Septic System Questions and Answers (Q&A)

I’m  happy to answer septic email questions from Hoosiers.  I thought it might be helpful to post some of these discussions.  If I post your email, I will leave out identifying information about you and your location.  Keep in mind that these discussions relate to Indiana’s septic rule and may not apply to you and your state.

 

Hi
I live in a mobile home. I have been looking for my septic tank for days.. My leech bed is at opposite end of my roof vent.. My water well is about 25 feet from trailer.. I am obviously having septic issues. The county health dept has no records…
Help

Is there a cleanout where your sewer goes into the ground below your trailer?  If so, you can try to insert a steel measuring tape of fish tape to try and see which way the pipe turns and goes towards your tank.   It is also possible that your trailer sits on top of your septic tank .

 

 

Pumps Failing?:

Mr Meade,I have a gravity flow septic system and the pump alarm is going off.  I called a service company to check it out and let me know what is wrong.  They told me that there is a pump under a concrete slab that is bad and the pump that goes to the leach field is bad also.  I looked at the plans and drawings and it only shows the one pump that goes to the leach field.  They want to break up the concrete slab and “look” for the pump to replace it in which I will have to pay for.

My question for you is if it is a gravity flow system, is there a second pump or could there be a second pump?  I attached the plans and drawings so you could have a better description.  I would appreciate any information you could provide.  Thanks in advance.
Frank

Hello Frank,

 
This all sounds very confusing to me.   Your drawing does not show any tanks at all outside the house.  While it is very possible that you have multiple pumps, I’m not sure why you would.    One thing I know for sure, is that the contractor needs to do a better job explaining what work needs to be done and why.   If they are not capable of explaining things to you, they might not be your best choice in a contractor.   This repair needs to make sense to you before you pay to have anything fixed.  
 
You may want to have another contractor look at this issue.  
 

Stuart Meade

Thank you for your reply.  I do have a second contractor going out today for a second opinion.

There is a tank with the alarm box to the left at the end of the gravity flow pipe then the pump that leads to the leach field.  I wish I was there and could take pictures to send so you could have a better discription.

Thanks again for your reply.  Frank

Septic Odor Coming From Sinks:

Dear Stuart

Hi and thanks for your website and help,

I recently purchased a one story home that has two bathrooms at separate ends of the house. Each “bathroom” is on a separate vent that ties into the main 3″ drain to the septic tank.  All of the fixtures drain normally and without any abnormal sounds that are indicative of a clogged vent. On each of the three bathroom sinks, when the water faucet is initially turned on, a raw sewage smell emanates from the overflow hole in the involved sink. (Two sinks in master bedroom on one stack vent and one sink, toilet and shower/tub combo on another separate stack vent)

I removed the traps on all three sinks and bleached the overflow hole on each of them overnight. I replaced the traps with deeper traps, thinking the installed traps were perhaps too shallow and allowing sewer gas to come up the overflow when the water was turned on. Neither of these “fixes” worked. I taped the overflow hole and turned the faucets on and the sewer smell came out of the main drain(s) while the water was running. ( I know it is not the water, as the water is treated with a Kinetico water softener)

The “guest bathroom” has a sink, toilet, shower/tub combo which from what I have read is considered 6 “fixture units” requiring a 2″ vent line. There is a 2″ vent line that goes approx. 16″ up from the sink drain and tees off towards the common toilet and tub vent stack. That stack goes into the attic, runs horizontal for 14 feet and goes vertical thru the roof. I added a 2 foot extension to the vent stack on the roof in the hopes this would help. It did not change anything.

The house is in a deep canyon. This problem is common to all 3 sinks, despite the fact one of the three is located on a physically separate vent stack. All the fixtures in the house have P traps installed and the only “problem children” are each individual sink, when the individual faucet to that particular sink is turned on. After a few seconds, the raw sewage smell dissipates, which leads me to believe a negative pressure is initially created when the faucet is first turned on, which allows the septic gas to be “vacumed” up the drain and into the house.

I don’t think most “plumbers” would be able to figure the solution to this problem out. I read in numerous posts about the gunk in the overflows causing smells and tried that “solution” to no avail. It seems to me there is an initial “pressure differential” problem when the faucet to a given sink is initially turned on. The sink drain and overflow are sucking the septic gas out of the DWV line(s) for approximately 2 to 3 seconds.

What am I missing here? Have you ever heard of such a thing before?

Thanks for your time on this.
John

Hello John,

 
Are these sinks used often or is the water in the trap allowed to evaporate between uses?  This does not sound like it is probably your issue but this is often a  cause sewer smell in the house.
 
