1950's septic system clogged: looking for advice

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Old 05-25-16, 07:01 PM
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1950's septic system clogged: looking for advice

3 Bedroom 1 Bathroom house built in the mid 1950's with a conventional septic system I believe. 2 adults in the house. Moved into house 5 years ago and seller said they had just pumped the 500 gallon tank. They also had just replaced the house-to-tank pipe (furthest right pipe in my picture) as it was full of roots they said. Inspection people did a "dye" test, dumped stuff down the sink, run water, and then said they found it out in the yard (this was in August, dry out).

Live in house for 4.5 years, no issues. Seems like system was working fine. I never could "see" where my finger system was, never got bright green grass lines. Yard never gets swampy anywhere, no standing water near septic tank lid. No backups into the house.

In the last 2 months, I've noticed that I have standing water and lawn turned to complete mush right near septic tank lid. I thought it was spring rains plus I did some draining work last fall, but finally decide that it's septic related.

Honeydipper comes today. Pull the heavy 3" thick octagon shaped concrete lid off, tank is full to brim/ground level with water. He pumps it all out. Says it's not like normal tanks, this one is small in perimeter but deeper than most. He says that something is clogged and looks at the 4ft diameter 100ft elm that's about 25ft away in my neighbor's yard. He walks around back yard and says it's bone dry.

Tells me for $2,000 he'd come out and dig around, try and clean out pipes but no guarantees and then gave me 2 numbers for companies that would install a complete new system and he ballparks me $10-$15,000. House is surrounded by rentals and retail, it's getting demolished in 2 years or maybe 30 years, but I'm not dumping $20k into the house.

So... just "thinking" out loud here. System seems to have been working for 4 years and then "bam" not working. Seems like the finger system wouldn't just suddenly fail? I don't know what all my system has (how many fingers, length, etc.) but I'm just assuming it's a standard system where the fingers connect to a distribution box? as it's all I have to go on. I dont' know how the junction box works but I assume that it's just an underground container of gray water, shouldn't be clogged up with poo/paper. Maybe roots? Not sure.

Then there's the probable culprit I'm thinking.... the pipe from tank to distribution box. Previous owner had house-to-tank line replaced as it was full of roots. They didn't replace tank-to-distribution that I'm aware of. And it's near a huge tree. So logic is telling me it's full of roots if the house-to-tank pipe was... So to fix my system maybe I need to dig up and replace that with new PVC? That or cheap it by breaking tile, water cutting, patch with PVC sleeve, and repeat again in 5 years or something?

Then I was thinking.. I THINK the picture attached is what's going on in my septic tank based on what I saw via phone camera on broom stick down the main cover... Maybe with the addition of my wife to the house within the last year and more layers of poo in the tank, somehow TP has been floating over the baffle/dam and is blocking the exit pipe of the tank???

So... questions. Can anyone recommend what they think I should do?
In my picture... yellow arrow is, I think, tile and old, probably clogged with roots if it's anything like the house-to-tank pipe was when replaced I've been told.
RED ARROW: should there be a cover here so that I can remove any "clog" indicated by the green arrow if it IS clogged there? I "looked up" at the "roof" of tank from inside with camera on stick and couldn't see any kinda access hole but maybe just too hard to see?

Again, my picture is what I THINK my tank is doing. I dunno if I have a junction box, nor what it'd be made of, how deep, and how far "down the line" it would be from the tank. 5ft? 20ft? I have a half acre lot, 100ft x 200ft and tank is about mid-depth of the yard so there's only about a 100ft x 100ft area the tank, D-box, and field would be contained in.

I think I'm on a time crunch. Tank is empty. Unless I'm mistaken, I have until the tank fills to the brim again to get my issue fixed, that or I have to get it pumped again or deal with the soggy lawn until I find a fix.

I'm capable of renting a backhoe and digging out the tank-to-Dbox pipe myself I think, but if that's the fix, may try getting a local quote and if not too much just have someone do it for me?

Any and all help appreciated. Thanks! Wife is deathly afraid of turds coming in the shower! I told her there's a grate over the drain so not to worry! Thanks - Mike

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  #2  
Old 05-25-16, 07:14 PM
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Whew.... you must have tired fingers.

Just thinking out loud.... it would appear that the line that the yellow arrow points to was partially clogged...... possibly with roots. Now it may be further clogged with paper and stuff from the main tank.

I'm not the pro here so I can't give you the best advice but have you checked with the town to see if they have anything on file in regards to your septic system ?

The pros will be by to offer you help. Good luck.
 
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Old 05-25-16, 07:20 PM
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Not sure how it works there, but around here if they caught you trying to fix it yourself or digging up the lines I'd be fined.
Your local heath dept. would need to approve any changes to what you have now.
A 500 gal. tank likely would never even pass inspection anymore.
A 66 year old system likely has old clay tiles, or Orangeburg leach lines, both can collapse and roots can grow right through them.
As leach fields get older the ground around them silts up and can not drain the liquid anymore.
It's very common to have older leach lines fail and the leach field have to be redone.
 
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Old 05-25-16, 07:38 PM
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PJ: Nah, they're not tired. The sticky in this section states the more info the better!!

Joe:
I don't know how it works either. That's one of my fears, is that to replace a pipe I'd have to get all kinds of departments involved and fees and crap and it's just a whole can of worms. I don't see how replacing a clay tile with PVC is a safety issue but that's another topic. Pumper guy said the county wouldn't do anything to me unless I go putting in an entire new system. But that's just one guy's "opinion".

Regarding the leach field... that makes sense. But in my situation, if it appears that they "system" seemed fine for a while and then I suddenly get a soggy lawn, wouldn't all of my fingers, or whatever is left of them, have to had all silted up all the sudden for that to be my problem? It my head I'm thinking in this situation it'd be more probably that I have a single clog somewhere, like, one clump comping over the "dam" and either plugging the tank exit or plugging the root-filled tile?

