Can a Plugged Septic Tank Cause Indoor Plumbing Problems?
Sewage backing up into a basement drain is a smelly indication of trouble.
Septic systems dispose of a home’s wastewater when the house’s sewer line is not connected to a municipal system. Understanding how the system works, detecting minor problems before they become serious issues and otherwise taking good care of the system minimizes the potential for extensive, costly repairs. Septic systems commonly fail or experience problems because a septic tank is full or a clog exists somewhere in the line. Some of the earliest signs that a septic system is struggling are first spotted indoors.
Indoor Plumbing Warning Signs
Some indications of septic system problems, such as clogs or a full septic tank, include slow-flushing toilets; slow drainage or water backing up into sinks, showers or tubs; gurgling drainpipes; or even sewage backing up in toilets and sinks. Unpleasant odors around the house are another obvious symptom of septic troubles.
Take It Outside
Inspecting the area around the septic tank and the drainfield can yield additional clues about any septic system problems. Liquid seeping over the ground surface near any part of the septic system is problematic. Swampy conditions or excessively lush, green growth over the drainfield could indicate clogs in the absorption field or an overflowing septic tank that is allowing solids or nutrient-rich water to enter the drainfield. A seasonal high water table can also affect healthy septic system operation.
Clog Inspection Basics
If water is backing up in just one sink, tub or toilet and it is not the lowest drain in the house, the clog might be in the house plumbing. Drain cleaner, although not good for the septic tank environment in large quantities, can clear a clog. So can boiling water or a drain snake. If problems are apparent outside or in multiple drains in the house, suspect a problem beyond the house sewer. The tank’s scum layer could be clogging the tank’s inlet, or the outlet or effluent filter or baffle could be clogged, requiring tank pumping or filter replacement or cleaning. A plugged sewer vent, or soil stack, slows drainage in sewer lines and can cause gurgling sounds as air is pulled into the house sewer. Problems with pipes that are clogged by tree roots or crushed by heavy equipment are prevented through good system planning and landscaping. More extensive repairs are required when these occur.
Tank Maintenance Tips
Septic tanks require regular pumping by professionals to remove sludge and floating scum that accumulate in the tank as the wastewater passes through the tank. The frequency required varies by the tank size and number of people using the system and the amount of water the household uses. To encourage healthy septic tank operations and reduce sludge accumulation, conserve water; avoid dumping grease, fats or excessive food waste down drains; use commercial cleaners and laundry detergent conservatively; and do not put household wastes such as diapers, cat litter or paper towels in the system. An annual inspection by a reputable professional is often the best way to determine if the tank requires pumping and if there are any other issues affecting system operations or longevity.