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Old 12-20-2010, 11:58 PM   #31
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septic emergency? help!


I consider myself a very handy individual, and also someone who reads a ton and understands clearly all principles behind any type of engineering design. I'm one of the guys who takes things apart just to see how they work. But this septic system principle - it just baffles me - no pun intended. It seems there are so many points for failure, all wrapped in an environment that counts on nature - which is hugely unpredictable. I have long vision - and I can see myself spending thousands for years to come, all on the advice of experts who simply can't see into the dirt. And my family isn't against changing habits to work with a septic system. But it's crazy - this is starting to get to me emotionally - in a manly way. I mean, we have a beautiful house. It's everything we wanted, and in the last 8 months I've molded it into perfection...there isn't a piece of new crown moulding or chair rail I installed that doesn't have the perfect angle or seam. Yet I feel like the very circulatory system of the home is faulty. It's like I'm a super-fit marathon runner, but at any time I could have a heart attack.

This is componded by knowing the previous owner, who was a smart family man who actually didn't want to move (his wife did to be closer to their kid's private school) - paid big bucks for the "improvements" to the septic system just two years ago.

And finally - my worst fear is that one day, we'll smell something and go down to our beautiful finished basement to find my last night's dinner floating in a sea of years old sludge soaking to my guitar collection.

Where's the failsafe against that? No backflow prevention?

My wife was in tears because a neighbor told her "if it's yellow, let it mellow. Just pee on top of old pee vs. flushing each time.". Hell, I'd rather divert the greywater from a shower and the washing machine off the back of the property before asking her to do that.

And the worst part is that there is no answer possible. It's always a guess. Even if the most brilliant septic engineer came out - there's no good way for him to inspect everything. Sure, we could dig. I'd spend $1000 to simply allow him to form an opinion. This is quite unlike perhaps when a cable guy shows up, puts meters on outlets, and tests signal strength. That's definative. I'm just wrought with frustration because I can always get a real solid grasp of true cause-and-effect.

On top of it all - maybe my soil is jacked. Maybe I'm in an area of the neighborhood where I'm suseptible to saturated soil. Then what? The previous owner, me, and any future owners could fight it for years to come installing new stuff - and it will never work.

Do septic installers offer guarantees? Like can I drop $10K to have everything overhauled -but if something fails, it's on them?

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Old 12-21-2010, 12:12 AM   #32
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you don't happen to live in far northern Indiana do you? Not far from me there is a housing subdivision that has a lot of problems with septic systems that sound just like yours. I have to feel sorry for them as there is not any good fix.


I have to disagree with you about the cable guy. I don't know how many times I have had them come to my house with their fancy meters and all and simply be so lost, they just start guessing. The usually fix the trouble using trial and error except the one time they simply stumbled onto the problem by accident.


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On top of it all - maybe my soil is jacked. Maybe I'm in an area of the neighborhood where I'm suseptible to saturated soil.
Time to talk with the neighbors and whoever issues a permit for a drain field and start asking if others are having problems. If it is due to the soil type in general, everybody in the area usually has problems.

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Do septic installers offer guarantees? Like can I drop $10K to have everything overhauled -but if something fails, it's on them?
well, that all depends. Systems are usually required to be reviewed by the permit issuing agency or the local department of health. As long as the system design passes their review and the ground percs good (that is where they test how fast the ground will accept water) and the system is installed as designed, they guarantee it should work.

I would check with the neighbors and local department of health or building department and start asking about the ground conditions.
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Old 12-21-2010, 12:17 PM   #33
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septic emergency? help!


If you want some peace of mind, you could have a drain company with a video camera come in and view the drain line from the house to the septic tank, and also from the septic tank to the leach field. The latter is usually more easily done by inserting the camera snake at the distribution box located at the edge of the leach field and working back to the tank.

With the tank in good condition and the drain pipes and vent pipes clear, any problem would have to be in the leach field. In addition to loss of performance from grease and sludge coming from the tank, the leach field can be clogged by a species of bacteria that specifically grows there and causes such clogging. It is preferable to build a new leach field in a different space if this is needed but if you don't have an alternate space, the soil in the leach field, sludge, grease, bacterial, and all, can be excavated and removed and new soil put down in the same space.