I'm not saying that the fingers are not old and likely to fail (some probably have already) but I only need the septic system working long enough to live here a few more years and sell or until the bulldozers come. I guess there's a change that I just have ONE finger left and it finally failed during the past 5 years?
 
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Old 05-26-16, 09:41 AM
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Mike -

Iím no expert but I have a Septic system and I periodically stick test the tank to find sludge (bottom) and scum (top) layer thicknesses. Maybe Iím missing something but I donít see how what you are describing points to a failed leach field. If itís only wet around the tank and not the rest of the yard, and the tank is definitely overfull when inspected, that would seem to me to indicate somewhere from the output of the D-Box (i.e., outputs to the field), back to the output of the septic tank is blocked.

When that guy pumped your tank I think he should have, and he probably did, check to see if the output of the septic tank was blocked in the tank itself. So I think you can eliminate a blockage in the tank itself (maybe you can call him and verify that he checked that without insulting him, lol. btw - I donít think your green arrow would represent a blockage. I think a blockage would be up at the output pipe. But maybe Iím missing something).

I donít think uncovering your D-Box is any kind of code violation. If it were me I would try to locate the D-Box, open it up and see whatís what.

If you have the line of the input pipe and output pipe of the septic tank, I think you would just extend that line and thatís where you would expect to find the D-Box. Iím not sure but I think many times itís about 10 feet or so from the output of the septic tank and would be at about the same level as the output pipe on the septic tank.

If you donít mind putting some holes in your backyard you could dig down and find the output pipe from the tank, and continue from there. You could use that rod method where you drive a rod gently down to see if you hit something hard like the pipe or D-Box.

I never did that myself, but I planned to until I found my blockage was from house to tank. So I rented a snake and cleared the pipe from house to tank myself.

Just some thought from a non-pro. Good luck!
 
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Old 05-26-16, 12:19 PM
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Maybe the Septic Tank Pump Man(?) exposed the D Box, or at least cleared the line to it. If not, then now might be an ideal time to clear that line while the Tank itself is close to empty.

If you can't quickly locate it, then I'd agree with ZD and send down probes in the area where you suspect it to be located. I've used 18-20" shish-kebab skewers myself to locate lines and concrete boxes. If you do locate the opposite end of the pipe, then flushing it with something as simple as a garden hose may do the job, (like jetting) from the D Box back to the Septic Tank, or alternating from the Septic back to the D Box. I'd be curious to ascertain what the original cause of the blockage is, or if it turns out to be invasive roots.

Your Town or County or other jurisdiction may have a copy of the original plan for the Septic System, especially if the dwelling is in a Post WWII development . . . . a little Site Plan can save a lot of effort in locating the pipes.

Assuming that you succeed in clearing that outlet line, then now might be a good time to install a Baffle or Outlet Scum Filter to prevent the recurrence of the same problem.
 
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Old 05-26-16, 01:30 PM
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zoesdad:
I'm pretty sure the guy who pumped tank empty didn't check the output. I watched him do the entire thing and I don't know how he would have checked it because you can't visually see it (blocked by the baffle) unless he had some kind of snake camera. He didn't dig looking for an access to check it and he didn't get down into the tank (unless he's quick!) to check it. So I think I should still investigate that by digging just "south" of my main cover, it's not far down. Regarding the D-Box, thanks for the info. I didn't know if there was a "common" location for a D-box if there even is one. Guy at work swears two bent metal coat-hangars! but I may just randomly poke/dig in line with the tank's input and output.

Vermont: Like I said, the guy literally showed up, ran the suction hose, we pulled the lid off, he sucked it all out, and that was it. He didn't probe anywhere else in my yard besides around the cover to find the edges of the septic tank.

My county has digitized and is in the process of making site plans and permits available but they had a note stating that it starts around 1970 and later. House was built in the mid-50s so I think I'm out of luck.

So... the best place to start looking for my D-box is in-line with my tank inlet and outlet, perhaps 10 ft out? I might try soaking that "line" with the hose so I can probe easier... that or go stand in the yard with metal coat hangers in my hands!
 
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Old 05-28-16, 02:02 PM
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I know this is long, but please please please help me out by reading what all I've got done. I don't know what my best move is from here.

Ok so I did some digging around my tank. I can't find an access cover that would allow my to clean out the "poo water section" before it exits the septic tank. See the picture below. I was hoping to find a cover (pink access hole) but I can't find anything from digging OR from video from inside the tank looking up at the top of tank. I found the corner of the tank. There's a horizontal "seam" (green lines) that exist. But I can't find the "edges of the cover" (blue lines) that would possibly make the "orange" cover. Perhaps there entire "top" of the tank is a massive lid that would have to be unearthed and then removed?

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Just an idea... can I cut a hole in the concrete (pink) myself and make my own hole to the surface with a concrete cover? Then I could use a tank outlet filter of some sorts in the future, assuming I get this fixed.

Moving on...

Next I used a steel spike to probe and found the pipe exiting the tank. About 5ft out from end of tank I dug a hole to see what was going on. I found red clay tile and I just happened to dig where what appears to be a simple butt joint. I don't think it's a crack, it's too perfect looking. I thought tile was flared on an end so it could couple? This looks like a butt joint.

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Anyway, now I know where my pipe is! So... I keep probing along and keep hitting gravel about the same depth for a LONG distance. I never found a distribution box unless I hopped over it in my probing... I was moving about 4ft between probes. The entire length, I keep hitting gravel/pipe all about the same depth down.

About, I dunno, 80ft? out I stake down and suddenly no gravel or anything, just mud. I probe between and dig another hole and find the end of a tile, open ended, surrounded in pea gravel. I can't find tile downstream and its packed clay, no gravel. Seems like the end the line? What's interesting is
1. There's a bunch of crap in the pipe it looks like, and some roots?
2. It looks like there's another butt joint just maybe a foot in from the end? See the arrows pointing to non-concentric tubes? Like it's the face of the next pipe not aligned completely. Is this tile system a bunch of 1ft tubes all butted together?

