Nothing is quite as unpleasant as a septic system that has failed. The most common causes of septic system problems includes clogging and blockages from solids, obstructions from tree roots, broken pipelines or an obstruction within the septic pipes. The most frequent cause of in-pipe obstruction results from excessive quantities of wastewater flushing sludge out of the tank and into the distribution pipes.
The major cause of septic system failure is the natural aging process and the development of the biomat. The natural aging process can be reversed with controlled aeration of the septic tank. By keeping an eye on several telltale signs, a homeowner can proactively delay the impending failure.
First Signs of a Potential Problem
The first signs of a failing septic system may include slow draining toilets and sinks, gurgling noises within the plumbing, sewage odors inside, continuing drainage backups, or bacteria in the well water. If any of these symptoms exist, check for more pronounced indications of a septic system failure.
Check the absorption field for unusually strong odors. When untreated effluent seeps into the surrounding soil, gases from the decomposition process reach the surface and are easily identifiable. The odor of sewage on the property is a clear indication of a problem. The area of the strongest odor will point to the location of the failure in the septic system. Once that is determined, visual cues often show up as well.
The typical visually identifiable sign of a septic failure is lush patches of grass or areas in which the plants are flourishing much more than other areas. This indicates that the effluent may be seeping in and around that particular place. Septic effluent acts as a strong fertilizer from the concentration of dissolved nitrate and phosphate. These vibrant patches of growth may point to a leak. Unfortunately, it may also indicate an advanced failure of the system that requires costly repairs.
A second visual indicator of a septic failure is the presence of pooled effluent on the surface of the yard. If this has happened, it means the surrounding soil has become saturated with untreated waste material. The odor will often be overwhelming. This situation presents a serious health hazard, and a licensed professional should be called in to make an assessment. Excessively saturated soil around the tank can be quite weak and may collapse.
A homeowner should never try to enter a cesspool or septic tank, as serious injury or death could occur from drowning or suffocation by the trapped gases within the tank. In a complete failure, the entire septic system may need to be replaced, which can be quite costly. Staying abreast of the early signs of a potential problem and having a regular inspection and cleaning can save significant money in the end.