Once you have the distribution box open, you can get an idea of how well the leach field is performing by pouring water in at that location but not fast enough for the water to go back (slightly uphill) to the septic tank. If the drains had not been used for several hours, you may need up to 100 gallons of water to conduct this test.

A fair performing (better than poor, worse than good) leach field may still be satisfactory if you allow time after each shower, clothes washing, etc. before doing the next one.
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Last edited by AllanJ; 12-21-2010 at 12:20 PM.
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Old 12-21-2010, 12:28 PM   #34
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septic emergency? help!


How about a thread on how many angels can dance on the head of a pin?

It is time to act and stop speculating: open the top of the pit and see what is going on instead of guessing. $1000 for knowing what is going on is a lot less than you'd be paying for your basement or house to be cleaned up after a sewage backup. Just my 2 centavos.
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Old 12-21-2010, 01:48 PM   #35
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But this septic system principle - it just baffles me - no pun intended.
Ayuh,... It's pretty danm Simple,.... Really....

$h!t flows Downhill.... That's it,... Nothin' more....

Go dig up the cover to the tank, 'n spend the $200. to have it pumped.....

With the tank pumped, you're starting with a blank slate, 'n diagnosis can begin,...
If it's even necessary...
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Old 12-21-2010, 02:03 PM   #36
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OK - so perhaps some digging is in my future. At least perhaps I can avoid having a $199 puming special turn into $350 because they have to dig 6 inches deeper than the fine print states.

But someone mentioned there were caps on both ends of the tank? I know precisely where the tank is, and could draw a rectangle on the grass. Then I presume I can find the midway points at either short side of that rectangle, and dig. By nature, I think the hole would be 2x2 feet wide.
  1. So do I have to did up both ends, or perhaps just the end by the fields?
  2. What's down there? I mean, is there a screw-on cap packed with mud or a cement cover just held by weight?
  3. Once dug, the honeywagon can come and pump it. But should I get these same guys to inspect further, perhaps even with those cameras?
  4. I didn't quite understand - can the actually inspect the fields with the cameras as well?
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Old 12-21-2010, 05:55 PM   #37
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Most older septic tanks have one cap. Most newer tanks have two chambers and two caps. Typically the cap is a metal or concrete panel about two feet square or two feet in diameter that lifts out of the tank lid.

A simple pump-out of a two chamber tank of course requires opening of caps at both ends. Occasionally there is a third cap in the middle to make it easier to inspect the interior of the first tank (where the line from the house enters) notably the baffles.

To a limited extent they can inspect the field pipes with the camera also. How easily depends on how the camera takes a bend or a fork in the pipe. Other than debris in the pipe itself, inspection will not reveal the long term effects of grease in the soil that has to absorb the liquid. If liquid is still sitting in the pipe, the view of the camera is impaired.

If there is a problem inside the tank such as a broken baffle, that needs to be fixed. You are at liberty to get someone else besides the pumping company fix it but it should be fixed almost immediately, namely while the tank is still empty.
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Last edited by AllanJ; 01-02-2011 at 12:02 PM.
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Old 12-21-2010, 10:20 PM   #38
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Thanks AllenJ - expert reply as many have given here. Very informative. Most noteworthy, if I do plan to dig - it would seem I'd want at least a 2.5x2.5 foot hole - at both ends since my house is 1998 and probably the dual chamber. Otherwise, I won't get the caps off.

One thing that's been on my mind is the whole "if it's yellow, let it mellow" principle. Yeah, don't do 8 loads of wash, run the dishwasher, tkae 5 showers all in a few hours...

As neighbors have said, and perhaps even some throwback to old-school thinking - that's just the way septic is. OK - it has limitations you should be aware of.

But what I don't get it then mention of an OK-performing field vs. an excellent one. Sure, the soil matters. This means some fields will purge off faster without problem. But others won't, primarily when they are saturated from the home or rain.

That seems to be largely in contrast to how a septic system should work.

I mean - even before my most recent issues, I heard the basement toilet "burping" loudly during heavy rain. And after switching to my other field (since I have two) - I had my recent problem of toilets not flushing even without rain, but with heavy water use that day from the home.

Logically, if substances cannot vacate my home - then whatever is downstream in the system is "full" - albeit perhaps temporarily. On an OK-performing field, eventually it dries a bit, and things go back to normal. Hence, "if it's yellow, let it mellow". Don't overload it, and wait it out. My neighbors seem to live by this ideal, and it works for them and apparently has for many years.