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So... my next question is what type of system might I have?
At first I was thinking the next pictures is what's happened. I somehow skipped over my distribution box and I'm probing and found the end of a finger (red arrow) from the D-box that happens to be directly in line with the tank-to-Dbox pipe??

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Or... and I have no idea if this is even a "type" of septic system, but what if I have a series of "dry wells" and I've found the last one in the series? Is this even a type of septic system layout where the output of the tank fills a hole of stone and when it's full it enters next tile section where it goes to next hole, and so on?

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I can't decide if I should keep digging for my D-box that either A) doesn't exist or B) I skipped over in my probing? Perhaps I hire someone to come camera snake from the end where I found an opening but maybe it's clogged and a dead end and they can't help? Any ideas on what best to do next??? Can't wait to spend my 3-day weekend poop-smithing! Thanks so much for any assistance and input!
 
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Old 05-28-16, 05:24 PM
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If your Septic Tank were truly configured the way you have it drawn, it wouldn't have served you for these past 4 years. The drawing shows unrestricted flow of the Scum Layer (floating organic matter and debris) being able to exit to your Leach Field and clogging it up.

Typically, Septic Tanks have a baffle that prevents the floating "Scum" from leaving until it has decomposed to become part of the Effluent (the middle level) which is allowed to exit, OR it becomes to heavy to remain in suspense, and drops down to become part of the lowest portion of a Tank's contents . . . . the Sludge.

If a Professional Septic person doesn't chime in soon, I'll locate an illustration of how a Septic Tank is usually designed . . . . top to bottom: Scum; Effluent, and Sludge.

Here's a very simple design illustrating the three (3) strata:

[ATTACH=CONFIG]66661[/ATTACH]

One way or another, you have been (until now) only sending the middle fluid (Effluent) out to the Field.
 
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Last edited by Vermont; 05-28-16 at 05:36 PM. Reason: Added Illistration
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Old 05-29-16, 08:51 AM
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Vermont: I've seen that picture and many like it while doing some research. I can assure you that's not what my tank looks like. I suppose I could be wrong, but based on what I saw when I stuck my phone down the hole on a stick to look around, I literally have a box in the ground, pipe comes in and septic just runs into tank. There's a V shaped chunk of concrete that the pumper guy said was a baffle probably attached to the "roof" that's fallen off to slow down the incoming water. There's no "elbow" on the end of the inlet pipe in the tank. I DO know that the guy who rebuilt/sold my house replaced the house-to-tank pipe so my guess here is that he didn't feel like getting in the tank to put one on? That or back then the V shaped baffle was still up?

Flipping over to the exit side, I've drawn what I guess is going on because I can't see. Maybe I'll put an old phone on a stick, and try and get a peek "over the dam" to see if I can find the exit pipe. But I assume I have a "backwards L" that's making a little compartment and the water is supposed to flow over the top of that baffle/dam and the scum gets "skimmed off", water flows over, collects in the little compartment, then drains out. Don't know if there's an "elbow" in there or not, again, can't see and haven't found an access cover on that side.

Here's a video (ignore music, I was babbling to myself) showing the inlet side of the tank. You can see the inlet pipe come straight in and then the V-baffle in the bottom. Then I take the camera out, rotate 180 to look at the exit side, and you can see the "bump out" and near the top, the gap and the top of the baffle/dam. There's no visible exit pipe, so I assume it's hidden behind the baffle which makes sense on my probing and where I've found the exit tile.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DCeyOz4YCZU
 
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Old 05-29-16, 09:44 AM
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Some original cast concrete lids DID have baffles suspended from ceiling of the Tank designed to impede floating organic debris from going directly to the outlet pipe . . . . just as the inlet side may have originally had a baffle designed to force that debris to sink before it could move across the tank's surface. Other things sink to begin with, and then as gas forms, they rise up and float . . . . so you have to guard against both types of Scum !

You may have lost BOTH suspended baffles over the past 65 years. I know that my Tank was fabricated by a Concrete processor who's no longer in business; but I was able to find someone who had purchased his forms/molds for making these things . . . . there must be a thousand patterns !

I watched your Video, but didn't hear any audio . . . . I'll go back and watch it again . . . . nice clean tank.
 
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Old 05-29-16, 11:27 AM
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Perhaps with the loss of that hanging baffle that's now in the bottom, would it be prudent to add an "elbow" onto the end if the inlet pipe like your diagram shows? I think that means getting IN the tank.

I don't see any other broken baffles, but maybe back behind that half-wall, behind the "dam", is another broken baffle laying in the bottom of that compartment?

I wish I had an access cover into that compartment, seems odd there isn't one. Would it be safe to cut a hole? Would probably require a special large concrete hole saw.

I've been poking all over and still can't find my D-box. What are the chances on an old system like mine that there isn't one and I just have one 80ft long finger coming right out of the tank? Or maybe there's one straight outlet tile I've found the end of and the other fingers tee off it? I'm afraid to pay for camera snaking because it's likely clogged and I would guess that means they couldn't do much. And from the tank, the only way in is from main cover they'd have to snake over the divide and into the exit time somehow. That or drill a hole in the tile I exposed about 3ft out from tank exit? I dunno how much an entrance is needed.
 
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Old 05-29-16, 12:33 PM
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Mike- (just saw your post haven't read it yet)

Iím no expert and I think Vermont is right, we need the experts to weigh in here. But, I do think however (not 100% positive), many older style tanks do not have an access cover for the output baffle/pipe area. I think what the pumpers do is empty the tank and use a mirror to check the output baffle. If the baffle needs replacement I think they actually enter the tank to do it. I think your pumper should have examined the output baffle via the mirror method.

I can just make out something V-shaped in the bottom of the tank, but I donít think there are supposed to be any baffles at the tank bottom, but I could be wrong Iím not 100% sure? Could that be the input baffle that has fallen off? That might make sense.

