Septic Drain Mystery


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Old 05-20-18, 06:10 AM
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Septic Drain Mystery

Bought this house last year. For this area, "conventional" well/septic. Water gravity drains from house to "Inlet" (aka "settling" in some places) tank, from there gravity drains to "outlet," where lift pump injects to field.

Last Thursday, began having slow drain problems and lots of gurgling noises when toilets flushed. Plumbers snaked the line from the cleanout just outside the house to the Inlet tank; about 15 - 18 feet. No OBVIOUS problems, i.e., snake not impeded. Plumbers did not uncover inlet tank, but observed only a "trickle" flow into lift pump chamber. Lift pump works OK. After using snake, with no improvement to flow in house noted, he used garden hose and inflatable bulb into pipe at inlet to try and pressure blow any obstruction. This did no good; in fact, now toilets in house would not drain at all, or so imperceptibly it took overnight to draw down. His theory: inlet tank full, line from that tank to outlet was deteriorated or crushed. Recommended we call septic service, which we did.

Septic came and pumped tank -- he said tank was at normal service levels (not full). After tank pump, he inserted hose in cleanout and sucked that line for a number of minutes. All toilets ran fine, gurgling noises disappeared, no more standing water in cleanout. That was last night. Since then, we've run the washing machine through a cycle and used the toilets. Now starting to note more gurgling, toilets slow to clear, i.e., the old situation is returning.

Any theories on what the problem might be? Six months ago, we chopped down a spruce tree that had been established within 3 feet of the line between cleanout and inlet tank -- that line is five to six feet below ground. If it were a root problem, it seems that we would have had the problem while the tree was alive, not six months after it died.
 
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Old 05-20-18, 06:39 AM
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It sure sounds like something is not flowing,

You checked the flow to the lift pump but dont say anything about the field. If field is saturated then it wont accept more liquid and everything starts backing up!
 
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Old 05-20-18, 09:24 AM
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So, you have a septic tank and a pump tank. If the "inlet tank" (septic tank) was not uncovered then it was not pumped. It sounds like you had your pump tank pumped. While it doesn't hurt to have your pump tank pumped the one that really needs it is the septic tank.

I would uncover both accesses for the septic tank and have it pumped. At that time it will be easy to verify that the line from the house is flowing clearly. Most septic tanks have two chambers so both hatches need to be exposed to properly pump it. The access on the outlet side of the tank will give you access to the outlet filter.

My bet is that the outlet filter of your septic tank is clogged and not letting the effluent get to the pump tank.
 
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Old 05-20-18, 10:22 AM
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The inlet tank WAS uncovered and pumped by the Septic service. The plumbers didn't do anything with it.

I'm having the septic service back tomorrow and I'll ask them about the filter. Thanks!
 
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Old 05-20-18, 11:30 AM
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It helps to think of a septic system as a fishtank with tiny little fish, or an orchid in water culture.
Don't overload it, overfeed it, or over fill it, and don't "clean" it with harsh chemicals.

First guess, this started because you have a faucet dripping, or a toilet running; that was filling up the septic tank with water, and the distribution box and drainfield were backing up with more water than it would deal with.
- Not bad as far as septic problems go, just reduce the volume of water, and the system will go back to normal. Check all flapper valves to make sure they're seated correctly. Scrub all of the flapper seals to make sure they're smooth to the touch, iron bacteria or hard water build up on the lip and prevent a tight seal, so water drips. Next check that the toilet bowl-refil hose hasn't rusted off and slipped down the overflow pipe, that will make water run constantly..

Second guess, the plumber who tried to blow out the lines flushed the toilets a few times and dumped a lot of water into the septic tank,
with no improvement to flow in house noted, he used garden hose and inflatable bulb into pipe at inlet to try and pressure blow any obstruction. This did no good; in fact, now toilets in house would not drain at all, or so imperceptibly it took overnight to draw down.
and then hooked up a pressure bulb: and may have blown the scum layer that was floating in the tank out into the distribution box and then out into the drain field...

Also not a huge problem, the bacteria in the drain field WILL eventually break down the oil-grease-scum, but it may take a bit.
 
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Old 05-20-18, 12:27 PM
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"You checked the flow to the lift pump but dont say anything about the field. If field is saturated then it wont accept more liquid and everything starts backing up!"

Might have explained the onset of the problem initially, but after the septic tank was drained, we still have some issues. Septic man said with just the two of us in the house, it could be a week before tank reaches level where pumping to drain field occurs.
 
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Old 05-20-18, 12:32 PM
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As far as overloading system with water (leaking stuff), I don't think that is a problem. Our water (well) pump is in the crawl space under our bedroom, and when it is on, we can hear it. We know the patterns quite well by now. If no one has used any water anywhere INTENTIONALLY, then the pump is silent.

A couple of months ago, the old expansion tank sprung a leak (also in the crawlspace). This is when we learned that the noise we thought was the sump pump working was not actually the sump pump, but the well pump. Both of those items are new now, as well as a new expansion tank.
 
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Old 05-20-18, 01:11 PM
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Originally Posted by Curmdegeon10
it could be a week before tank reaches level where pumping to drain field occurs.
Well, the good news is that you have a very simple diagnostic-
Is the tank full and pumping to the drainfield?
it's nice to get a simple yes/no answer when troublehooting home repairs.

Usual problems are running faucets or toilets,
surface water getting into the system, or
spring rain raising the groundwater table and that water gets into the system.
 
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Old 05-31-18, 12:14 PM
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I thought I would close this out with a report on what was finally found, and what corrective action was taken. I had three separate visits from specialists: one visit from the plumber, and two visits from a septic company. The thread above discussed what was done by the plumber and what the septic company did on its first visit (pump the tank).

We decided to have the septic company come out again, this time with a camera. Initially, he found the pipe between the clean out next to the house and the septic tank, a distance of 18 feet, holding quite a bit of water. He popped the lid on the tank, and showed me a huge glob of grease that was stuck between the baffle and the outlet of the pipe, vastly impeding a free flow of waste into the tank. He removed that, and water ran from the pipe into the tank for a couple of minutes. Then it was back to the camera, which showed even more gunk in the pipe. He used his water jet to clear that stuff, and it took several attempts to get it all out. Finally, with a clean camera run, I could see that over the course of the 18 feet, the pipe had two slight "bellies" (sags) where water accumulated. This is a reduction in the flow capability of the system, of course, but with just my and I in the house, I don't judge it as anything to worry about.

Although I first thought our troubles were due to a saturated field due to many days of rain, I now think that was a pure coincidence, and the problems were due to this tremendous grease/gunk build up.

Lesson learned: if I ever again buy a house on a septic system, I'm going to pay for the camera check of the system.
 
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Old 06-01-18, 10:01 AM
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Thanks for the follow-up. I'm surprised they didn't notice the build-up on the baffle the first time - though, the pipe gunk I'm sure they wouldn't have found without snaking or running a camera.

Those little snake cameras really are great. It's amazing the problems you can find with one of those!
 
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Old 06-04-18, 05:24 AM
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Originally Posted by Zorfdt View Post
Thanks for the follow-up. I'm surprised they didn't notice the build-up on the baffle the first time - though, the pipe gunk I'm sure they wouldn't have found without snaking or running a camera.

Those little snake cameras really are great. It's amazing the problems you can find with one of those!
Yes, I was very surprised about that too --- the big glob. It was easily seen from the opening, and were it there when the tank was pumped, the operator could not have NOT seen it. Probably will remain a mystery!
 
 

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