Lift Station pump tank sludged over, grinder not working

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Tfastle

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Long story but we moved into a home 5 or so years ago. Upon purchase was informed that there was a lift station after the septic tank to lift effluent to leach field (due to high water table). That pump has gone out a couple of times and I have replaced it (or unclogged it). There has been at times a mild sewage smell from a couple of the bathrooms off and on and it seemed to mostly coincide with, but not completely, the lift station pump going out.

By chance I talked with a plumber that had worked on the house before we bought it and I mentioned the smell. He told me that he thought there was a lift station just outside the foundation with a grinder in it that lifts the waste to the septic tank and then another after the tank that lifts the effluent to the leach field. I knew about the one after that tank but not about the one before the tank so I dug around and, low and behold, found the cover and power to it by a wall with a large bush covering it. There is power to the plug but, when I plug in the pump (without the float switch piggy back) does not come on. I dug it up and pulled the concrete cover and there is a VERY thick layer of heavy sludge (almost solid, maybe like and very thick and heavy whip cream consistency) that seems to be about 18" thick and liquid beneath it (I stuck a piece of rebar down into the tank).

My guess is that that pump has not been working for a long time and that the waste is able to barely get to septic tank level just before it backs up all the way to the lowest drain(s) in the house and, because the fluid and waste has been basically sitting full in the grinder tank for years has developed this thick layer of sludge.

I am not a septic guy but have generally done most of the maintenance on our septic tanks over the years (all of our homes have been on septic) and have a decent understanding of them. Am I correct in thinking that this grinder lift station before the septic tank should not be full of a thick sludge and that it developed because the pump has not been working for a long time, or is this normal? My thinking is to clean it out (it's a concrete rectangular chamber, about 2' x 2' by 4' deep) and then address and fix the pump/grinder issue. Next, what is a good way to clean it out? At the moment all I can see to do is use a bucket or shovel to scoop the sludge out and put it into something and take it to the land fill. Anyone have a better idea than that? My guess is that this has likely been the source of our mild yet persistent odor in the house. Does that sound right? While I thought the smell sort of came and went my wife is pretty sure it's always present just to different degrees and, as we all know, she is probably right.

I'm hoping I will be able to somehow clean the sludge out, replace the grinder and I should be good to go.

I will try to attach a picture of the sludge.

Any thoughts and input would be greatly appreciated.

Thanks in advance!

Tfast
 

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Geofd

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If you have an ejector tank with floats grinder pumps it should be cleaned by a company that can dispose of the waste legally and properly once you get it cleaned up they/you would figure out how long you can go until it has to be cleaned again, there are also companies out there that deal specifically with sewer ejector systems the have the equipment to hoist the pump or pumps out of the pit safely it's like anything else everything needs periodic maintenance, and sometimes it's better left to the experts, we have these on a much larger scale at work, we have 2 companies that clean and maintain our systems
 

Tfastle

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Thanks Geo, I will locate someone to remove and dispose of the waste and then see what I have. I will determine what the pump is (I'm guessing a grinder) and if I can match it look at replacing it myself. If that's not feasible I'll have someone do it. I will update this post with what the resolution is.
 

Twowaxhack

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Probably isn’t a grinder pump, there wouldn’t be a need for a grinder. A 2” solids pump would be fine.
 

RS

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Couldn't you just change the pump, and then dilute it with water until it pumps it into the septic tank? That's where it was supposed to go in the first place!
 

Geofd

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Not the way that looks, way to many solids that pit hasn't been cleaned in a long time.first I would get it pumped out by a co that is lic,insured to dispose of the waste.
2.hire a company to go thru your system, then you know what you have
 

Tfastle

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Thanks for the replies. I have a guy that is going to pump it although RS I do like your idea but agree this may be a bit much for that approach. For now my plan is get it pumped and put in a 2" solids pump. I was thinking that would be a short term fix and order a grinder pump to replace the solids pump. TwoWax, thanks for the suggestion that a solids pump might be fine. In looking at the sludge it appears to me that most of it is toilet paper that floated to the top and gathered, probably because the tank had to be near full the whole time which allowed the fluids to make their way downstream without the pump. Does a solids pump handle toilet paper just fine? I was thinking of getting a grinder to handle the tp and any other items that might make their way in that shouldn't - like feminine hygiene products. I gather a grinder will handle those no problem and assume a solids pump won't?
 

Geofd

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At work if a pump gets jammed up it's usually wet wipes, janitorial paper towels and feminine
Products, I would not suggest anything that comes out of your body and what cleans it excluding wet wipes yes the flush, but they don't break down
 

Twowaxhack

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I wouldn’t use a grinder for a septic system. It’s breaks the sewage into a slurry, you don’t want that in a septic system.
 

Tfastle

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Agreed Geo, we now have little friendly signs in all of our bathrooms to that effect. We have a busy house with lots of people coming and going and have had an issue or two with feminine hygiene products clogging up the lift station pump in the past (hence the signs).

Yes TwoWax, I did some reading on grinder pumps, how they work, and why you use them vs a sewage pump and agree on that too - this is not a good application for one. I got the tank pumped out, cleaned it up and and just finished replacing the pump with a inexpensive 1/2 HP sewage pump from Harbor Freight to get us up and running. I also ordered a 1/2 HP Myers submersible sewage pump from RC Worst that should be here in about a week. I will switch them out and keep the HF pump as a backup (because we all know these things generally go out Friday evening!).

I think I am in good shape and very much appreciate all the information and input. I set it up so it will be easy to pull the lid and check it regularly so I can figure out how often I should get it pumped.

Mucho Thanks guys!

ps - the bathrooms have no odor, Happy Wife .... Happy life. :eek:)
 

Twowaxhack

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Your wax seals under the toilets may not be 100% gas tight. You shouldn’t have had a smell in the bathroom.
 

Tfastle

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Have considered that TwoWax and that may be the case. Sometime back, in the one bathroom that was the worst, I did replace the seal (when I replaced the toilet) and there was no change. That bath also has a shower. I am thinking that this system, without the lift stations, is right on the cusp of fluids being able to flow to the leach field (since it has never backed up into the tubs or showers, even with the pumps not working) and, at that level, the fluids are backed up into the lines in the house and even possibly to the shower and tub p-traps. Now, with the pump replaced the level is about 2 feet lower and no fluids remain in the house lines. The smell was very slight before - one of those deals where you are thinking, "is there a smell or not?". That's my suspicion anyway as the roof vents all seem clear and fine. But, your point is well taken and if the smell seems to still be with us, new toilet seals will be next on the agenda.

We shall see.

Thanks.
 
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