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Old 02-03-2014, 06:01 PM   #1
TimC
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Default Septic system backing up?

Hi, I'm just a simple homeowner looking for some enlightenment. A septic system inspector says there is evidence in our tank of the system having backed-up at some time in the past. We lived there for 12 years and never had an issue. Is it possible for the system to have backed-up without our knowing about it?

Thanks for any information or advice,

TimC



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Old 02-04-2014, 02:08 AM   #2
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I want to address your question before posing one of my own.
With public sewers or septic, to make a statement that it may have backed up in the past is not immediate cause for alarm. The statement is vague and isn't very fair to you without explanation from the inspector. Without knowing what the inspector saw it will be hard for anybody to clearly state what inspired the comment.

It's not unusual for a septic tank and the house's drainage piping to show marks inside where levels have risen in the past and left signs such as grease, sediment or drain scum.

Depending on the type of system, size of the tank, amount of use, frequency of pumping and other factors you could have backed up and had no visible symptoms inside the home.

Sometimes, depending on your location, the leach field after the tank can become saturated with rain water through the soil and make dissipation of the effluent from the tank difficult.
When an inspector comes to your home for any reason, plumbing electrical, HVAC or structure and has a comment about your home don't be afraid to ask questions and get the explanation in writing. Private and government inspectors should be willing to accommodate the request.

My question is just curiosity. Why was the septic inspector there in the first place?



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Old 02-04-2014, 05:38 AM   #3
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Caduceus View Post
I want to address your question before posing one of my own.
With public sewers or septic, to make a statement that it may have backed up in the past is not immediate cause for alarm. The statement is vague and isn't very fair to you without explanation from the inspector. Without knowing what the inspector saw it will be hard for anybody to clearly state what inspired the comment.

It's not unusual for a septic tank and the house's drainage piping to show marks inside where levels have risen in the past and left signs such as grease, sediment or drain scum.

Depending on the type of system, size of the tank, amount of use, frequency of pumping and other factors you could have backed up and had no visible symptoms inside the home.

Sometimes, depending on your location, the leach field after the tank can become saturated with rain water through the soil and make dissipation of the effluent from the tank difficult.
When an inspector comes to your home for any reason, plumbing electrical, HVAC or structure and has a comment about your home don't be afraid to ask questions and get the explanation in writing. Private and government inspectors should be willing to accommodate the request.

My question is just curiosity. Why was the septic inspector there in the first place?
Thank you for your response. The house is in Missouri and we have relocated to Oregon. The house is under contract to sell and the buyers hired an inspector to look at the septic system. He apparently found "evidence" that the water had at some point been above the operational level and declared the system to be unacceptable. Now the buyers want all new lateral lines when there has never been a problem with the system. It's only about 17 years old and we had it pumped annually for the last ten years or so. The house has been vacant for about 14 months now, but we had the tank pumped just last week and our septic guy said everything looked fine to him.

Anyway, I posted a photo that was included in the inspector's report. This is what he says is evidence of backup. I'd be interested to hear what you think. Thank you again for responding and for taking the time to help. Sincerely,
TimC

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Old 02-04-2014, 08:26 AM   #4
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TimC, that image doesn't seem to be working.

How many bedrooms does the house have and what size is the septic tank. I could be wrong, but if you need to have it drained every year then it might be too small for that home-- unless that frequency was just a precaution.

Now, as Caduceus said, it could just be that the leach field got too saturated and caused the water to back up into the system. It could also be that the leach field is insufficient for the amount of waste passing through the system. It depends on the soil type and how well it percolates, whether or not the lines are at the correct angle/incline, and if they are the proper length.

Perhaps if you are not clear on things, you can ask the real estate agent for more info or call the inspector and ask for clarification.

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Old 02-04-2014, 04:05 PM   #5
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TimC, that image doesn't seem to be working.

How many bedrooms does the house have and what size is the septic tank. I could be wrong, but if you need to have it drained every year then it might be too small for that home-- unless that frequency was just a precaution.

Now, as Caduceus said, it could just be that the leach field got too saturated and caused the water to back up into the system. It could also be that the leach field is insufficient for the amount of waste passing through the system. It depends on the soil type and how well it percolates, whether or not the lines are at the correct angle/incline, and if they are the proper length.