You may want to try extending the roof vent even higher.  How high is the peak of the house compared to the top of the vent?  If the vent your vent system layout is subject to problems, these problems should be able to be overcome with a higher vent.  Also be absolutely sure that all vents and piping are cleared. 
 
Let me know…

 

Stuart Meade
Hi Stuart and thanks for the rapid response,The involved sinks are used daily, so the traps are definitely full. I will add more vent pipe to the roof. The 2 foot section I already added to the one vent stack made the stack about equal height to the highest point of the roof.

To clear the vents do you recommend using a water hose with a sprayer attached to it? I was reluctant to employ water, in case the “builders” failed to glue a connection. The flip side of that is a snake auger will have difficulty making the 90 degree bends in the vent stack. The stacks do not give any tell tale indications that they are clogged, as all the drains drain water rapidly. I will do as you advised and write back to you.

I neglected to tell you that I am learning about this problem now, because the “seller” allegedly built the house which “finaled” in 2008. As you know, the housing market collapsed in 2008 and the “wealthy seller” allegedly left the home “vacant” for 5 years, before they sold it to me. The construction of this home defies logic and I truly believe based on discovery after discovery that they had the “inspector” sign off on systems that were never even looked at. Every pipe that went from the basement subfloor and into the structure had to be covered with wire mesh, because the “plumber” used a claw hammer instead of a hole saw to run supply and waste lines. The rodents used the openings to create a menagerie in the attic.

From everything I have read the plumbing layout appears correct. Initially, I thought the flushing of the toilet was suctioning the sink P traps. I checked that theory out and found it was not the case.

I know the problem is common to all 3 sinks, so I have been thinking what they ALL have in common. They are all at the end of the main drain line to the septic tank, they all have a roof vent stack, all 3 sinks are identical, all 3 share the same issue of smelling only when water is initially turned on and begins to drain. Baffling!

Thanks again for your help. I cannot express how frustrating this is.

John

John
 
So, to your knowledge, this is not a new problem?  Has it existed from day one?
 
I would guess that you either have an obstruction or the system was not designed correctly.  Raising that roof vent may help. 
You may want to temporarily stick a REALLY long extension on it to see if that helps (instead of incrementally lengthening it).
 
I agree that it would be best not to use a hose and water to clean the vents.   A snake auger should be able to make the 90* turn, you just have to be turning it while you push. 
 
Let me know what happens. 

 

Stuart Meade
Thanks Stuart,

To my knowledge this plumbing somehow passed inspection in 2008. Having said that, the well was turned off, the power to the home was off, no propane and the septic tank had not been used before. The “seller” lied to the septic inspection company… and the actual man who came to do the inspection, proclaiming he was buying the home and simply wanted them to conduct a camera inspection from an exterior cleanout to the septic tank, thru the tank to the D-Box and septic leach line field. All came back clear with the exception of a few roots in one of the leach lines.

Of course, they were here and gone before I arrived as scheduled. I called the Septic company and told them the true story and they advised me they would have done a “full inspection” encompassing 4 pages of checks, if in fact they had known what I was now telling them. To keep the peace, I advised my realtor about what had occurred. She talked a lot, but in the end did nothing. ( She was a terrible actress)

That company did come back out and show me where the septic tank was located. The “worker bee” who initially did the camera inspection was so pissed about having to return, that he literally pounded two pieces of PVC into the ground, where the supposed septic tank lids are buried, got in his rig and left. I said nothing as he had a sludge hammer in his hand. I had spoken to the owner of the Company and I figured the worker was not advised of perhaps everything he should have been.

By the time the transaction of purchasing this home was completed, I simply wanted everybody involved to go away and never speak to me again. I could continue, but I am sure you do not want to hear the lengths some people will go to, just to get money in their pocket. California has a severe shortage of ethical realtors, partially due to the fact that there are NO consequences for any of their behaviors.

One of the vent stacks is a 11/2″  The other is a 2.”  I removed the P trap from one of the sinks (2″ vent stack) and sent compressed air up the stack. I went to the roof and ALL the vent stacks could be heard bleeding off air. I also took a 10 foot piece of rebar and slowly placed it down both sink vents. I bottomed out on the 2″ vent at the 90 degree elbow, which was approximately 4 feet vertical from the roof. The 11/2″ stack was unimpeded, but I did not “bottom out” with the length of the rebar rod. ( I don’t have a snake auger…yet)

I noticed all 3 sinks have plumbing from the DWV line that contain 45 degree elbows. They did this to get the P trap aligned with the DWV line. One of the bathroom sinks goes from a 1/14″ drain from the sink to a 2″ DWV line. They did this with reducers from the 2″ DWV to the P trap.