I canít make out the output tank side in the video, but here is a picture of a damaged concrete output baffle so you can see whatís behind it. Looks like there isnít much to inspect behind the baffle.

See ďConcrete Septic Tank Baffle InspectionĒ near middle of page

Condition of Septic Tank Baffles and How to Inspect Septic Tank Baffles, Septic Maintenance: - Chapter in the Online Septic Systems Book

Also, are you sure the pipe with the roots isnít just broken at that point? Maybe they separate nice and clean looking sometimes. Also the pipe all the way at the end may have separated at that point also.
You may be correct and you may have seepage pit(s). Iím pretty sure a lot of older systems did it that way.

Thatís a tough problem. If you could find the end of the pipe that comes from the output of the tank, you could probably figure out if the blockage was in that first section of pipe. You could even fill your tank with water up to the output pipe (since it is almost empty) and observe what the flow looked like at the other end of the pipe if it were exposed. But it seems like the only way you would be able to do that would take a more digging and I guess you canít just keep digging and digging.

If you found roots in the pipe at the point you exposed I would have to believe there are other places with roots also. If I had someone come in and start looking for the problem, I would want them to start digging out to find the end of the first pipe section from the tank, and check the flow at that point. If they didnít want to take that approach I would want to know why. Just my opinion.

Hope the pros weigh in here. They are needed.
 
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Old 05-29-16, 01:27 PM
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Thanks for the reply zoesdad.

I think I'm gonna have to pry back the 200lb main cover lid again and use a camera on a stick to peek back behind the exit baffle. In my video, it's the 2nd half of the video. You can see a "darker" area at the top of the video; that's the baffle and so I assume water effluent flows over the top while the scum (hopefully) stays in the main tank, like a dam. If the flow from main tank over the dam is ever more than a trickle my guess is that my scum flows over the top which wouldn't be good.

The v-shaped thin on the inlet side (first half of video) is a baffle the pumping guy said that's probably fallen off the septic tank lid.

I found a 16ft USB endoscope camera for $20, maybe I'm better of spending that and at least I can tool around inspecting myself?

I'm almost guaranteed to have a clog somewhere in the old tile. As previously mentioned, the guy who flipped my house got all done with the re-do and then found that the fixtures wouldn't drain. He replaced the original tile (couple foot sections butted together) with PVC and said the tile was completely full of roots. I have no reason to doubt that the tile exiting the tank isn't the same way.

At this point I just still don't know where or what type of system I have so my options are to hire someone to camera snake it if possible, try my own camera snaking, rent a mini excavator and just start digging and see what I find, or in the meantime, wait for a pro to weigh in here on the DIY forum to help me out based on pictures and what I've found so far and may be familiar with 1950s style systems.

I know I could keep investigating but you can only dig so much by hand before my hands/arms fall off. That's why maybe I'll sink $25 into a camera so I can at least check out behind that baffle/dam in my tank.

I've been thinking too, maybe if I'm lucky, my system is just clogged inside the tank at the exit. Everything was working fine and then like "suddenly" it quit apparently. But I know that's probably a fallacy cause maybe it was working and slowing down until bam, roots fully clogged it somewhere.

Thanks again for the help so far. Maybe the pros will weigh in soon?!
 
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Old 05-29-16, 04:17 PM
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Just 2Ę more regarding concrete septic tanks, especially those poured and cured in temperate climates (like Illinois and Vermont).

Sometimes, the manufacturers stretch the season for fabricating these tanks and the concrete form is subjected to a little bit of freezing condition while it sits drying in the yard.

My own 1000 Gallon Concrete Tank was manufactured in late Fall of 1987, and I have suffered some aspects of it crumbling prematurely . . . . like the Baffles and a couple Lids which were poured separately.

I've been able to replace concrete Lids because they were fairly standard shapes, and I've installed a more up-to-date washable Zabel plastic effluent filter on my outlet to replace my crumbled outlet baffle; so I'm not currently suffering from this problem. Concrete Tanks should last 40 to 50 years (like I know?); but freezing and thawing conditions will shorten that life expectancy in some parts of the World.
 
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Old 05-29-16, 07:03 PM
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Ok I couldn't wait for a snake cam to arrive. Thank goodness for old smartphones! Taped an old phone to a bar and into the tank it went. Phone is in tank with "top" of view towards the South where the tank exit is. I'm inserting the phone over and past the baffle that I couldn't see over/behind in the first video I posted. A couple observations:
1. Maybe there's no "floor" to the "compartment; perhaps it's just a vertical wall that's the baffle.
2. Outlet tile doesn't appear to be clogged from rising solids.
3. Outlet tile appears to be open and not blocked which is good.
4. Outlet tile seems pretty "slanted" and appears to be at or just slightly below the top of the baffle/wall/dam.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I_oJhTeyHYM With what I'm seeing, maybe its time to pay for someone to come professionally camera snake the system, entering through the main cover and into the exit tile, does't seem it'd be too difficult. Then I could see where the blockage is and maybe just maybe I'll find my D-box or at least find the blockage.

Thoughts after seeing this additional video?
Still at a loss of what type of system I have (conventional D-box with fingers, seepage pits?), where the D-box is, if it's plugged in tank-to-Dbox tile, plugged Dbox, or bad fingers?
Hopefully the pros chime in for assistance here!
 
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Old 05-30-16, 05:01 AM
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Has the "mushy" area dried up since you had the Tank pumped ?

You mentioned having had some drainage work performed last fall; was any of that near the area where you now suspect the Leach Field is located . . . . did heavy equipment travel over that area ?
 
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Old 05-30-16, 08:43 AM
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The mushy area was just around the septic tank lid and is gone now. It was caused by the tank overflowing and the effluent not being able to drain out to the field. Last night I had the cover off again to get that video, tank is filling up again. I'm running out of time before I'll have to pump again unless somehow it starts draining again!

