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Septic System Problems

by B.Annie on January 2, 2018

Over 5 million septic systems fail each year. This is about 20% of the septic systems in operation.  Luckily, that leave 80% of the septic systems working well.

Imagine a scenario in which  you flush a toilet, and water comes up the shower drain.  Brown water.  And it smells. You investigate further by walking out into the yard where the leeching area is  for the septic system.

The area is much wetter than it should be.  It smells and there is some sort of semi-solid black gunk oozing up under the grass.

Don’t panic. you may discover that your system can be fixed relatively inexpensively.

How a plumbing system functions

Here’s how the normal system works. Waste from toilets, showers, kitchen travel downward into the septic holding tanks. The denser particles settle to the bottom of the tanks, while the water floats into the leeching area. Think of it like a sponge sitting on a gravel base. The sponge absorbs the water and it slowly leaks through the rock, purifying the water further, before it is absorbed into the water table below.

Anaerobic bacteria slowly cleans the water in an atmosphere without oxygen.  However, over time the bacteria and waste products produce a black sludge called a biomat.  The biomat is what you saw in the above scenario. Seeing the biomat is a good indication that you have a septic problem as opposed to a plumbing problem.

Leeching field issues

Digging out the leeching field is one solution to the problem, but an expensive one. Also, the homeowner will want his septic system inspected and the solid waste pumped out once every three years. He must make certain he is not overloading the system, perhaps by building a home addition without making allowances for how much the septic system can hold.

Another common way the septic system is overloaded is by flushing of non-biodegradable products into the plumbing. It’s amazing what people flush down the toilet.  Cigarette butts, paper towels, baby wipes, pharmaceuticals, insecticides, solvents and grease should not be flushed down the toilets.  Your septic system is not built to cleanse these products.

A plumber can show you how to solve your septic problem in a somewhat elegant way. 

Bringing in superstar bacteria

When aerobic bacteria are injected into your septic system, they begin to clean up the sludge, the solid waste and even start nibbling away at the biomat. But the aerobic bacteria need some help. Even the Golden State Warriors need some oxygen.  And so do our industrious, clean-it-up bacteria.

When the aerobic bacteria and a steady oxygen supply are introduced into the septic system, the system starts getting healthier. But it does take time.

Steady improvement

The aerobic bacteria operating in a system that now has oxygen will even clean up the old anaerobic bacteria in fairly short order.  Within a week the homeowner should see slight improvement in the health of the system. After two weeks, the homeowner should see more improvement and in a month, she is confident that the system is on the mend.

If the system is not improving, however, the homeowner should again consult with the plumbing technician to see what further steps might be required.

Finally, when the homeowner wonders if his problems are plumbing problems or septic problems, he should examine the evidence carefully before communicating with his plumber. If the problems are indeed with the septic system, he can recommend actions that can soon have the system percolating again nicely.