I will try the extended vent pipe on the 1/12″ vent stack, as I do not currently have any 2″ ABS pipe.

Thanks Stuart, I will keep you posted.

John

Hello Stuart,

I did as you suggested. After “adding” approximately 4 additional feet to the existing vent stacks for the involved sinks, I checked them. It appears the additional vent piping has worked, as I can no longer smell the raw sewage smell when I initially turn on the water faucet(s).

I think the fact this home is located in a fairly deep canyon is the primary reason a conventional length vent stack would not adequately vent the sewage gas. The 2″ vent pipe I added cleared the high point of the roof, so that alone tells me that the vent is now receiving more airflow across it.

Thank you very, very much for your professional advice on this. You have saved me a lot of time and heaven knows how much money. I believe most plumbers would have been inclined to “re-plumb” various areas attached to the sinks, which would have potentially meant tearing into the walls. I am a big fan of trying the easiest things first.

Thanks again, I think the problem has been solved and sit here wiping my brow and thanking my God for people like you. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

(P.S I just checked all 3 sinks again before I sent this. It looks like the vent length was the problem, because the smell is gone on all 3 sinks.)  I wonder if the UPC addresses venting in deep canyons?

John.

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 Septic System Failing After Heavy Rainfall:

Stuart

We live in tippecanoe county.  We had our septic pumped on March 30th and had to have it pumped again on April 16th. It filled up with water immediately. The septic company said with all the rain we had and the ground being so saturated there is no where the water can go. We haven’t been able to use it since it is full, I don’t know who to call or what to do. We don’t know where the drain field is or how to locate it. Do you have any suggestions of what we can do? We have lived here for about 9 years and this has not happened before and I don’t believe anyone else is having this problem. Any advise you can give would be greatly appreciated.
Thank you for your time.
 

Having not seen your site, I expect there might be three possible explanations for your problem…

1. The recent heavy rainfall has infiltrated your septic tank and/or absorption field because of improper grading around your tank or field (tank or field is lower than the surrounding property).  Your septic system may recover but it will take time and you will need to have some grade work done around your tank (and or field) to make sure that future surface water moves away from your system. 
2.  Your septic system was on the verge of failure and a little rain water infiltration pushed it into full failure.  If this is the case, you will need to contact your local county health department to find out what their procedure is to get a new septic field.
3.  A combination of the above two…

Septic Tank on Lake Filling up:

Hello.  I stumbled across your website in doing research about our septic problem.  I never did really find any answers about our specific situation.  Your website said to contact you with questions.  Thank you.

Here is our situation.  We have a home on a Lake in Indiana.  The property is lake level and due to the high water table our field is saturated.  We had our tank pumped out and no sooner than we did, it was full again from water from the leach field.  To solve our problem we were wondering if we can install shut off valves in the pipes between our 1000 gallon plastic tank and the leach field, (in order to keep rain water out of the tank using the tank as a holding tank)?  These values could then be opened and closed as needed according to the saturation of the field.

Other questions –

Our neighbors mentioned that they thought that our system had a valve on it in order to open and close the different leach fields.  How would we be able to locate such a value if it exists?

Would a mound system be able to be installed on a lake level property which has a high water table?  If so, could you quote an approximate cost?  We have 1/2 acre (2 bedroom house).  The lot is 100 ft x 225 ft approximate.

We heard rumors of sewers coming to the area such as is what is being done for Koontz Lake in Stark County which has the same problems as Fish Lake.  We are checking into this.

Thank you,

Sam

Hello Sam,

You tank may be filling back up because of a number of reasons:

1. You absorption field has failed and stays saturated at all times.  When you pump your tank, this water from the trenches (and perhaps some ground water) runs backand fills up your tank.

2.  Your septic tank is leaking.  Once pumped, water infiltrates through a crack or hole and fills up the tank.
3. A combination of both.
Did the tank fill back up immediately after pumping or did this take a day or so?  Did the pumper mention lots of drain back from the field during pumping?  This information is needed to determine where the water that filled up your tank is coming from.
Installing a check valve will do nothing to fix your problems.
If you have a valve installed (usually called a Bull Run Valve), you should try to find it.  Unfortunately, this can be a daunting task but is well worth it if successful.
The valve will be installed in the sewer coming from septic tank outlet.  The valve will be before the absorption field.  To find it, you will need to dig down and follow the effluent sewer from the tank until you find the valve.   It will most likely be equipped with a 4″ diameter riser and screw on lid.  At one time, this lid probably extended to the ground surface but has since been grown over with grass.
City sewer may not be available until WAY in the future.  Unless you have a written commitment from your local government that “sewer is on it’s way”, you can assume that it won’t be coming, at least not any time soon.
From how you are describing your property (with a high water table), a mound system sounds like your only option for a repair.  Mounds require a minimum of 20″ of suitable, well drained soil.  If you have less than that, a type II mound system with extra sand under the bed can be constructed.  It is vital that new water-tight tanks be set with your new system.   The last thing you want with a new system is a leaky tank!
I can design a mound system for your property for $755.  To do so, I would need a copy of a survey of your property.
Please call or email if you have any other questions.

