New to Septic System - Shower Backing Up

Discussion in 'Septic Tanks' started by Christine Jenkins, Mar 17, 2019.

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  1. Mar 17, 2019 #1

    Christine Jenkins

    Christine Jenkins

    Christine Jenkins

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    Hi, everyone. I'm new to the group and new to septic systems. I'll try to give as much information as I can so bear with me.

    My husband and I purchased the home on February 8th. Before purchasing the inspector said our septic system was fine. A new pump had been installed about a year ago. We didn't officially move in until February 22nd, but we were back and forth moving stuff for those couple weeks. We used the toilet many times and everything was fine.

    The bathroom had been completely remodeled a couple years ago and converted to a standing shower (with amazing water pressure, I might add.)

    Once we moved in, we noticed the shower was a bit slow to drain, but it was no big deal at first. Now, less than a month later, it won't drain at all. While it's filled with standing water, the toilet will not flush either.

    We had a plumber come out thinking it was a clog. The septic tank is empty (well, there's some water at the bottom of it and I imagine some poop and things, but the point is, it does not need a pumping.) The plumber snaked the line through the bathroom cleanout. He didn't have much experience in dealing with septic tanks but said the temporary fix was to leave the cleanout open when we showered so that it would drain. That was a week ago. We haven't been able to get a septic specialist out until next week, so we have been leaving it open when we shower (as long as it's not raining out.)

    The bathroom cleanout (directly outside the home behind the bathroom) is filled with water. It's my understanding it's not supposed to be. There are two other cleanouts, one by the laundry room and one by the kitchen sink, both empty (but wet, as though water was flowing through.)

    When we had the plumber out last week, he indicated he thought we had an "illegal septic system." I don't know what that means and I don't know how one can tell. (I live in Arkansas, for what it's worth.) Since he admitted not having much septic tank experience, I take that statement with a grain of salt.

    So, now, my question is.... if every other pipe in the home is working -- the kitchen sink drains fine, the washing machine is fine -- what could be the issue? We were considering perhaps a broken pipe, or a pipe filled with roots (we do have a lot of trees on the property.) We also considered maybe it was due to rain because we were getting quite a bit. But even on weeks where it's sunny for days straight, we still have issues.

    Also, I'm not sure if this is related or if this is how things are supposed to work (again, please don't laugh, I have no experience with septic systems) but what I assume is the pump seems to overflow quite a bit with clear water. There's nothing in it. It just looks like fresh water. (I'm not going to taste-test it, though. Trust me.) The pump has one angled pipe in it and four other pipes running from it to somewhere else on the property. Not sure where.)

    I've read things about leach fields being worn out (or whatever the term is) and I've also seen people mention that excess rain just causes these things. We are at a loss and scared as to what this will cost. If anyone has any advice or thoughts, we would appreciate it.

    I should also note we tried two separate septic-safe drain cleaners (on separate days) when we thought it was a clog. Neither of them worked.

    Thanks in advance,
    Christine
     
  2. Mar 17, 2019 #2

    Mikey

    Mikey

    Mikey

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    What kind of a septic system do you have?

    Most common, I think, is a straight gravity system. The sewage goes downhill from all fixtures in the house, through the waste lines, into the septic tank, where it gets digested by bacteria and separates into three layers - sludge (on the bottom), scum (on the top), and more-or-less clear water in the middle. This water drains into the leach field and is absorbed by the soil. Over time (typically 3-5 years), the sludge level rises, the scum layer thickens, and you have to pump the tank out and start over. If you wait too long, the scum and sludge meet, the solids drain into your leach field, and your leach field is toast. There are lots of good videos, etc., explaining all this on the Web.

    If you live on a hill, say, and your property requires a leach field above the tank, then a pump is placed in the tank to pump the water up to the leach field, and you have what's called a "pump to gravity" system. I suspect this is what you have, but it's unusual to be able to see the pump. (I hope you're not confusing a sump pump with a septic pump.) There are other very exotic systems to handle situations where the ground doesn't absorb the leachate very well, but let's not go there.

    If everything is working properly, as far as the house goes, there's no difference between a septic system and a sewer. If your tank is near empty, and since many other fixtures drain properly, septic or sewer, the problem is in the house somewhere. But if the plumber couldn't figure that out, either you've got a weird system or a bad plumber.

    (Opinion of a non-pro, septic tank owner for many years and houses.)
     
    Last edited: Mar 17, 2019
  3. Mar 17, 2019 #3

    Christine Jenkins

    Christine Jenkins

    Christine Jenkins

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    Thanks for the response, Mikey.

    I wish I had an answer as to the kind of septic system. You sound correct that it's probably the one you described. (Does it matter that I live on flat land?)

    I had definitely thought the problem was in the home. Does that mean that cleanout near the bathroom is supposed to have water in it? I've been reading conflicting things regarding whether it should or shouldn't. Also, my thought was if the cleanout is open and everything drains fine, wouldn't that mean the problem is not in the home, but somewhere between the cleanout and the main drain? Or am I totally thinking about this the wrong way? Because with the cleanout open, there are zero issues. But hey, like I said, my knowledge is extremely limited so I'm probably wrong. I've tried looking up diagrams of septic tanks to figure out where everything goes, but I've had no luck finding anything that resembles mine.

    I'm also curious if it matters that I have yet to see water flow into either the pump or the tank when the toilet is flushed. Would I see that? I kept watch while my husband flushed so we could see if it worked, but nothing ever came through.

    I appreciate your thoughts and advice. I do think the first plumber we had out didn't know what he was really doing. Hopefully the next one has a better idea.
     
  4. Mar 18, 2019 #4

    Euston

    Euston

    Euston

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    Not an expert, but just repaired my septic.
    First. A septic tank should always be full. It overflows into the leach field.
    First thing I would do, is stick a garden hose down the cleanout that is full. Stick the hose in the cleanout, toward the septic tank. With water running, work the hose down the pipe to try to blow out the clog.
    You could also use a snake. If you hit an obstruction, mark the snake it hose, before removing it. Then measure from Mark to end, to determine where to dig to repair pipe.

    Is any of your drains, below grade? I assume some are, and that's what the pump you mentioned is for.

    My problem, was a buildup of scum, blocking inlet pipe, and the outlet tee (also called a baffle) was cracked.
    Pumping company, said I needed a new tank. Not!
    The inlet pipe had no baffle, which, I read, is important.
    When I went to pumping company, and bought an outlet baffle, I asked about inlet baffle.
    He said not needed! Right, because without it, the tank would need pumping/cleaning more often! More $ for them.
    The outlet baffle I put in, has a washable, pull out filter, to keep solids out of leach field.
    I also replaced the 100#, tapered lids (one was broken), with flat reinforced concrete covers, I poured. Now itsi easy to slide cover off and check, filter and clean as needed.
    Apparently, pipe is clogged between cleanout that is full of water.
    I would open the clean out that has standing water in it and run a hose through it towards the septic tank and turn it on. Try to feed hose untill pipe clears.
    Could also use snake.
    Eiher way, if you hit an obstruction mark hose or snake to determine where to dig.
     

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