But this implies that the field, tank, and main line from my home - it's completely full. No more vacancy. You wait - and the levels fall and everything works again.

But if this is what actually happens - based on what I'm learning - that would spell doom for a field. If the toilets are backing up, the tank itself is full - and all the horrors within it are surely mixing into the field - not just cleaner liquids as designed. As such, it's wrecking the field each time this happens. So thinking "let it dry out some" is logical - but if you even reach a point where you have to do this - you're already in bad shape whether you know it or not.

This is unless there is trapped AIR in the system. I don't know how tight it is. But if it rains, or you've flooded it yourself -maybe toilets stop working correctly - but it's not because of a backup of 100% liquid and solids - rather, perhaps the tank is still only at 2/3 full. It's just some pressure coming back from excess water in the fields that represses the tank - and the line to the house - and that's what stops flushing.

Thoughts?
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Old 12-21-2010, 11:39 PM   #39
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But if this is what actually happens - based on what I'm learning - that would spell doom for a field. If the toilets are backing up, the tank itself is full - and all the horrors within it are surely mixing into the field - not just cleaner liquids as designed. As such, it's wrecking the field each time this happens. So thinking "let it dry out some" is logical - but if you even reach a point where you have to do this - you're already in bad shape whether you know it or not.
Not necessarily true. The tank is designed so solids settle. If the field is not accepting anything, the tank will fill but the solids will still settle. There is a baffle hanging down so nothing floats directly across the tank and into the field. Only when it is full of solids will it start passing solids to the field.

The problem is; the field just is so saturated it will not take anymore fluids. Poor soil alone can do that even without solids entering the field. With the house only being 12 years old, unless the old owner was really full of..well, it shouldn't have passed that much solids down in that time unless it was used very heavily.


If you neighbors have attached themselves to the mantra of "if it's yellow..." I suspect the land in your area is just not that great for a field system. There are some other systems that help overcome soil that doesn't perc well. You might want to start looking what is legal in your area that might be needed in the future.
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Old 12-22-2010, 07:42 AM   #40
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Don't wprru about the let it mellow part. Waiting awhile before taking the next shower simply lets the liquid in the system purge (percolate) into the leach field leaving room for the next inflow of waste water from the next shower.

In some cases a bigger leach field, for example combining the two fiels you have into one field, is an adequate solution to soil that does not absorb (perc, purge) well.

Do you have problems with the toilets early in the morning that is after the overnight hours when no one was using water?
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Old 12-22-2010, 07:50 AM   #41
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I mean - even before my most recent issues, I heard the basement toilet "burping" loudly during heavy rain.
Ayuh,... I'd think that the toliet Burpin' may be caused by poor venting of the system, rather than a failure of the system....
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Old 01-01-2011, 11:26 PM   #42
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UPDATE: no probs thru the holidays. As noted previously, my initial post was for problem I experienced before I switched fields, as I have two fields and a diverter valve. I've lived in the home for 8 months and never switched it, but was advised to do so periodically, and did so 1.5 months ago. 1.5 months after I did, I had the probs noted in my original post here. So I switched fields back to the one that was on when I moved in - and I've had zero problems. Plus - I had 9+ people staying with us for over 9 days - still no problems.

SOOOOO - this makes me think the field I switched to (with non-toilet-flushing issues) was the original field, and it's screwed. I got by 1.5 months with it. All I can think is that the previous own went cheap and since there is room in the yard, opted to avoid the cost of removing the old field since there was room for the new one...and with the "diverter valve" - perhaps that somehow made stuff to code. Or - maybe the old field was working and a two-field-yearly-switched system was the plan - and when I experienced the probs noted in my other post, it was truly because we did overload the system with excessive home water use. Maybe that field is smaller.

Q. I have the county-submitted schematics. Can I determine from these if in fact one field is different capacity or style than the other? If they are different, then maybe the probs I had were because the (presumed) old filed I was on is simply smaller. The owner did say the installed the new field for "increased capacity".

BUT - here's something interesting. 100% - I can see different color grass above the new field. I have the sketch of it's outline and where it is in my yard - and unquestionably - the (dead winter) grass is a different color above it. Clear outline.

