Warning Signs That Something is Wrong With Your Septic System

It is one of the most stressful, time consuming, irritating and, potentially, one of the most expensive problems a homeowner deals with: septic tank problems.  Unfortunately, many homeowners do not understand how a septic system works and mistakenly assume their septic tank is the culprit.  As a result, they spend thousands of dollars needlessly replacing the septic tank and the entire system without exploring alternative solutions.

The Symptoms

People begin thinking they have septic tank problems when the following occurs:

  • Sewage collecting on ground above drainfield

    a rotten egg odor emanates from the septic tank

  • sinks and tubs drain slowly or gurgle
  • sewage backs up
  • wastewater appears on the ground above the drainfield

These are definitely warning signs that something is wrong with the septic system but not necessarily the septic tank. To understand why, a quick review of a typical gravity fed septic system is a good starting point.

Overview Of An Anaerobic Septic System and How It Fails

Briefly, the septic tank is one of several components of a septic system.  The septic tank serves as a holding or sewage processing tank, typically utilizing anaerobic bacteria to break down organic waste into simpler solids and gas.

As new sewage enters the septic tank via the inlet pipe, processed sewage exits through the outlet pipe into  a distribution box and, eventually into the the drainfield.  Once in the drainfield, the sewage flows through a series of drainfield pipes within a gravel bed where the water is absorbed into the ground.

Components of a septic system with a gravity fed drainfield

The problem with this system can be found with the organic waste processing ability of the anaerobic bacteria that reside in the septic tank.  Their ability to break down all of the organic waste is limited and, as a result, a significant amount of organic solids is passed with the water into the drainfield.

Biomat growth progressing along bottom and sides of drainfield

Once in the drainfield, these solids accumulate with the anaerobic bacteria at the edge of the gravel bed and form a biomat, which is discussed in great detail throughout this website.

The biomat seals the drainfield, standing as an impermeable barrier between the gravel bed and ground. This causes a host of problems that appear to be septic tank related.

With the drainfield’s capacity to absorb incoming water almost eliminated, the septic tank always remains full. Incoming sewage from the house can not displace wastewater in the septic tank, resulting in slow flowing drains or, in the worst case, back-ups. The ground above the drainfield becomes saturated and sewage water may collect on the surface.  The system is overloaded and is in failure mode.

Biomat sealed anaerobic septic drainfield ponding

Alternative Septic System Solution

A breakthrough, however, has recently occurred with restoring failed septic systems without replacing the system. Thousands of these failed or failing systems have be converted from anaerobic to aerobic systems with the use of controlled aeration.  Once converted, the biomat is eliminated and the system functions as if it were new.

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