I had my septic tank pumped out around 6 months ago after it backed up. I
made an assumption that I had killed the bacteria off due to a number of
projects in the house that ended up with me washing some chems down the sink
(was stripping sealed saltillo floors). Anyway, 6 months later and it
appears it's backing up again. We've been very careful not to put
bleach/chlorine/etc... down the drains. We lived in the house 3 years
without even a sign of trouble and now to have to pump it twice in 6 months
seems a bit much. After the last pumpout, I installed a riser and cover
just to prevent having to dig it out the next time. I'm wondering if I
should have stuffed the riser with insulation or not? Could it be that the
thing is just frozen? We've been seeing temps in the teens at night and
the low to mid 30's during the day and it's been very dry (haven't noticed
any spots in the leach field that are wet either). I'm not really all that
familiar with septic systems so am hopeful someone out there might have some
advice. I can always call the pumping service and get the lowdown from them
but if there's something simple I can do or check, I'd prefer to do that
before paying a fortune for Sunday service. I suppose I could pull the lid
and see what's what. Thanks much for any advice you may have.
Very unlikely it's frozen, especially at those temps, which aren't
really extreme. You say you've lived in the house for 3 years, but how
old is the septic system? They don't last forever. And I don't
understand the comment about not seeing wet spots in the leach field.
If you normally see wet spots, something is very wrong, as with a
proper system, this should not be happening.
I was trying to point out that there are no wet spots, meaning it appears
anyway, that the system was working as it should (ie. don't have a saturated
leach field). The septic system is about 12 years old.
On 18 Dec 2005 03:14:31 -0800, firstname.lastname@example.org wrote:
Yes, don't forget that clean water freezes at 32, but dirty water
freezes at lower temperatures. It doesn't have to be alcohol or
ethylene glycol that is dissolved in the water, for the freezing and
boiling points to be lowered and raised respectively.
Anything that dissolves int he water will do that. And aiui septic
water has a lot of things dissolved in it.
Remove NOPSAM to email me. Please let
me know if you have posted also.
Normal septic system consists of the tank (which holds and decomposes
solids), this flows into either a leeching pit or a leach field ( which
dispenses the liquid). If tank keeps backing up than the outlet to the leech
system or the leach system itself is plugged. Common cause is roots in the
pipe. If trees/shrubs are allowed to grow in the leech area than roots area
The last time it was pumped, the guy did the full inspection and said all
was ok. I don't have any trees or shrubs in the area. I suppose at these
temps, that the thing isn't frozen and I should get it pumped again. At
that time, I'll ask them to do a full inspection of the system, again.
The bad news is that you have something plugged up somewhere and it is
after the septic tank. The worse news is that there is no good news.
You say he did a "complete inspection". Not unless he had a remote
camera that can peer down the drain field pipes he didn't. The most he
could inspect is the tank itself and any distribution boxes that have
inspection covers plus run a bit of water down the outlet pipe.. You
have a plugged up drain field if this is an old house or a field that
is not operating correctly if it is a recently installed one. Any tank
that needs pumping in 6 months indicates a very serious condition.
Hope they can find a plugged outlet pipe but be prepared to replace
your drain field.
Time to call in an expert and the grunt running the pump truck is not
I don't know where you are living but frost doesn't go any lower than approx
20 inches in the ground. In cases where there is no snow, frost may go as
much as 36''. I live in eastern Canada and the first thing I done when I
purchased my home was to dig up the tank to see the condition and put an
extension on the clean out. The piece that I have is approx 36'' deep. To
date(knocks on wood) I've never had any problems.
Here are some questions, things to look for and a few suggestions.
How much soil(deep) is covering your tank?
The tank should be covered ground level with at least 2-1/2 to 3 ft of dirt
Is the vent in the roof of the home un-obstructed?
If the vent is bent,plugged or capped off, the system could get air locked.
Is your sewage system up to code have a distribution box and septic field
with 4 lines running away.
This is the first question you should be asking and is there a sufficient
grade running away from the home.
Is there ground water from a spring anywhere near by?
If the ground is saturated wet from other sources such as changes made by
road work crews in the area to change ground water direction then you could
contact the municipal government in the area to correct it. If the water
table is high or the distribution lines are not grade properly than you
would see problems.
Do you flush tissue paper down the toilet?
I have no idea how many people are using the toilet(s) in your home but to
get an idea, ask wife or yourself, how often do you buy bum wad? Once you
get an idea, multiply that and you can draw from that how much paper you
flushed in 6 months. It takes years for paper to break down in a tank. You
should instead put a small container in the bathroom lined with a bag and
discreetly dispose of the tissue tied up and tossed into a regular garbage
bag with the rest of the household trash. You could flush several packs of
bakers yeast in the toilet monthly, this promotes a healthy culture of
Bacteria in your tank.
In the basement of the home, do you have a clean out access where the sewage
If your plumbing is done right then it must have one of these per code, so
it would be wise to open it up and look for the obvious and run a snake thru
Do you have a back water valve? This prevents sewage from backing up in your
home so you should find out if you have one and see why it is or isn't
working and if indeed the baffle in the tank is not clogged up.
What do you do with the grease from cooking? If you answer that you pour it
down the sink or toilet than you have created your problem as the PVC pipe
acts just like an artery and a cholesterol build up and everything is choked
off. The only difference is, grease sticks better to the inside of a cold
piece of pipe. thank god for that or we'd be all dead.
How do you know the septic or chemicals is the problem?
The tank under normal conditions when you open the lid should always be full
of water but low in waste, that's common sense as the run out to the
distribution box is located at the top at the back of the tank.