So that's an interesting "WTF". Field not able to drain down, so stuff comes up and fertilizes? Even on this "good" field - I've suspected poor soil and drainage. What might the grass mean?
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Old 01-02-2011, 09:43 AM   #43
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Q. I have the county-submitted schematics. Can I determine from these if in fact one field is different capacity or style than the other? If they are different, then maybe the probs I had were because the (presumed) old filed I was on is simply smaller. The owner did say the installed the new field for "increased capacity".

BUT - here's something interesting. 100% - I can see different color grass above the new field. I have the sketch of it's outline and where it is in my yard - and unquestionably - the (dead winter) grass is a different color above it. Clear outline.

So that's an interesting "WTF". Field not able to drain down, so stuff comes up and fertilizes? Even on this "good" field - I've suspected poor soil and drainage. What might the grass mean?
Yes, the greener grass is a definite indication of poor soil condition and/or failed drainfield. I would just ignore the other drainfield and continue using the one that seems to work. Sounds as though; as others mentioned, the soil in your area is just not conducive for septic systems. As I've mentioned, a terra-lift would probably buy you a few years without having another new drainfield installed. In your case, it may be a matter of regular maintenance. Something else you may want to consider is a bacterial additive and maintenance treatment like BioChoiceES (sold by Mr. Rooter), developed by One Biotechnology http://onebiotechnology.com/.
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Old 01-02-2011, 10:29 AM   #44
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its not that unusual to have a diverter valve on a drainfield system. my health department normally asks my company to put them in when replacing or adding to a drainfield, just in case there is a need for more later on. A terralift can work for rejuvenation, but isn't it working now? I think a better use of your money would be to dig up the bad part right after the diverter valve and get it inspected w/ a camera to see if its broken or just saturated. Also, I wouldn't waste any money on bacteria for it. The manufacturers will tell you it works wonders (snake oil?) but a lot of states and the EPA are not recommending their use. http://www.epa.gov/nrmrl/pubs/625r00008/625r00008.pdf it won't let me cut and paste so click on special issues fact sheets on the left hand side to take you to the section.
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Old 11-21-2011, 08:52 AM   #45
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I'm the original poster of this post from a year ago - and I'm back

Hopefully some of you are still around. Here's an update, one year later:

Since the original issue, things appeared to work themselves out on their own. Thus, I've had no issues over the last year at all.

Then, about a month ago - I noticed the basement toilet started "burping" again. Then just this Saturday, we had a tiny overflow into the basement shower. I hadn't been down there, but from what I saw, smelly liquids came out the basement drain, but just a little bit - enough to put a dry, nasty 1 foot ring around the drain on the shower floor. Then it seems to have drained away.

My wife had been doing laundry. This is the first time we've experienced this. So needless to say, I've got a company coming out today.

However - we had to make it until today. I have an access or clean-out point in my back patio - 8-inch white PVC. I realized that this is in fact just slightly lower than that shower drain - so I opened it just in case. I figure since we'd need to flush a few times Sunday - at least it would overflow outside.

The inside was dry, but clearly showed signs that it had been full to the top. I decided to test it. I took a shower upstairs. The basement shower floor remained dry - but a small amount of seemingly clear overflow did exit that outside pipe onto the patio.

Later, my wife "forgot" and gave the kids baths. But nothing! No overflow. We didn't do dishes or laundry - but used everything normally on Sunday and no further overflow out that patio pipe.

Here are some strange and important points:

- This is like clockwork - we experienced very similar issues almost exactly one year ago. The weather has been near freezing a few nights in Atlanta.
- The system continued to work fine over the last year.
- We have two separate drain fields and a divertor valve. The new field is 2X the size of the original and just 4 years old.

Way back to my original post - ALL the home toilets wouldn't flush that day. But we had no overflow issues in the basement. Thus - that would seem to imply that there was a blockage prior to the septic, and prior to where the <separate> basement drain meets the main. Otherwise, if things were backed up all the way from the septic fields, I'd think my basement would have seen overflow flooding - and it didn't.

I'd consider our family and the previous family to be responsible users of the septic. The new field is just 4 years old. Most I've spoken with find it unusual that a field (2X larger even than the house supposedly needs) could fail that quickly.

I haven't yet inspected the roof vent. Actually, I just yesterday noticed we had one. It appears to be perhaps a 4 inch dark PVC pipe with open top sticking about a foot out the roof.

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