Perhaps if you are not clear on things, you can ask the real estate agent for more info or call the inspector and ask for clarification.
Thank you for your response. Sorry about the image. I've tried it again and hopefully it will work this time.
The house has 3 bedrooms, 3.5 baths. The tank is 1188 gallons. Having it pumped annually was just an over abundance of caution. We had it pumped a few years after we bought the house; he offered us a maintenance plan and it seemed to work out well. I'm afraid I don't have data on the leach field. The lines are on a pretty good slope, but I don't know their length. The house is in the Ozark Mountains region so the soil is mostly rock.

We're now looking to get a second inspection by a different inspector. Unfortunately, none of my contacts, so far, knows of an inspector who has any actual experience in the septic trade.

Here's that image again. Thanks again for responding and for your time.

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Old 02-05-2014, 10:00 AM   #6
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Thank you for your response. Sorry about the image. I've tried it again and hopefully it will work this time.
The house has 3 bedrooms, 3.5 baths. The tank is 1188 gallons. Having it pumped annually was just an over abundance of caution. We had it pumped a few years after we bought the house; he offered us a maintenance plan and it seemed to work out well. I'm afraid I don't have data on the leach field. The lines are on a pretty good slope, but I don't know their length. The house is in the Ozark Mountains region so the soil is mostly rock.

We're now looking to get a second inspection by a different inspector. Unfortunately, none of my contacts, so far, knows of an inspector who has any actual experience in the septic trade.

Here's that image again. Thanks again for responding and for your time.

Hmm.. my septic tank is 1,000 gallons and is supposed to only need to be drained once every 7 or 8 years (5 if I'm being cautious). But maybe its the type of tank-- or maybe my soil percolates better. I don't know.

When you said "pretty good slope", do you mean that the land is fairly level or do you mean that the land has a visible slope to it?
In order to work correctly, the field line should not drop more than 1 inch per foot. It can not drop more than 12 inches across a 100 foot span. Each line cannot exceed 100 feet in length. So if the health inspector says you need say 300 feet, you would have to have it split into 3 separate lines (IF you go with pipe and gravel. If you went with something like Infiltrator systems it would reduce the required lengthy by around 40% if I recall correctly).

The image worked this time, but its hard to really see since it was a printout. It does look like something splattered out before. But I'm not a septic expert, but I tried to learn as much as I could when my system had to be replaced.

Your local Health Department/Board of Health/Dept of Sanitation (whatever it is called in that area) should have information on what is to code in your area and you can request that the inspector from the actual department be dispatched to examine it. Some offices will have e-mail and you can e-mail the inspector(s) to make inquiries. Otherwise you might need to make phone calls and/or go to the office. I had to go to the office and the the gentleman from the board of health gave me a printout of literature explaining what I would need and also printed out a few lists of licensed installers from various Parishes(Counties).

IF you do end up needing to have field lines replaced, make sure the installer does an elevation check to figure out where the lines can go BEFORE they submit plans to the Dept of Health and come out to install. Mine didn't and ended up having to completely change his plans.

For your sake, I do hope that whatever fix is required is minor. It sounds like your septic tank size is sufficient (mine had to be replaced with one double the size).

Good luck!

And please keep us posted on how things go.
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Old 02-05-2014, 06:39 PM   #7
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Hmm.. my septic tank is 1,000 gallons and is supposed to only need to be drained once every 7 or 8 years (5 if I'm being cautious). But maybe its the type of tank-- or maybe my soil percolates better. I don't know.

When you said "pretty good slope", do you mean that the land is fairly level or do you mean that the land has a visible slope to it?
In order to work correctly, the field line should not drop more than 1 inch per foot. It can not drop more than 12 inches across a 100 foot span. Each line cannot exceed 100 feet in length. So if the health inspector says you need say 300 feet, you would have to have it split into 3 separate lines (IF you go with pipe and gravel. If you went with something like Infiltrator systems it would reduce the required lengthy by around 40% if I recall correctly).

The image worked this time, but its hard to really see since it was a printout. It does look like something splattered out before. But I'm not a septic expert, but I tried to learn as much as I could when my system had to be replaced.

