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Old 12-30-2015, 09:43 PM   #1
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The Septic Saga continues...potential poo explosion?


Hey all,

I've had some challenges with my septic system over the year which I've learned to live with. We are just north of Atlanta.

To cut right to the chase, during periods of heavy rain, our basement toilet won't flush. A few times, water (and more) rises out of the shower drain. It's never hit the floor though, and never actually risen much. This happens about 4-5 days per year. The rest of the year - it works flawlessly.

I have had no less than 6 septic experts out, including the original designer. They have inspected everything with cameras, checked out the tank, fields, filters, etc. My system has a 100% clean bill-of-health.

They all point to grading and rain. Somehow, the fields simply get soaked with rain. They cannot purge off any more. The tank quickly fills from home use (or even perhaps backfills from rainwater). Then the waste has nowhere to go.

We have never had any issues upstairs. I think the pipes in the walls must hold a lot of volume, and while the system is slowed down, it's still working to a degree.

It's usually when my wife ignores me and runs a load of wash that then forces backwater out the shower drain.

As I said, I've learned to live with it. All the experts tell me nothing is broken and no real harm is being caused, and to live with it.

One problem is that during these times, the stink in my basement is awful. I run the bathroom fan and close the door - but these are sewer/septic smells. Can't be healthy.

I could set the stopper in the sink, plug the shower drain and shove something into the toilet to plug it.

But what would happen? Might pressure even build up then explode a poo-pourri all over my bathroom?

Or would it just force it all out into the tank/fields, or just remain in the pipes in the walls until the system finally purged it?
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Old 01-01-2016, 08:14 AM   #2
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The water would simply sit in the septic tank, the outlet drain pipe from the house, the pipes in the walls up to the level of the shower, etc. until it purged into the leach fields. (If the water wanted to go much over the level of the shower it would overflow onto the bathroom floor.)

You could plug the drains and toilet in question but then the backed up water will rise to first floor level. If per chance one of the plugs should pop loose, you will then get a geyser that might go off in a direction where it lands on the floor.

Some might filter up outside to the ground surface of the leach fields, reducing but not eliminating the tendency to overflow drains that are higher up.

The backup in the basement is mostly new waste water from upstairs. The smell will persist at least until after the rain has subsided, the water has all gone down the drain, and all surfaces including the shower that the waste water touched have been scrubbed down.

I think there is nothing wrong with the septic system. Given enough rain water on top, any leach field will fail to purge real septic tank water. Meanwhile it might be possible to improve it by regrading the land next to (not over) the leach fields so rain water tends to go someplace else but not towards the house.

The septic tank normally rests about 85% full. THen, normally, for each additional gallon of water coming from the house, one gallon is supposed to exit for the leach field.

Normal pumping of the septic tank is not meant to prevent overflowing and backup. That is only to remove sludge and grease so these materials don't exit for the leach field and reduce the purging capability rain or no rain and permanently.

Emergency pumping of a septic tank is meant to temporarily change its role to holding tank until the rainy period is over and the leach field resumes its normal purging ability. Even if the rainy period ends sooner, nothing will exit the septic tank until the water level gets back to the 85% or so normal level.
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Last edited by AllanJ; 01-01-2016 at 08:41 AM.
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Old 01-02-2016, 04:15 PM   #3
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Depending on your piping arrangement and basement layout you could install a backwater valve for the basement bath. As Allan has said you'll still get water out of the next highest fixture. At best this will cure the smell issue.
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Old 01-02-2016, 04:49 PM   #4
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Something sounds bizarre about your post. You have had six self titled experts out, and they all think your system is fine. Except that it backs up during rainstorms. I cannot fathom how they think your system is fine, a properly designed, properly operating septic system will never back up, short of perhaps the 100 year rainstorm. I am guessing your field is getting saturated by the rain, hence backing up. This is by no means normal or acceptable, so I would really like to understand why the six experts think this is OK. If I had a basement full of sewage, aside from the smell, there would be the potential for bacterial contamination.

