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Old 01-16-2011, 11:09 AM   #1
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Septic problem or vent problem?


Okay, I'm getting conflicting info from the web (big surprise) and I'm in a bit if a tizzy so was hoping for some advice. I am willing to call a plumber and/or septic pumper but want to know who to call first.

Problem: Two nights ago I noticed that the downstairs toilet was throwing out VERY large bubbles when the upstairs bathtub was draining. Never seen this before.

Facts:

-The downstairs bathroom is above the septic, but is the very first thing tied into the line (closest to the septic)
-Two story house, about 35 years old. On septic, municipal water.
-Septic is original, last pumped between 5 and 7 years ago.
-We normally use good septic practices, but I didn't know facial tissue was a no-no and we've been using 3-ply tissue as a back-up for when we're out of toilet paper, so there's a good chance a lot of it has been flushed in last month where little if any has ever been flushed before
-Vent stack is very high up my roof, so I can't look into it, although I did sort-of check it (more below)
-We recently (Jan 4-5) has a massive snow melt (2 feet gone in 36 hours) that brought the water table up to the level of the pipe that goes from the house to the septic (noticed a bit of leakage around the joint) followed by a rapid re-freeze and significant snowfall in the last two weeks.
-I have been doing resealing and energy efficiency upgrades around the place in the last few weeks. Both the septic and the vent stack used to have warm air leak past them or onto them and have much less now.
-My gas dryer's exhaust used to blow right onto the grass atop the tank, leaving it green and thawed all winter. I have recently extended it somewhat to prevent this, as it was leaving that spot close to the house thawed and thus a major flow spot for spring run-off (with predictable problems for the foundation in that area)
-We haven't been noticing sewer gas smells. In fact we sometimes have them from this bathroom in the summer, but not right now.
-The last time the septic was serviced, the guy told me it was in okay shape but for some reason the outflow from the house was level or even slightly sloped the wrong way. He wasn't sure if the tank had been installed too shallow, the house had settle more than the tank (possible, it's settled a lot since being built from all evidence) or just plumbed wrong. The fix isn't really simple though and he said it wasn't a critical emergency, but we couldn't rely on gravity to empty the outflow pipe, it would always have some sewage in it.

Experiments:
-A quick run of a small amount of water has no effect on anything I can tell
-A modest use of water shows the water in the downstairs toilet go up and down a bit, but no big bubbles.
-Any big draining creates bubbles in the toilet. Worst when draining the full upstairs bathtub, but noticeable if I fill the main floor kitchen sink and drain it rapidly (they are on different drain runs and don't meet until the main pipe to the septic)
-I know this was stupid, but because I was not thinking I used my shop vac with long extensions as a blower to see if I could clear what I was guessing was a plugged main vent stack high on my roof. Result was water/guck blown up from both the upstairs and downstairs toilets. I assume this means both that the vent isn't blocked and that I'm an idiot :P
-Having drained the tub completely a couple of times in an hour, the drain REALLY slowed down the second time. Never seen that before either (aside from a clogged drain in the tub a while back).

Working theory:

Since the second time I drained the tub was so much slower than the first I am assuming that I have managed to over-delay pumping my septic too long, and now most of it's tank is sludge filled and has reduced capacity. Other theories welcome.

My options:

-Call the plumber, who is a friend of the family (thus always gives honest advice) but is expensive (he's got a lot of friends and one employee, so can't afford big discounts). Have him check for blockages, etc. The clean-out for the pipe to the septic is highly accessible and is on the main line only a few feet inside the basement, so it's less than 12 feet to the septic tank on the other side.
-Call the septic folks to come pump and inspect it. A bit expensive this time of year and have heard bacteria won't regrow well in the winter, but am willing to do this. The lids are only 2" or so below the surface and I've marked exactly where they are with patio stones for just such a need.

I'd rather call based on what the most likely problem is. Plumber if it is likely a blocked pipe or vent, septic if it is likely a full tank or other problem within the tank or field (please God I hope not a problem with the field). I have only so much money and time I can take off work at the moment, so I don't want to call both right now.

Any suggestions or advice requested and welcome. In the spirit of good cheer I will also cheerfully accept further criticism on the 'shop vac experiment' if it makes anyone feel better.

