Well in December I wrote asking about the possibility of a septic freezing
and causing a backup. We determined this wasn't the problem. I had the
tank pumped and the guy who came said everything looked fine. It backed up
after a large number of washes in the washing machine and he said we may
have just overloaded it. So here it is only March and the damn thing
backed up again. They've pumped it just now so I have a little time before
cursing it again but I wanted to research a few things. My leach field is
dry. There are no wet spots or standing water at all. I have put enzyme
in it in the past but I'm wondering if something like this:
http://www.amerisep.com/septic-free.html would work. Seems like snake
oil to me. Otherwise, what would you septic wizards recommend? I don't
know if there's a distribution box (I seem to remember the tank has three
lines heading out of it so I'm guessing there's not a D-box but I could very
well be wrong on that account). If I have one, do these things get plugged
up normally? The guy that pumped the system said the lines rarely plug up
and said the field must be bad. Of course this guy is working for a
company that would love to come in and destroy my yard and charge me $$$
doing it. So before the backhoe arrives to rip down my fence and destroy
my sprinkler systems, any and all recommendations on what to check/do are
Go the free route first. Go to your local health department. They usually
handle septic tank permits. If not, go to the proper local agency. Ask
them for a formula sheet. You will calculate the number of sinks, toilets,
washing machines, dishwashers, etc, that you have. Each is assigned a
number, or just write down what you have and return it to them. This simple
survey determines the size of septic tank that you need. The size of septic
tank that you need determines the dimensions of the leach field.
Perhaps your system was put in and then other things were added ...........
like dishwashers, washing machines, etc. Maybe the system was just marginal
from the get go. It is a smart thing that if you need a 2,000 gallon tank
to get one that is 2,500. But, a lot of people will just get exactly what
they need and no more. They cheap out, or figure they will sell soon, and
won't go the extra grand. Stupid, stupid, stupid. So, if additional
plumbing is added, the system is overloaded.
Do the calculations. That will tell you if your system is adequate. If it
is, you need to find the problem. If it is not, you will need to either
upsize the system or reduce the use.
Since water is one of the most wasted utilities, it is not hard to conserve
on water. Especially when the option is having turds floating up in your
yard. Finding out what size system you HAD installed, and what you NEED
according to your PRESENT usage is is a no brainer. Records should be on
file on the system installed. A monkey can walk around and total the number
of sinks, showers, tubs, and water using appliances.
Once you do the math, you will realize where your problem is. Until then,
calling contractors is like inviting vultures to dinner. No one will
refuse. And they will all tell you you need a new $y$tem.
Steve (I have Owner/contracted six houses)
Thanks Steve. I really don't think the septic is undersized. We've got
two of us living here both of which are pretty frugal with our water use.
But I will try to determine what size is in there and go from there. The
contractor that built the house is pretty reputable and we haven't added
water using devices besides what were already installed by them. Any ideas
on how to troubleshoot a septic without digging up the entire yard?
First of all, don't think. Measure and be doubly sure. Second, call a
professional. They will be able to pop the top and tell you what size tank
you have. They will also be able to tell you what is wrong with it. Go
with a guy who has been in business for a while.
Getting advice here is a good idea. And getting more than one
estimate/opinion is a good idea, too. But, ask a pro. A guy who does this
for a living. I'd bet that he can get you straightened out quick.
And, it costs what it costs. It's gotta be fixed. Just find out exactly
what you got, what your problem is, and get more than one estimate on
getting it fixed.
Since it is a health issue, your health department may be able to help you
diagnose it for free. It's worth a shot.
Thanks Steve. I'm already looking in my area for the "experts" and have a
few names I'm calling tomorrow.
I'm just sick that I'm going to destroy my backyard that I've worked on the
past few years getting this resolved but
obviously it must be done! Unfortunately it snowed last night so when the
guy comes out tomorrow and I tell him
the ground has been totally dry in the leach field, he's gonna laugh. Oh
well, that's the way it goes.
Thanks for the advice.
The two possibilities are:
(A) You're putting too much water into the system, or
(B) The system isn't getting rid of the water fast enough.
Is there anything besides your household waste-water that's
plumbed to the septic system? Storm-drains? Pool overflow?
You can inspect parts of the drainfield by running a
camera down it to look for blockages. You'll probably
have to dig a pit on top of the distribution
box if it's a multi-branch system.
You can see if the drainfield is working properly
by sticking a boot on the outflow-pipe and running
a garden-hose into it while watching the water-meter
(if any) to see how many gallons/minute the drainfield
Yeah it was clogged alright but it probably got clogged up due to the high
level of liquid in the tank itself. I have a riser
at the septic opening and it looks like the level has gotten above the top
of the tank which would indicate the septic is not
dispersing liquid. The guy did comment that the level looked high....it was
over the top of the baffle.