Stuart Meade


Son Purchased House will Failing System:

Dear Stuart,We have a son living in Dephi Indiana.  He purchased property and a house (without getting an inspection) about eighteen months ago.  Rather quickly the septic system began to backup plus other things.  While digging in the yard for another reason he discovered that the septic tank was actually an old gasoline tank that was put in by a previous owner, of course without permits.  He was told by the Building Dept. that there was nothing he could do.  He consulted an attorney who advised him to “just walk away from the property.”  Can you give us someone to discuss this with who can help us?  We know that not having an inspection he basically purchased the property “as is”.  But, with the tank being illegal and leaking he is concerned about the ground water and also any fines that he may be stuck with.  Can you lead us in the right direction?

Thank you.

Karen,

Hello Karen,
 
This is a very unfortunate situation.  When purchasing an existing house, a buyer should always be skeptical about the septic system.  Don’t ever assume that it’s functioning unless it’s first been inspected (by a qualified inspector) and given the okay.  Even a passing grade from an inspector doesn’t necessarily mean the system will work for a long time, it simply means that the system is “legitimate” and is functioning on the day of the inspection.
Unless the purchase agreement specifically addressed the septic system, I think you are completely out of luck.  As they say, “buyer beware.”    The best deal is when you can get the seller to either instal a new system before they turn over the house to you or escrow the money away for a new system.
If your Son’s septic system is “leaking” he will need to bite-the-bullet and get the system repaired.  Contact the local County Health Department to find out what their procedure is for getting a permit. 
Feel free to email or call me if you have any other questions.

Stuart Meade


Good afternoon Sir, my name is Rick Hanson and I just wanted to thank you for having “how to locate your septic tank” on your web site. I have been wandering where my tank has been since I moved in here a few years ago and just happened across your site and within 30 seconds of going out with your how to in mind I struck the tank in three places, so now I know where it is and don’t have to worry about collapsing it with a pool or whatever, so once again Thank You.

Sent from my iPhone

Rick,
I’m glad you found the tank!   That is my most viewed page on my entire website.  I’m glad it was useful to you.

Stuart Meade

 

____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________I I need some advice. How close do you advise that people can come to a mound system with a new construction? I’ve had two people this week ask me this question and I am keen to know your opinion. Thanks.

The simple answer is… I’d keep the house out of the mound’s dispersal area.  If the house is up slope of the mound, then the mound can be close, at least theoretically.  But, there are two potential issues with constructing the mound so close to a new home.
1.   Machinery and vehicles used to build the house (like big trucks) are very likely to compact the soil before the mound is installed, damaging the soil and effecting the soil’s ability to absorb water.  The closer the mound is to the house, the more critical it is that site protection (fencing) is taken seriously.  
2.   Covering the mound with more than 12″ if soil is not good. Often people want to build their house way up out of the ground to avoid the water table and put the mound right next to the house.  They then want to fill over the mound, and in between the house and mound, to try and hide it.  This usually means many feet of soil over the mound, which can cause it to go anaerobic, grow a bio-mat and fail prematurely. 
Stuart
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The outermost finger in our septic system (dosing system) is near the edge of a ravine. Over the years, erosion has removed soil such that the fluid from that finger is leaking out. A septic serviceman told me to add dirt, and our problem would be solved. However, I want to make sure that I add the correct type of soil. What should I get?

Thank you –

How old is your system?  It is possible that you septic guy is correct but it is also possible your system is in the early stages of failure.   Trench’s absorptive capacity will slow over time.  Eventually, water will build up in the trenches and, while under pressure, will surface at the point of least resistance.   This is often the area of the trenches which has the least amount of cover. 
This might be the case at the end of your trench.   Is just the top of the trench exposed or the entire end?
I would use a heavy loam or clay soil.   If the soil is too clayey to support grass, you may want to add topsoil to it. 
I’d suggest looking into the tank and seeing if there is any evidence of high water.   Is the water higher than the outlet?
Check this after running a load of laundry.   If so, you system is most likely headed towards failure. 
Stuart