If you are flushing chemicals(bad boy) than you must be flushing everything
and anything. Cut back on the tissue paper, give up flushing everything
besides what it is intended for and it will serve you well. Give the pipes a
good cleaning with a snake and hot water, remove and replace them if you
have to and make any necessary changes so it doesn't escalate into another
Mine has been working effortlessly for the past 10 years and I have yet to
open it for any reason.
Holy Cow Dan! Thank you for such a lengthy, in depth look at Septics! I
really appreciate it.
You asked a number of questions, some I have asked myself and other's which
have me thinking. That's great!
I went out this morning and checked my vent pipe (which showed water in it
last night). It was dry as a bone this morning.
I'm going to monitor it through the day to see what happens. I'm
suspecting (and hoping!) that I had a small blockage between the
vent pipe and the septic tank itself which has since cleared itself. That
would be best case. Worst case is the field lines are frozen/plugged in
which case I'm in for a bit of work. We've been very careful about what we
put down the septic since the pumpout 6 months ago....no grease (ever for
that matter) or chems. We do put toilet paper down but no "female hygeine"
items. All in all, you've prompted me with enough questions to get this
thing figured out. I really appreciate that.
Thanks very much!
On Sun, 18 Dec 2005 10:01:31 -0700, "James \\"Cubby\\" Culbertson"
You should be able to run some water in the house and look in your
pumping hole on the tank to see if water is coming into the tank. You
could have a clog or freezeup in the pipe between house and tank. I
used to live in a house where the pipe froze between house and tank.
I added about a foot of soil over the pipe and just tapered it into
the lawn so it was not very noticable. It never froze again.
If the water is going into the tank but not exiting the tank, your
drain field is either clogged or frozen. That is much harder to
check, although you could try to snake it out, but that may be
difficult this time of year with frozen ground around the top of your
It never hurts to add some of those bacterial "chemicals" they sell.
I cant think of the name of that stuff at the moment.
Depending where you live, you might consider draining wash machine and
bathtub water directly on to the lawn. I do that here, but it is
allowed here, plus my lawn is a steep hill that goes down to a creek.
I am not allowed to drain directly into the creek, but I just run it
down the hill. It tends to form an ice slick in winter, but I never
walk down there in winter anyhow.
My septic only gets toilet and sinks, so there is much less water
going into it.
On Sun, 18 Dec 2005 10:01:31 -0700, "James \\"Cubby\\" Culbertson"
What a name, eh?
AFAIK, almost everyone with a septic tank uses toilet paper and
flushes it. We did, 7 years for 2 of us, and 4 of those years, 3 of
us. No problems. We had the tank cleaned once in those 7 years
(The previous owner had built a patio over the tank, with only a 4
foot hole to access the tank. My mother worried we'd lose the patio,
which would have been hard to repair and we didn't have much money, if
there was ever a big problem, but there never was. I was back there
40 years later, but there was snow on the ground and I couldn't see if
it was the same patio or not.)
Remove NOPSAM to email me. Please let
me know if you have posted also.
Some of your advice is good, others are questionable. Baker's yeast does
nothing for a septic tank. Toilet paper is not a problem for a properly
built septic tank and keeping a pail full of shitty toilet paper in the
bathroom is disgusting. Frost in Canada goes much deeper than 20 inches or
even 36 inches. In southern Ontario we regularly get 48 inch deep frost
sometimes up to 60 inches. Most septic tanks should not be 30 to 36 inches
deep to the top or the drain field will be too deep for proper operation.
I have a 35 year old septic system that is still working good. The rules I
work with is keep the amount of water sent to the septic tank to a minimum.
Do not send laundry water to the septic tank, powdered detergents clog up
the system and synthetic fibres from the wash water get flushed down the
drain field where they do not decompose causing the drain field to
permanently plug up. No cooking oils nor grease down the drains. Minimum
amounts of bleach and other sterilizers are used. Pump every year or every
two years maximum.
No laundry in septic? I don't beleive that it's legal here in Ontario
Canada to drain laundry right on your yard. Got a new house with new septic
and all goes in there. I won't be using bleach or anything like this but I
don't think I can avoid draining laundry into the septic.
I'm not going to comment about the sewer problem
except it is most likely a plugged field. The OP
should have done something about it the first
time. It is unlikely to be frozen, but to address
your comments on freezing depths.
Your information on freezing depths is not
correct. Although fairly unusual, frost depths
can go to 6 feet and did so in 1990 near here.
Frost depths of 4-5 feet are fairly common at
elevations of 5000 or more.
In 1990 the frost line in a town about 50 miles
away went to 6 feet and caused a lot of headaches.
Four feet deep is not uncommon for a frost
depth. The county extension office or a city
building permit agency will information on the
frost depth is in your area. People that live in
the lowlands tend to think everyone experiences
the same conditions.
Any septic tank that can't handle at least 2 years worth of normal
TP usage is just plain busted. But it is TP usage that will often
determine how often you need a pumpout.
Septic tanks do not operate off baker's yeast. It does nothing whatsoever.
Septic tanks get all they need in the way of bacteria from your gut.
The Ontario Ministry of Environment indicates that _NO_ additives should
be used. None of them do anything.
Chris Lewis, Una confibula non set est
It\'s not just anyone who gets a Starship Cruiser class named after them.
An update on my situation. I went ahead and lifted the lid off the septic
tank. It's full right to the top. If I'm not mistaken, I should have a
foot or so of air space in there correct? Being completely full like this
would indicate a problem with the septic's drain lines (either clogged,
frozen, etc...). Is that correct? I have no trees in the area so it's
probably internal to the lines themselves. So what do I do? I suppose I
need to call someone out to confirm my diagnosis and I suppose it'll turn
into digging up the yard to put in new drain lines. What a mess and only a
week from Christmas.....
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