When we bought our house about 25 years ago, the septic system was condemned because the field was too close to groundwater, and during heavy rains the field would become saturated, and the sewage would back up. So the owner of the house was required to install a new septic system, which required hundreds of truckloads of sandy fill to be brought in, which raised the grade of the new system at least six feet above the high groundwater level. And we got a pumped system. That may be an option for you, if you have sufficient land and percable soil. If not, perhaps you can get on city sewer, certainly a good alternative if available. If neither of these options work, you may be allowed to install a tight tank, and you get it pumped periodically. But the idea that six experts think your system is in good working order is baffling to me.
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Old 01-02-2016, 06:32 PM   #5
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The backwater valve 2XTom talks about is definitely worth investigating.
And I agree with Mr. Holzman, if I had a septic tank system that created noxious odors in my bathroom, I would not say "all is good".
Def look for ways to keep water away from the leach field, preferably the field should be "humped" allowing surface water to flow off of it.
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Old 01-03-2016, 09:49 AM   #6
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Something is indeed very much wrong and a sewage stink in the basement or drains that don't work are not normal. I suspect in our area that system would be condemned. It is a health risk and one day the backup may be more than an an inconvenience . If you are looking for a cheap fix I doubt there is is one. A couple of posts earlier I this chain describes a likely fix. At some point you will have to fix it either went it becomes totally unmanageable or you try to sell the property.
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Old 01-04-2016, 02:29 PM   #7
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Hey all - I guess when the 6 experts said my system is fine - they, and I, mean that the fields are good, tank is good etc. What is not good is the grading. When there is average rain, my system works fine. When there is extreme/extended rain, I have this problem in the basement bathroom. I guess you could say the dirt and grade in my backyard is in fact "part" of the septic system, so the "system" isn't right. But at least the fields/tank are.

My basement bathroom was added by the previous owner. We never have issues upstairs. If the basement bathroom was never put in - our system would appear to work 100% fine with no issues.

I asked my original question here because we've learned to live with this (unworking basement bathroom for a few days per year, and the smell that comes with it). And regrading is expensive - plus I've got a nice backyard and setup we'd need to tear up.

I look at it like maybe I shouldn't have a basement bathroom - but it's super nice, and we get to enjoy it 360 days a year.

So quick and cheapest fix - block off the basement plumbing during times of heavy rain, like that basement bath doesn't even exist.
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Old 01-08-2016, 01:20 PM   #8
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I am nowhere near the expert as some that have already chimed in, but just wanted to add...

Our leach field is part of a long downhill grade of land, so the engineer required a curtain drain to be installed along the "leading edge" of the field. Last week when much of the rural St. Louis are flooded, including my area with 13" of rain, I had no issues. The curtain drain was running like a faucet at it's outlet, and still is a week later. Just walking over the leach field you can totally tell the difference in how the ground is not as saturated.

You may already have one?? If not it may be possible to trench this in without major disruption to your existing space. Pretty easy passive system that works.
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Old 01-10-2016, 12:44 PM   #9
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Can't see your grade issue, but might be able to put in a French drain between leach fields and house to intercept and drain away to daylight. No way to tell without photos or more information
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Old 01-24-2016, 01:31 PM   #10
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I would suggest installing a french drain uphill of the leach field to minimize the surface and ground water from saturating the leach field. The french drain must be deeper than the leach field trenches. I also suggest a back flow prevention valve be installed in the pipe between the house and septic tank. This device will allow effluent to flow only one way, into the septic tank. This device must be installed in the proper direction. I hope this helps.


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Old 01-24-2016, 01:44 PM   #11
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your leach field is filling up with rain water, and causing a so called main line stoppage to the house, just like if you were hooked into a public sewer and had roots or some other obstruction...you need to figure out if the rain water is coming down hill into the leach field and redirect the water, or do you have any pitch away from the leach field, you can dig a trench before the leach field to the depth of the gravel base and fill the new trench with drain pipe in a gravel bed and run this down hill somewhere to drain the rain water before it soaks into the leach field, I had the same problem upstate at a mobile home I rent out, over the years the swell of dirt that kept the rain out of the leach field flattened out, so I dug with a backhoe a trench that I put in drain pipe in a gravel bed up to grade level before the leach field and ran it downhill away from the leach field..problem solved..
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