The work I did last fall was install a drain tile to get rid of collecting surface water near the house. No work done anywhere near the leach field nor heavy equipment.

The only thing I can think of is last fall I used a Chevy 3500 crew cab truck in the back yard to pull down a dead tree... I have no idea where the fingers are but I did have the truck in the back yard. That was like, October. I would think that the tank would have backed up sooner than 5 months based on how fast it's filling now.
 
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Old 05-30-16, 09:06 AM
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Mike -

I wonder if this is the type of system you have (3/4 down on this page).

Secrets of Septic Tanks with Seepage Pits | Septic-Design.Info Blog

Mine is like that with a seepage tank which takes overflow from the septic tank, but my seepage tank is only 6 feet deep. I would think if you feel gravel you must be close to a drainage area, but Iím not positive. If you do have a seepage tank/pit I think there would be a cover on it where you could access the incoming pipe from the septic tank. I can access my seepage tank via a manhole cover.

But I guess itís the same old problem, you just canít keep digging around and around. If it is concrete I guess even something like a metal detector would not work. The cover would be concrete.
 
  #20  
Old 05-30-16, 09:13 AM
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drain line

What I've done in the past is to carefully break a small hole in the top of the tile line that leaves the tank. Insert a snake and see how far you can get. This sounds like a tree root problem to me, Try to get a fairly substantial snake- maybe 25' long. If you snake downhill from the tank, you will find the stoppage. If you get 25' without problems, dig up the pipe there, break another access hole, and repeat. You'll eventually reach your problem. If it's roots, I recommend digging and cutting. If you run a cutter on a snake you'll leave all the cuttings in the pipe to wash down and cause problems downstream. If you keep snaking, you'll find your D box also, then you can dig it up and see what's going on there. If you only have the one leach line, treat it really carefully! Around here, lots of leach fields were built with short lengths of clay tile butted together with no sealed joints. The joints provided the drainage. You've gotten good advice from the others about the baffles in the tank. Remember, water use in the 50's was far less than it is today.
A 500 gal tank wouldn't be allowed today. But from what you've described, and the fact that it's worked this long, I'd be looking for tree roots blocking the line leaving the tank. Good luck, Steve Oh, and when you're done, just cover the holes you made in the pipe with sheet metal patches.
 
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Old 05-30-16, 10:35 AM
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zoesdad: I was wondering if that was what I had too, but I have not found any concrete, no lids or tanks. Also, the tile I found 80ft from the septic wasn't "entering" any kind of tank. It appears to just be a buried tile with pea gravel around it. If it were a seepage pit maybe I just happened to dig into the pit but... then that'd mean there's no cover.

sdodder: That's another option I was thinking. About 5ft from the tank I found my tile where a butt joint is, so I thought about that, but... now that I know the exit pipe in the septic tank has no baffle fitting and appears relatively easy to get to, I'm thinking I have someone come out and snake/camera from the tank outlet and see what is found and hopefully find my D-box. That or get a camera myself and see what the quote comes in at.
 
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Old 05-30-16, 11:23 AM
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Mike -

If you look at that pic of the seepage tank you can see where it says output to other pits. I have a second pit after the first, and that second pit is always dry. Iím not sure about all of this but I think that makes sense since if the first pit is draining properly into the gravel, nothing would be flowing from pit 1 to pit 2. Maybe what you are looking at the end of the 80 foot pipe is far past the point of where the drainage would occur.

And maybe it all drains from the tiles as sdodder points out. Maybe itís just a long chain of butted tiles lying in gravel. (A lot of butís Ė I guess not really helpful).

Wow, IMHO that is a great idea sdodder has about how to break into the chain and use the snake. I have to remember that one.
 
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Old 05-30-16, 05:40 PM
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I talked with another guy down the street, he said that on one house when he was digging he put an outrigger down and ended up crushing a D-box lid. So, and I know this is a guess, but hopefully since all the houses on my street were built at the same time they've got similar systems. So hopefully I've got a typical system and not a pit system.

I've got a 15m USB endoscope with LEDs coming tomorrow. Reviewers said cable isn't stiff so I guess I'll have to tape camera cable to a tape measure or something to push with. Perhaps a wire fish line.

I'm going to be relieved if I find a clog but also pissed if I can't find my D-box! The camera is 10mm diameter so I guess I could open the tile up and continue if I find a blockage.
 
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Old 05-31-16, 09:39 AM
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drain pipe

If you've got tree root problems as I expect you have, you'll probably find that roots have gotten into a joint in the pipe. They'll grow for quite a distance, and where they enter the pipe the roots will grow and expand until they damage the pipe. In order to get rid of the roots, you'll have to break open the pipe and pull out the roots. This is often a destructive process, and you'll be left with plenty of room to insert your camera. You'll need to cut the roots back toward the tree as far as you can, and repair the pipe with something that seals as completely as you can. PVC pipe classified as SDR 35 has belled ends with rubber seals. If you don't remove the tree, roots will come back. But if you do a good repair, it can last for a few years. As you can probably tell, I've got some experience with these kind of problems!

On your septic tank, I find it hard to believe that a septic tank was built with the outlet as you describe, especially if it has worked since the 50's.

Good luck, Steve
 
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Old 05-31-16, 08:12 PM
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Ok so I did some more work today. My 45ft waterproof camera came. I taped it to a big tape measure since the wire isn't stiff enough to use by itself. I had a really hard time getting it into the outlet tile from the main tank cover. I think I'd have had better luck with an actual snake or maybe an electrical wire fish tape. Anyway, once I got it into the tile, the camera lens would get covered in, well... poo poo and then I couldn't see @&$!

At the tank end I was only able to get the tape about 5ft into the tile I think. Couldn't tell if tape tab was stuck on the edge of a tile joint or if I hit a clog.

