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Septic Tank Problems (and what to do about them)

Septic Tank Issues 

Live in the country long enough, and you will have your share of septic tank problems. Trying to figure out what problem you are having with your septic tank can be a tricky thing. Septic tanks and drain field problems can come in all shapes and sizes and pinpointing your problem boils down to identifying the issues. This article will cover the most common septic tank problems and symptoms and what to do.


NEVER go into your septic tank. The gases in there are toxic and you will likely get stuck and die. We know of several instances in our area where this has happened to people. Always leave it to a professional to maintain your septic tank.


Septic tank problem: Septic tank is full

Many issues come from a full septic tank. When a tank is full, it is primed for getting clogs, which is why it’s important to get septic safe toilet paper because it breaks down faster.  There are two parts of the tank, one larger part for the sludge, waste, and scum. The other part is the greywater that gets pushed out to your drain field, or leaching field, and goes back into the water table over time. Many septic system problems arise from the septic tank being full.

septic tank diagram

As new waste comes through the inlet pipe, the processed sewage exits via the outlet pipe and into the drain field. If your tank is full, you will notice your septic pump going on more frequently than usual.

A sign of a full tank can be the foul odors of rotten egg smell (septic tank smell) in the house, water flowing slowly down the drain.

It’s worthwhile to get your septic tank pumping done every year to three years, depending on your household usage and the tank’s size.


Septic tank problem: Hair in the pump

A common problem that comes up with septic tanks isn’t the tank itself but the pump. There is a pump that pushes the grey water into your drain field or leaching field.

Over time this pump can get clogged from hair or other items that can’t break down and block the pump and the water lines. The hair from sinks and showers can find its way into your tank and then pass through to the grey waterside.

As it gets pushed to the septic field or leaching field, the hair can get caught in the motor, preventing water from passing through.

A simple solution to this is to have a filter installed before the pump. This happened to us. We had a filter installed just before the pump (our is indoors, but other pumps may be in the tank itself). This will catch most of the large items, and hair that makes its way through the greywater will be caught up in the filter before going into the pump.


Septic tank problem: Too much water at once

If you have an alarm on your septic tank, you may have heard it go off and then stop. It’s happened to us on several occasions.

This left us to wonder if something has happened to the septic tank. This can happen when your tank gets too much sewage at once, or even just wastewater from household usages like showers and dishwashers.

It’s not uncommon in a house to have the dishwasher and washing machine going simultaneously, throw in a shower and a full bathtub draining all at once, and you are going to hear that alarm.

While this is one instance of an alarm going off, it can go off when the pump burns out, or other issues arise. If too much water goes in and the alarm has gone off, you could get water flowing back into your house.

Another cause of this can be that the tank is too small for your household usage. If you have purchased the house and


Septic tank problem: Cracks in the tank

Another thing that can happen is that the tank cracks and excess water from the ground start to find its way in. In this case, you will need a professional to come out and address the issue depending on the crack.

One way to tell if there is a crack in the tank or if it is leaking is if there is green grass around the tank. This can mean it is leaking out. You may also notice an odor around the tank area. As a rule, you shouldn’t be able to smell anything from your septic tank. It is a closed unit, and any odors should not be detectable.

If your tank is leaking, you will need to get a professional in to fix it because it could be a hazard and category 2 or category 3 water damage. This can also happen when you have a cesspool. For more on the difference between cesspool vs. septic tank, read this.


Septic tank problem: Non-biodegradable items in the septic system

Often when people move from a city sewer system to a rural septic system, they assume nothing changes.

This is usually the beginning of some septic issues. Everything that goes down a drain in your house ends up in your tank. That means that if it isn’t breaking down, it has the potential to clog your system. This is the first thing you should know about buying a house with a septic tank.

As a rule, prevent flushing the following solids down your drains:

Paper towels, dental floss, disposable diapers, cat litter, feminine products, and other non-biodegradable products.


Septic tank problem: Tree roots

Another issue that can come up is when tree roots find their way into the septic systems. This often happens with leach fields. The roots from the trees are drawn to water, and a leach field has plenty of water flowing through it. Refrain from planting your trees too close to your drain field to avoid this happening on your property.

If you experience tree roots in your system. You will need to contact a septic professional to decide what is the best course of action.


Septic tank needs to be replaced

Most septic tanks last about 20-30 years before they need to be replaced. This is their normal life expectancy if you are in a house that is older than this you may need to replace the system in its entirety. Before you do consult with a professional to see if it’s a problem or a larger issue. 

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