Common Septic Tank Issues and How to Address Them

If you own a home that includes a septic tank for waste treatment, you understand that most are safe and reliable and, if well-maintained, rarely cause problems. As a matter of fact, with proper routine cleaning and care, problems should be minimal. But sometimes, septic tank issues or emergencies occur and generally must be addressed sooner rather than later.

What’s happening to my system?

Here’s a list of some of the most common septic tank issues and how to fix them and – even better – how to prevent them from happening.

1. Clogs and backups

Septic tanks need to be emptied, and when that’s not done regularly, a large amount of usage over an extended period can cause clogs. These backups are most often caused by a build-up of solid waste accumulated at the tank’s base. Without periodic pumping, this sludge can back up into your drain field and create clogs. This inhibits wastewater from dispersing naturally into the ground. If your tank is pumped regularly as per the manufacturer’s instructions, this shouldn’t happen. In addition, residents of the home must remember to keep non-septic-safe wastes out of toilets and drains. Oil and grease should also be kept out of the kitchen drain as much as possible.

2. Excess water in the tank

Excess water in your tank stops solids from breaking down the way they should. Then they are forced into the distribution lines before they have totally broken down, clogging these lines that are meant only for liquids. Try to minimize the amount of water that goes into your septic tank by spreading laundry out over a number of days. Remember to only run your dishwasher when it’s full, and cut down on the length of your showers or install a water-saver shower head.

3. Tank or line leak

Several decades ago, humorist Erma Bombeck wrote a book called “The Grass is Always Greener Over the Septic Tank”. While that title is certainly funny, a verdant patch of green in the area of your tank isn’t always a good sign. It could mean that your tank has a leak or that your lateral lines are receiving too much wastewater and essentially “watering” your grass with it. In a worse-case scenario, you might even find raw sewage on your lawn. That’s a huge health hazard! To avoid this issue, you need to have your septic tank serviced regularly, which includes checking for leaks or other problems.

4. Pervasion of tree roots

Tree roots are drawn to the high concentration of moisture and nutrients found in a septic system, so they naturally grow towards the tank. As such, they might grow around the tank and its lines, causing leaks and cracks that could get a lot worse over time if not addressed. The best way to avoid this is to think carefully about the placement of a tank before installing it. Also avoid planting trees to close to an already-existing tank.

5. Excessive use of detergent and other chemicals

When you use excessive detergent when doing the laundry, you run the chance of the machine not diluting it or rinsing away all the residues. As such, the phosphates in the detergent make their way into your system and can cause algae t0 grow. The algae blocks the perforations within your distribution pipes. So, avoid using powdered detergent and opt for liquid or gel capsules instead. Similarly, introducing other chemicals like paint thinners, motor oils, and pesticides are tantamount to a disaster. Your septic system will introduce them into your soil, causing both a health and environmental hazard. Never dispose of toxic chemicals into your septic system!

Discovering these problems

Some of these issues will be quite obvious, but you’ll want to check on your septic system if:

  • Pipes are gurgling
  • Sinks or bathtubs are slow to drain
  • The toilet is slow to flush or won’t flush at all (check the plunger first)
  • You smell foul odors around your property
  • Puddles of stagnant water
  • Lush vegetation is growing over or around the tank

You can prevent all these from occurring by scheduling regular septic system maintenance. These routine checks will ensure that leaks, cracks, backups, and other issues are addressed before they become a problem that could cost thousands of dollars and impact your health as well.

At Urban Water Works, we offer a host of water- and sewer-related services and would be happy to speak with you about your septic system and keeping it working properly. Call us at 604-790-8993 to schedule an appointment.