Then I went down to the other end and was able to shove the camera/tape measure all the way up, 25ft. So... I assume that means shouldn't be clogged in the last 25ft. Now I guess I should dig down to the tile again half-way between tank and where I got to with the tape from the end and try fishing either way.

Also, and I've never been one to believe this. I'd heard about it but never tried it. Guy at work swore it works. I guess some call it "divining rods" or something, but basically two bent "L" shaped coat hangar wires loose in the hands. Walk real slow and they'll cross when over a pipe or void in the ground. He showed me at work multiple times on drain lines in the floor and then I tried and it sure as *[email protected]& seemed to work! Spent an hour walking around my yard, everywhere I know was a pipe in the ground it seemed to work and when I walked aimlessly around an area I was pretty sure was empty I didn't get much of anything. Seemed to work pretty well spot on when I crossed the tile I found. So... I walked parallel to the tile and 4 times I "found" something. One being roughly close to where I sometimes would see a nice green grassy line in the middle of the summer. From there, I "found" 3 more "somethings" that are all approximately 12ft apart that, if I were designing a finger system would make sense based on their location.

So next step is to go probe around more those areas and see if there's fingers. If there are, I'm thinking my septic system is one main "vertical" (north/south running) tile that comes out of the tank headed south. Then there's fingers that Tee off the main pipe that are "horizontal" and run east/west and head off to the east as to the west is my property line.

If I find something I'm thinking this should be pretty straight forward. Dig up and replace the 80ft "main tile" exiting from the tank. Then use adapters to connect the finger tiles to PVC Tees and probably install cleanout risers at each for future cleaning?

EDIT: Just had a thought... I went out now that it's dark and I put a really bright LED flashlight into the tile 80ft from the tank where it ends. Then I went to the hole where I dug about 5ft out from the tank exit and poked a hole through the tile at the butt joint to see if I could see any light: none. So either there's too much sediment in the bottom of the tile for light to make it that far couple with misaligned tiles or there simply a clog between the end and the hole I pierced. Worth a try I suppose!
 

Last edited by Mike7143; 05-31-16 at 08:33 PM.
  #26  
Old 06-01-16, 05:08 PM
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I've seen the bent wire pipe locating method work for others. Never had any luck with it myself.
Steve
 
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Old 06-01-16, 05:45 PM
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Originally Posted by sdodder
". . . I've seen the bent wire pipe locating method work for others . . ."
It's called "Dowsing" and it's been around for 400 to 500 years.

Some people have created a virtual philosophy of living around the concept of dowsing and the American Society of Dowsers is headquartered just a few miles away from me in another Town (Danville) here in Vermont where they normally hold their annual Convention.

Here's a little summary:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dowsing

Around here, Dowsers are often employed to locate Springs, or better sites for drilling a well . . . . and many people swear by the results they achieve; as it a Dowser often saves them a great deal of money.
 
  #28  
Old 06-01-16, 06:15 PM
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Another update.... this is getting old haha.
Probed about 8ft out from the "main" tile in the areas that the "witching sticks" crossed and wasn't sure if I was hitting tree roots or what, but it wasn't soil. Went out and picked a spot probably 25ft out in a line 90* to the "main" tile and about 2ft down I hit gravel. Dig a hole and I hit another tile!

Here's the kicker... it's not running perpendicular to the "main tile" like I would have expected, like a finger tee'd off the main tile at a 90*. It's running at about a 45* to the "main tile" and looks like it intersects at the outlet of the septic tank. It must arc a little or have an angle somewhere because straight line it misses the tank outlet, too far "up stream". I didn't get the end of the tile this time, I don't know how far it keeps going.

This picture is where I dug and found tile at the yellow star just South of where the apple tree used to be. Dashed line is where I assume the tile heads. This roughly also corresponds to the ONLY green line I've barely noticed once in the dry summer since I've been here.

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Maybe I just have two fingers, no D-box. Or maybe there's a D-box hidden that's really close to the septic tank exit. Or... maybe I've got a fish-bone type thing going on like below?

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Is there a way for me to tell if the "main" tile I found running north/south is "conduit" for distributing to fingers or if its actually a finger itself? I don't see holes in the tile. Or are the butt joints the "holes"? It appears to be buried and surrounded by pea gravel.

Anyway, I think I'm at three choices unless someone's got more suggestions:

1. Rent an auger/snake from equipment rental store for like $80 and snake from the hole 80ft South of the septic tank up towards the tank. See if that unclogs the system and I'm good for another year or whatever till roots come back. Little $$$ to hopefully get a temporary fix until/if I decide to replace tile later on.

2. Pay a company to come clear the tile from tank and/or open end, I assume they camera the system afterwards to make sure they got it, most places around here seem to offer "free camera inspection afterwards". This option buys me time like option 1 but I watch them do it. Slightly more $$$ to hopefully get a temporary fix until/if I decide to replace tile later on. One company told me that when the clear the line they may damage the tile. Is this common? If so, that's a risk I'd have to factor in.

3. Go all in, rent a mini-excavator, and just start digging South from the tank with the expectation to replace the 80ft straight tile run with PVC and I'll have to adapt from 4" PVC to tile at the finger tees when/if I get to them. Most time consuming, probably not too terribly expensive, but it an unknown and who knows what I'll find!

Any input for this schlup? Much appreciated!
 
  #29  
Old 06-02-16, 03:06 AM
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Any legitimate Company that agrees to do that work will want to first pull the appropriate Permit from Illinois or the local jurisdiction and perform the work in compliance with your Environmental Laws and Health Regulations.

To do otherwise will put them at risk of being fined "out of business".

Just something to keep in mind. Those don't seem to be very big parcels; so your Neighbors already know that you're digging around . . . . how close is the nearest potable water well ?
 
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Old 06-02-16, 04:58 AM
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drain line

Re: dowsing, or "water witching" as it's sometimes called. I was involved with a project several years ago to locate several water well locations. We had 2 dowsers
go over the area and locate likely spots for productive water supply wells. Narrowed it down to 4 spots. Drilling resulted in 3 very productive wells, and 1 that produced less than 1 gpm. Relatively good results, but not foolproof.