Your local Health Department/Board of Health/Dept of Sanitation (whatever it is called in that area) should have information on what is to code in your area and you can request that the inspector from the actual department be dispatched to examine it. Some offices will have e-mail and you can e-mail the inspector(s) to make inquiries. Otherwise you might need to make phone calls and/or go to the office. I had to go to the office and the the gentleman from the board of health gave me a printout of literature explaining what I would need and also printed out a few lists of licensed installers from various Parishes(Counties).

IF you do end up needing to have field lines replaced, make sure the installer does an elevation check to figure out where the lines can go BEFORE they submit plans to the Dept of Health and come out to install. Mine didn't and ended up having to completely change his plans.

For your sake, I do hope that whatever fix is required is minor. It sounds like your septic tank size is sufficient (mine had to be replaced with one double the size).

Good luck!

And please keep us posted on how things go.
Thank you for responding. Sorry about the image. I managed to get a copy of the original photo rather than a copy of a printed copy, and have attached it below. Still, don't see that it shows anything conclusive but appreciate any input.

Yes, pumping the tank annually was overkill. We knew that, but figured it was cheap enough insurance and a good way to keep an eye on the health of the system. I didn't realize how inexpensive it was until we bought the place in Oregon and had the tank pumped there. It cost about four times as much!

The land does have a visible slope to it. It's not severe and I don't know the length of the lateral lines so I don't know how much drop there is over the run of the lines. The inspector didn't report a problem with the placement or design of the leach field, only with the supposed evidence of a backup once upon a time.

We have contacted another inspector about getting a second opinion on the matter. If he agrees with the findings of the first inspector we'll do whatever has to be done, but I need to be convinced before throwing money at a problem that may not exist. Missouri isn't called the 'Show Me State' for nothin'.

Unfortunately, the weather and road conditions are slowing everything down in that area so it may be a few days before the second inspector can get down there. Thanks for your help and your interest in our unfolding drama. I'll keep ya posted. Here's that new image:

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Old 02-07-2014, 06:53 PM   #8
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It looks like from the picture you do have a problem.

The water level should be below or at the bottom of the horizontal pipe.

Is the pipe in the pic. a inlet or outlet pipe ?

Did you get it pumped before or after the inspection ?

If the house is vacant & you had it pumped before the inspection you have a problem, because there should
no water in the tank.

If your tank does have a drainage problem it may be just a blockage between the D-box & the tank.

If you need to someone to look at your system you can contact the local NOWRA assoc. @ http://www.mosmallflows.org/index.htm they should be able to recommend several companies that should be able to help you out.

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Old 02-08-2014, 11:01 AM   #9
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Hmm.. That looks like a cleanout or inspection port (I know some septic systems have inspection ports). I don't know on which end though.
The crud all over the pipe reminds me of barnacles on a ship. I wonder if its just sediment that built up on the outside over the years. It sort of looks like mud to me. Not sure what the white powdery stuff is. I'm not expert so this is beyond my knowledge though.

There are various reasons for something to have overflowed and sometimes it could have been during extreme weather conditions.

If your drain field runs along the slope and the slope is visible then I would think it might be too steep. However, its possible that the drain field runs perpendicular to the slope instead. I guess it also depends on your local codes and the type of drain field that you have.

I imagine the higher cost of having a septic tank drained in another state had to do with the disposal. The guy who drains my tank used to charge a LOT less, but allegedly he was dumping the waste illegally (some people said he was trespassing on lands owned by the timber company and dumping in the nearby river-- once the timber company put up locking gates to block access, he had to find other places to dump and his prices almost tripled). Some waste trucks have to drive farther to dispose of the waste and that costs $ for gas.

When the inspector said the system was "unacceptable" did he give any specific recommendations of what needed to be done to make it acceptable?

I hope that the second opinion from another inspector is in your favor.

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Old 02-08-2014, 12:48 PM   #10
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That is or looks like the outlet pipe from the tank. The water should be towards the bottom of the horizontal pipe. His evidence is likely that the pipe is not clean meaning at one time the sewage was above the outlet pipe.

At some point there was either a blockage or the leach lines were full and things were not perking properly. Pumping the tank more often would not help what happened. Could be as simple as a wet winter where the ground is saturated.


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