Diagnosis of Problem Appreciated!

Discussion in 'Septic Tanks' started by butch, Jul 30, 2018.

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  1. Jul 30, 2018 #1

    butch

    butch

    butch

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    I'm about to dig down to find the top of my septic tank as well as the two "Catch boxes" (or whatever you call them) that are apparently on either side and just a few feet away from the main tank. Each box is located on separate lines, each of which run from different houses: my residence, and my guest house--which is where the problem I'm tracking started. (Friend staying there, extended stay).

    Before I undertake this big job, I am seeking advice/guidance as I have never attempted this before and I can not afford to pay a plumber of septic tank co.

    Bathroom/toilet sludge started oozing out of a broken PVC cap on an upright access port in the 6 inch PYC line that runs from the guest house down about 80 yards or so to the main tank and the ante-boxes mentioned above. (The cap on the access port noted above had been broken for some time due to mower blade strike; however the guesthouse was not occupied until about a 2 years ago.)

    My resident friend was brae enough to probe with a snake down into the access port and said thereafter that he felt like he was "hitting something"--some kind of blockage.

    I bought a plumber's bladder which we then attached to a hose and fed into that line, running it downstream of the access port.

    Friend reported that it felt like the blockage had given way, at which we put a new cap on the access point and congratulated ourselves for fixing the problem. Guest toilet appeared to work fine.

    HOWEVER, my un lucky resident returned home a few hours later only to find that sludge had not backed up out of the shower drain and had covered a large area of the floor. He cleaned it up and then went at the pipe with the hose/bladder hook up again, saying that he used a longer hose and went farther down the sewer line this time--though not much more than 20 feet all told.

    Lo and behold, upon my return to my house, I discovered that sludge was now coming up through my lower story/basement shower stall and had fouled that quite well--did not run out of the shower footwell, thank goodness.

    OK, toward a diagnosis before I start digging: We were first planning to go back into my guesthouse line with our plumbers bladder and running hose hookup--until I learned that the previous bladder plunge of only twenty feet or so had apparently pushed sludge out of my tank and the catch box BETWEEN the main tank and my house, which is fully 150 yards from where the water hose pressure was applied.

    This seems to tell me that both my catch boxes and my main must therefore be filled to capacity and that the water pressure was skimming off a top layer of raw unsettled sludge and forcing it back up the feeder line into my house. Now, in this context...this does not quite explain how the sludge went back up the guest house feeder line, AFTER we had used the plumber's bladder and had put away the gear,thinking the job was done.

    Anyway: any insight into what's going on here--whether confirmation of my entirely unprofessional assessment mentioned above, or any guidance as to what else might be causing this to happen.

    I.e.: Do I just bite the bullet and get to digging? Or is there something I can investigate short of calling out the pumpers?

    If I end up have to call the pump truck, I'll have to dig down to find the tank top anyway. But I want to explore any other conceivable tactic up front before I undergo that time and expense.

    This system was put in circa 1990/92 or so. Main house was not lived in for about 5 years 2005-2010 roughly. Guesthouse not occupied at all until about 2015 or so.

    Thanks in advance for any helpful pointers here.
     
  2. Jul 31, 2018 #2

    Diehard

    Diehard

    Diehard

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    At a minimum you should be digging out for access to the septic tank. For 2 reasons. 1) To observe the height of the level in the tank. That would be an indication of whether it's flowing out to the leaching field or whatever there is for the purpose.
    2) It should be pumped out, particularly if it hasn't been in some time. As that could be the reason for your problem. The scum that rises to the top must be removed periodically before it builds downward and flows out to the leaching. As well as building up to a point of backing up into the drain lines coming in to the tanks.
    Hopefully that's not your problem but if it is you'll have a major fix ahead of you.
     
  3. Aug 11, 2018 #3

    butch

    butch

    butch

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    Thank You! Just saw your post to my question.
    I am sure that I need the septic tank pumped out. However, before I do that, I wanted to try to clear the sewer drain from my guest cottage. That line is backing up to the access point, now opened to keep the back up from coming into the cottage. I maxed out a 100 foot Electric Eel--a nasty, exhausting job, especially when its your first experience with one of those beasts, a rental with no instructions. That leaves me still blocked with not quite a hundred remaining down to my "catch box," which is about 30/40 upstream of my main septic tank. I have opened the catch box and it obviously needs pumping; however there is a 4 in. pipe (entering from the general direction of my guest cottage) that enters at the top of the box--I had assumed that this would be where the effluent enters the box. However, so far all my labor has only yielded a tiny, one time flow of effluent into "catch box." When I try to run a snake up stream of that pipe, I get nowhere...I assume therefore that there is a bend in the pipe sharp enough to so far prevent snaking. Or, alternately, there may be some design element in the box which prevents my going upstream in that 4in pipe at the top of the box. I should note in this context: I do not see any out flow pipe in the Catch box, which I assume is designed to work in conjunction with the main tank. Maybe the outflow is midway down into the approx. 4 ft. deep catch box and is therefore underneath the top scum??? I would assume that the catch box would not be receiving or discharging from the bottom by design. In any event, have yet to uncover the main tank...I am sure it needs pumping and that is my plan, but before I bear that expense, I want to get the line from the cottage cleared. At this point, I am just trying to learn how the whole system is supposed to work. Can't find any schematic in any of the "septic" sites I have visited. I have two houses on this property, each feeding two "catch tanks" which then feed into the main tank and then the drain field. My next step is to clear the soil away from the other catch tank and the main tank in preparation for pumping. However, again, before I get that expensive job lined up, I want to get this sewer line cleared. Any knowledge about the intended design "flow" from the house, to first catch tanks, to main tank, to field--would be much appreciated.
     
  4. Aug 11, 2018 #4

    Diehard

    Diehard

    Diehard

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    I am not familiar with the various configurations (of which there are many) of septic systems. However, the basic systems that I am familiar with are designed such that, if the level in a receiving tank is above the bottom of the inlet pipe, then that's an indication that the tank is not discharging adequately. Typically this is caused by either the build up of sludge from the bottom of the tank or scum which floats and builds up from the top downward, getting into the discharge line to the leaching field(or leaching boxes) and causing blockage.
    That would typically mean a major job to reestablish a properly working leaching area.
    This is why, in my mind , it would be important to verify that the flow is leaving the septic tank adequately enough not to cause the system to back up.
    Not sure of the function of the catch boxes you mention. But I would think the same principle would apply. i.e.-liquid level should be no higher than the bottom of the inlet pipe. This may not be obvious to you not knowing or seeing exactly where the elevation of that pipe is. Being either hidden by a baffle of is in the form of a tee that drops into the liquid(scum) level. Whereas, it be very well be obvious to an experienced septic system person.

    In my case, when things started backing up into my house, someone quickly assumed it was my leaching field backing up into the tank, causing the level to rise and preventing flow from the house.
    I opened the access hatch to my septic tank, verified that it wasn't above it's typical level when flowing into leaching field, so I concluded it had to be a blockage between my house and the tank, which it was.

    Yours system sounds a bit more complex due to 2 houses, etc. To me, if it can be accomplished without too much effort, I would try to establish that the system is open to flow from the DOWNSTREAM point. That is the main tank.
     
    Last edited: Aug 11, 2018

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