On the drain line, my advice would be:
If you replace any piping, use D box @ junctions and mark the locations for future investigations. I don't like the plastic boxes, much prefer concrete.
Good luck, Steve
 
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Old 06-02-16, 06:00 AM
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Thanks for replies. Nearest well is my own, to the right of the house at the top of the driveway. These companies need permits to cut roots out? I thought for cleaning they'd be fine; repairs are a different story. The neighbors have been digging too, guy to my East was out there about a month ago with a mini-excavator replacing his house-to-tank line cause it was clogged. The other neighbor to my West offered his backhoe so I wouldn't need to rent one if I were to replace the tile.

Regarding dowsing, I'm not 100% convinced, but... Doing it somehow, one way or another, lead my to stab a stake into the ground haphazardly and just happened to find a tile! Could be chance, could be magic!

I think I'm gonna hire someone to clean out that 80ft tile provided 1. They don't need permits for cleaning and 2. They have done some kinda of mechanical spinning root cutter and not high pressure water(?) that may damage my tile. Or would water be better than mechanical?
 
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Old 06-02-16, 07:39 AM
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I only know the Waste Water Disposal Rules and Regulations here in Vermont, and can only suspect that those in Illinois are similar. I do not know.

Here in Vermont, we can work without a Permit on existing Septic Tanks and the piping from the House to the Tank . . . . but anything disrupting or any alteration of the piping and distribution system between the Septic Tank and the Leach Field requires a Permit to be issued and the work supervised by a Licensed Site Technician or a Civil Engineer. The Leach Field is the critical component.

So it would be wise to anticipate that a Permit is required for your work . . . . which this week, has all been downstream of the Septic Tank. If Illinois Regulations are like Vermont, then you'll want to look into getting a Permit, or certainly, your Contractor will need to do so, or place his License in jeopardy. May as well read the Illinois Regulations . . . . forewarned is forearmed.

That's all I know. I'm just a Real Estate Broker; but I've had a lot of experience dealing with the Vermont Waste Water Disposal Regulations and Potable Water Supply Regulations . . . . and trying to help people who haven't complied with them BEFORE being nailed with Penalties.
 

Last edited by Vermont; 06-02-16 at 07:57 AM.
  #33  
Old 06-02-16, 08:01 AM
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IMHO they would have to be some pretty hard nose guys if they interpreted a cleaning (including root removal) as a disruption, and I think there is just no way that could be considered an alteration. But who knows. Just my opinion.
 
  #34  
Old 06-02-16, 04:16 PM
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My experience here (in Vermont) is that if any excavation, disturbance, or addition to the leaching bed soils, sands, or gravels is going to be performed, or if drain tiles removed, altered, repaired, or replaced . . . . then that would require a Permit. Illinois may have a more lenient definition

I'd imagine that if the roots could be cut out of pipe, without any excavation, or noticeable activity on, or below the surface of the absorption area . . . . then that would be just fine (?) . . . . but how likely is it that all of the drainage lines can be cleared without any excavation ?

What was that old saying about having only intended to drain the Swamp before you found yourself knee deep in muck and surrounded by Alligators ?

Our State Supervising Engineers aren't the villains they're often portrayed as; but the best way to avoid trouble is to consult with them before work commences . . . . not after someone has made a mess of things. I try to be Friends with all of them in this area; same thing with the Wetlands Biologists.
 
  #35  
Old 06-02-16, 04:43 PM
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Well, called a company for a quote, clearly explained I've got an 80ft straight section of tile that is available at both ends. He said he didn't need a permit for the work and that while it's dry, he'd come out, camera the system to see what he can find (roots, clog, broken tiles, tees, D-boxes, etc.) and it'd be about $200.

Assuming all was suitable and there were roots he can cut out, he'd water jet them out from either/both ends for another $400.

So $200 "wasted" to find out tile is damaged and I have to do repairs OR $600 to hopefully buy me some time and I can decide later what to do.

Regarding the fingers, they could be clogged/silted up, but without finding the ends he said he wouldn't be able to inspect/clean out. Unless... he finds the tees when he camera snakes and then while he's cutting out the main tile I can dig fast enough to the tees and break into the tile there!

I'm thinking I'm better off paying for service than spending forever digging around myself and before I go tearing into the ground in search of tile and not knowing what I'll find and possibly break something.
 
  #36  
Old 06-06-16, 02:31 AM
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Three years ago we bought a house on a septic tank. The vendor said that we didn't need to do anything to it and it just worked. I'm not that naive. I googled it and was met with a bunch of advice columns telling me what was needed. So I went in to this assuming that the drain field would need to be replaced.
In England a lot of old septic tanks were built out of brick and often had a earth base (ie no base) and the drain field consisted of a single long pipe approx 80 ft (back in those days we used imperial measurements too) The pipe consisted of sections laid end to end and not sealed, then covered in gravel. Over the subsequent decades the gravel becomes clogged with decaying matter and the drain field stops draining.
So, soon after moving in, the toilets begin backing up. Lift the man hole, full. Turns out to be, regular use had dislodged a bung of fat that had fallen into the main pipe run and blocked things up. I cleared that and pushed it down the the rotting chamber.
I've now had it emptied twice and a solid clump can be seen near the input end. This is gradually being removed with successive cleanings, but its hard!
Now onto my current problem. This year, the toilets began backing up once more. I did my usual and lifted lids only to find that everything was backed up right to the tank. Tank was FULL FULL FULL. OK, so its not draining...... Talking to my pump man friend for advice, he sold me a 'temporary' solution which consisted of 25mtrs (In the 21st century we now use metric) of lay flat hose and a stainless steel sewage pump. I've dropped the pump into the clean liquor tank and run the hose out somewhere into the orchards to the back (And the grass is going wild) That was back in the depths of winter. Now come the spring time I started to do some digging (Both literally and figuratively) I have dug down to the output pipe. The collar from the output of the tank was smashed and the drain pipe as previously described begun immediately from that collar going down at approximately 20 degrees with a series of 1 ft clay pipes laid end to end.
I removed the first piece of pipe and began rodding it. It was like treacle and I pulled back several clods of black 'goop'. I checked the time and it was getting late, so I began cleaning up the rods with the wash water going into the hole I'd dug. This drained down the leach pipe until it backed up then filled the hole until it reached the outlet from the septic tank. I left the water sitting in the hole expecting it to rapidly drain away and went indoors to clean myself up. An hour later when I was leaving the house I popped back to take a look down the hole. The water was still standing filling the hole. OMG - we have a serious problem.