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Old 01-16-2011, 11:36 AM   #2
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Septic problem or vent problem?


Plumber first. cable from house to tank, find the distribution box and cable from d-box to tank

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Old 01-16-2011, 11:52 AM   #3
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Septic problem or vent problem?


Quote:
Originally Posted by plumberinlaw View Post
Plumber first. cable from house to tank, find the distribution box and cable from d-box to tank


Agree. If this doesn't solve the problem. It may be time for field line replacment
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Old 01-16-2011, 12:36 PM   #4
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Septic problem or vent problem?


Quote:
Originally Posted by kenmac

Agree. If this doesn't solve the problem. It may be time for field line replacment
That's the expensive replacement right?
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Old 01-16-2011, 12:58 PM   #5
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Septic problem or vent problem?


have you pulled the lid off of the tank yet? maybe the building sewer is plugged, maybe the inlet/outlet baffle is plugged, maybe the drainfield isn't taking any water, maybe the vent is blocked. there are too many variables. pull the lids and tell us what you see, then we can help
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Old 01-16-2011, 01:25 PM   #6
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Septic problem or vent problem?


Quote:
Originally Posted by the_man
have you pulled the lid off of the tank yet? maybe the building sewer is plugged, maybe the inlet/outlet baffle is plugged, maybe the drainfield isn't taking any water, maybe the vent is blocked. there are too many variables. pull the lids and tell us what you see, then we can help
Haven't pulled lids yet but I see what you mean about how helpful that would be. On the other hand, there's a foot of snow and 2" of soil over them and it is -14 C (5 F) out, so I'm hesitant to dig them up today. I'll have to do so if septic service is needed, but otherwise I'd hate to risk a freeze-up of the system making things worse.

Oh and it's a concrete tank, forgot to mention that before.
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Old 01-16-2011, 02:43 PM   #7
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Septic problem or vent problem?


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Originally Posted by wilsonstark View Post
Haven't pulled lids yet but I see what you mean about how helpful that would be. On the other hand, there's a foot of snow and 2" of soil over them and it is -14 C (5 F) out, so I'm hesitant to dig them up today. I'll have to do so if septic service is needed, but otherwise I'd hate to risk a freeze-up of the system making things worse.

Oh and it's a concrete tank, forgot to mention that before.
i wouldn't worry about a freezeup in the tank, if you are just pile some snow on the lid after you take a looksee. if you don't dig it up yourself any good plumber is gonna want to see inside it before he does anything. snaking won't do a thing if the drainfield is saturated or the baffle is plugged.
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Old 01-16-2011, 02:48 PM   #8
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Septic problem or vent problem?


Quote:
Originally Posted by the_man

i wouldn't worry about a freezeup in the tank, if you are just pile some snow on the lid after you take a looksee. if you don't dig it up yourself any good plumber is gonna want to see inside it before he does anything. snaking won't do a thing if the drainfield is saturated or the baffle is plugged.
Copy that. Guess I'll go grab a shovel.
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Old 01-16-2011, 04:05 PM   #9
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Septic problem or vent problem?


The bubbling seems like vent to me. I once had a critter crawl down my vent pipe from the roof, and die. I had bubbling for a couple of weeks, then he rotted enough to drop down and clog my drainpipe. Then I used lye {Red Devil} in the drain. After that soaked in, I was able to pop him through with a plunger. I screened my ventpipe, but if that ever happens again, I'll dump the lye down the vent.
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Old 01-17-2011, 07:35 PM   #10
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Septic problem or vent problem?


Turned out to be a partial blockage of a long 3" run of drain just before the final run out to the septic. Filled most of a 2 gallon pail with 3 layers of grout that filled the pipe to almost 1/2 and had bowed it enough so that it was sitting full. The run got water from the upstairs bath, kitchen, laundry room and sink. When a big flow came the results were as noted.

The downstairs bathroom was downstream of the blockage which maybe explains why the air was hitting only it.

Thankfully the plumber checked the basement b4 we dug up the septic, and just by tapping and listening it was clear the the pipe was dry for the last 10 feet to the septic. Thank goodness!

Thank you all for the advice to call a plumber first. What a relief. Now to plot my revenge in the tile guy....

I'll post pics tomorrow of the pipe and the HUGE pile of crap that scraped out of it.

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