I'm just not sure how to diagnose whether it's a bad field, lines or
What are the symptoms of it being backed up? You say there is no standing
water in the yard. It would be normal for the septic tank to be full of
water all the time and I would think a working drain field somewhat dry.
When it backs up are you getting water backing up in the tub/shower, toilet
not flushing, etc or just the washing machine backflowing out of its drain?
If the toilet won't flush down, I would look for roots or some other plug in
the line from the house to the septic tank. I had this problem once in a
relatively new house I purchased. Turned out the contractor had inserted
the pipe too far into the septic tank inlet and it was blocked by the
baffle. Previous owner never had a problem because he and his wife attended
church 7 days a week and never really used it. My family of four quickly
had a problem even though previous owner had lived in house two years. If
your only problem is the washing machine backing up, I would inspect the
drain trap there for lint plugging it. Or if I had just replaced a very old
washer with a new one....current washers use a high volume/low pressure pump
rather than the old high pressure/low volume pumps of older models. I sold
these machines for 27 years and starting in the late 80's we started getting
a lot of complaints of new machines overloading the drain even though there
had been no problem for years with old machine. A friend of mine just had
to re-plumb his laundry room drains because his new machine would back up
and overflow. Turns out his drains were a 1/4 inch smaller than
manufacturers recommended minimum. Hadn't ever had a problem with the old
Just some thoughts.
Thanks for the info. Yeah, it backed up clear into the house. Toilets
wouldn't flush, standing water in the tub, etc... Clearly the entire main
sewer line was full. The input to the septic was plugged up which may have
contributed to the overall backup but the riser clearly shows the water
level has risen above the septic tank itself at some point since the new
year (when I installed the riser). The washer is the same washer we've
been using for 6 years and only in the last 1.5 years or so have we been
having issues with the septic. We've not added any water/drain appliances
other than what came with the house so I just keep thinking it's beyond the
tank itself. I suppose I can try digging where I think a distribution box
would be be I think there are 2-3 lines that leave the septic directly so
I'm not sure if there's a distribution box or not (I'm inclined to say not).
Thanks for the help!
I would dig up the distribution box next. You need to see if the water is
getting to it and if the leach lines are full. Then you need to figure out
how many lines you have and where they run. Then you need to figure out how
to add more or sharply reduce the volume you are sending to it. Perhaps do
laundry in town and/or reduce the number of people living in the house.
Maybe separate the gray water and treat it with a wetland or bog. Your
leach field is probably too small to handle the volume being sent to it and
needs to be made bigger. Two fields can work well. One field can rest
while you use the other.
I think that's probably my best course of action-digging up the distribution
box and seeing what's going on there. I heard there was a law recently
passed here that allows us to run the washer drain directly into it's own
pit outside. I find that hard to believe but I'm going to look into that.
Either way, I suspect there is a problem with the system itself that sooner
or later I will have to rectify (preferably sooner!). Thanks for any more
I have heard of another method to unstop a clogged field. They use high
volume compressed air at the input to the field and blow the clog to
the far end. Worked well at my sister's house after other methods
failed. Pretty pricey, but not as much as digging up the field.
any and all recommendations on what to check/do are
You are right to call in an expert. I bought a piece of property to set a
cabin (double wide) on it and it had a pre-existing septic field that was
five years old. The 'authorities' had no records, although a special permit
was issued and admitted to and the previous owner lost the paper work. I
was forced to find a septic inspector who opened the clean out (already done
for you) and measure in all directions. Then, he flooded the tank and went
to the leach field and inserted rods to test the material used and the
distribution of the leachate. Yea, I know. You're already flooded but if he
can scout your field and find that the lines are relatively dry he can
back-trace. I worked for a contractor as a teen who had a recently
completed home with tank failure. It turned out that the pipe had separated
from the tank and only a small portion of the fluid was getting to the
field. Good luck!!
When you find someone, ask if they have the ability to look into the
septic system via a camera. Some outfits have the ability to do
"Non-Destructive" analysis. They may locate the problem and determine
what has to be done in a matter of minutes.
I'm asking that. The last place I called said I needed to have a full tank
for them to diagnose....hmmm. I would have thought an
empty one would be better to be able to run a camera through the lines. I
guess that's why I'm not an expert on this!
Well I had one "expert" out today. No testing/cameras/etc... but he's
convinced the drain field has seen better days. He said he's been having
to redo a number of septics the last few years in the vicinity where I live
as the soil just can't handle the effluent very well. As well, since he
has to do work on it, he'll need to get it fully up to code which is
probably costing a fair bit to do. So bottom line is $2450.00 I suppose
it could be worse but still, I'm not thrilled by this! Although, I did see
another quote he had for a neighbor of $10k so I suppose I should be happy
with this price. I've got a couple more "experts" coming to give me their
assessment and prices.
It did get me thinking about how to route the water from the clothes washer
to a standalone system so it wouldn't be taxing the septic system. I guess
it's legal but all sorts of requirements are in place. I may have to
research that another day!
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