My remedial plan.

What we need:
1. Small man hole cover
2. Small man hole rings
3. Small man hole base
4. 25 mtrs x 100mm sewerage pipe
5. 25 mtrs land drain pipe
6. 10 tonnes drainage stone
7. 'John the digger'

The plan:
1. John the digger will attend site and dig a trench 400mm wide 50mtrs long.
2. I will drop 5 tonnes of gravel in the last 25mtrs of the trench
3. I will assemble the manhole and lay out the 25mtrs of sewerage pipe in the trench
4. I will attach the land drain pipe to the end of the sewerage pipe and cover with the remaining 5 tonnes of drainage stone.
5. 'John the digger' will back fill the trench
6. I will reseed the ground with grass
7. I will make good the top of the septic tank with a row of 'blue' bricks
8. I will replace the concrete lid with panels made from recycled plastic planks
 

Last edited by Simon Jones; 06-06-16 at 02:45 AM. Reason: Your auto save feature didn't get my last edit. There is more to this post.....
  #37  
Old 06-06-16, 03:21 PM
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Had a septic repair company out today. Between now and my last post, the house is on water lockdown as the septic tank is about to overflow again.

- First they did a "camera inspection" for $250 but they couldn't get the camera 10ft in the open end of the tile where I had easily gotten a 25ft tape measure. They then said they couldn't inspect or jet from the tank outlet side since it was almost full.

- Next they got out the water jetter and set it to the lowest pressure before feeding it up the tile from the far end. It went about 70ft of the 80ft run. They were pretty sure they had found my D-box that I was never able to find. So after discussing, I agree to pay to have them dig it up to continue since that's was the next road block and couldn't work from the tank side.

- They dig down and just find my tile, no D-box. They found a tile butt joint though where they dug. So on comes the pressure jet again and they got water to spray out from the butt joint. This was about 3ft downstream of the other hole I had dug to find the tile that's about 5ft from the tank outlet. No water there.

- Next they changed the jet nozzle to the cutter and try to clear the clog. It blasts for a few minutes with no progress they say. They give me two options: 1. Bust the tile where they had dug for my D-box and try again, but will require tile repair or... 2. Just replace that tile section with PVC on the tank outlet for ballpark $1,500.

I've opted to have them replace it with PVC because I may as well spend a couple hundred more and replace than just have them cut roots and have to mess with it all again in a year or less.

I kinda feel ripped off with the camera inspection but... I think the guys liked that I did so much leg work for them and was more than a clueless homeowner. Guy said he'd forget about the digging fee since there was no D-box there. He also was only charging me for the mechanical root removal ($125) instead of using the pressure jet machine. And unless I'm mistaken, I think the $250 for the camera inspection is now part of the $1,500 tile replacement. Plus he said he'd put on a proper baffle on the outlet pipe inside the tank instead of just an open PVC tube and a cleanout on the tank outlet.

Now I'm fully expecting to have the price go up because I'm sure they're going to find some other weird stuff, but $2,000 to get it semi-fixed doesn't seem bad compared to 1. a complete new system or 2. constantly worrying about it. I know there's still risk with an old system and they're not replacing the entire 80ft tile section. But at least I can see them do this work, have the system nearest big trees redone in PVC, and later on if I want I can dig up where they stopped and continue with PVC. I also asked them about the permits and etc. I assume they know what they're doing since it's a professional company. They said that I won't have any issue with the county and permits and that the county is relatively lax. They don't even get permits for house-to-tank repairs he said and unless they're messing with the leach field the county doesn't really worry.

They're coming back tomorrow morning to do the job. I plan to take off work like I did this afternoon to observe and learn! I sucks that I'm paying for this and it's not even the entire 80ft length, I can totally do this work, but with work, a new child, and not being able to use any water and knowing it'd take me a couple days... it's time to get out my wallet I think.

Thoughts? Seem like a decent deal?
 
  #38  
Old 06-06-16, 04:00 PM
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Permits Contractors and Getting ripped off

Hi Mike,
Here in the UK you can get away with a lot under the guise of 'Maintenance'. I am maintaining my leach field (I'm replacing it, but if anyone asks its maintenance)

I hate commercial companies. We have 'professional' drain companies here. Dynarod Dalrod etc etc. They have cameras and jet washes and 'cutters'. The truth is they are a bunch of rip off merchants and just have a price list. They work there way down the list ticking off what they can charge you for.

They guy you have there sounds like he's reasonable, but to me $2k still sounds expensive.

I'm looking at around £600 for the drainage stone, £250 for 'John the digger' and maybe £200 for the pipes. All told I'm aiming to come in at just over £1k and I get a new leach field for that price.
 
  #39  
Old 06-06-16, 04:17 PM
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What I've got

Here you can see some pictures of what I found when I dug down to the output of my septic tank

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  #40  
Old 06-06-16, 06:01 PM
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That's $1,400 here in the States. He told me $1,500, I'm guessing maybe $1700, $2,000 worst case.
Fingers crossed this fixes my issue.

That's what my tile kind of looks like. It's bone dry but has a good amount of dirt in the bottom. I'm hoping their pressure hose pulled a lot of it out.
 
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