage system, if one is available. Although the long-term costs may seem high, the benefit of reduced worry is often worth the price.
  • If septic system failures are common in your area, consider participating in the development of alternatives. There are systems designed for small communities and some rural areas that are generally much more cost-effective than large sewer systems.

To Deal with Septic Tank Failure

  1. First, call your local health department. Health department staff members can expertly assess your situation quickly and offer advice on how to cure the problem.
  2. Has your septic tank pumped? This will help the problem temporarily. The empty tank can hold several days of waste. Pumping won’t solve a problem created by a clog located between the house and the septic tank. Neither will it help if very high groundwater levels are causing the problem.
  3. Conserve water. If your system has not failed, using less water can help lessen the problem for a short time. Water-saving devices and reduced consumption, especially in your bathroom, can have a significant effect.
  4. Fence off the area. If liquid waste is seeping to the surface, prevent people and pets from getting in contact with the toxic effluent.

Tips for Buying a New Septic Tank

In many cases, redesigning and replacing the system in a new location is the only practical long term solution to chronic septic problems. For this type of work, hire a qualified septic contractor. Local health department usually requires a permit before construction can begin.

As explained above, a septic system is a self-contained water-recycling system. Located underground in the yard, a watertight tank receives and stores wastes from the house. Bacteria in the tank decompose the waste, sludge settles in the tank, and effluent flows into the ground through a drain system. The effluent eventually filters back down to groundwater sources.

A septic system consists of a waste pipe that is connected to the house’s drain-waste-vent system, a watertight septic tank, and a drain field (or “leach field”) or other subsurface infiltration fields such as a seepage pit or a leaching chamber.

Codes dictate the minimum distance a tank and drain field may be located from the house or a well and the size and makeup of the tank and drain field.

To prevent overloading the septic tank and drain field, run-off from the roof and foundation drains and other ‘clear’ water is usually routed to a separate drain or seepage pit. Where codes permit, it’s a good idea to route water from washing machines to such a pit, too.


Living with a septic tank

Living with a septic tank isn’t that different from living in a home served by a municipal waste system, but you’ll need to keep a few things in mind.

  • Be mindful of your water use, as all water use in the home will contribute to how quickly your septic tank fills up.
  • Be careful of what you flush, as it will eventually end up in the septic tank. Stick to human waste and toilet paper, and avoid flushing things like medication, dental floss, and flushable wipes.
  • Avoid pouring cooking oil and grease down the kitchen sink drain.
  • Limit the use of your garbage disposal, as this waste may eventually clog your septic system’s drain field.
  • Make sure to stay on top of your septic tank maintenance.
  • Don’t park above your drain field or plant anything too close that its roots may extend into the septic system.

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