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Sheilajeanne

When The Septic Tank Backs Up...

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I live in a small town that has municipal water, but no sewage service. Everyone is dependent on a septic tank.

Last year, the sewage line leading to my tenant's upstairs apartment backed up twice. A friend of mine thought he'd fixed it - it looked like the back of the septic tank had sunk down over the years, causing the sewage to have to flow uphill. He dug out the line, disconnected it, and replaced it lower down on the tank.

That worked okay until about a month ago, when my tenants reported it was backing up again and there was water all over the laundry room, garage and lower hallway. I called a septic service, and they did an emergency pump out of the tank, for about double what it would have cost if I'd had it done during regular business hours.

Although the tank was very full it didn't fix the problem. :(  The next day, I had a plumber come out and snake the line. He said he thought there was a problem with the drain, and part of it must have sunk down. I wasn't happy to hear this, as some time after the drain line was put in place, some idiot poured 4 big concrete slabs over top of it. :ranting2:  Fixing the drain was going to be a huge job!

20 days after the snake out, the drain clogged again. Called the plumber, and this time, after snaking the line, he put a camera down, and confirmed the line was full of water/sewage for about a 10 ft. section, 20 feet out from the house. 

There was nothing I could do but bite the bullet, and take up those damn concrete slabs!

So, I rented a jackhammer on the weekend, and my tenant, with help from his son, went to work on it. Two trailer loads of concrete have gone to the dump already, and this is what's left to do.

The other picture shows what I've accomplished so far today and yesterday.  The dirt next to the patio is from where my tenant dug down beside the foundation trying to find the drain. We eventually figured out the drain exits the house somewhere underneath the door to the patio. We just haven't found the time/energy to fill the hole in yet!

Oh, and you see the tank at the far right of the second picture? That's my oil tank. It looks like the sewage line goes underneath the tank, which is going to be REALLY fun... :ranting2:   The tank is up off the ground about a foot and a half, so maybe it won't be TOO bad to fix... :(

Septic project.JPG

septic project 2.JPG

Edited by Sheilajeanne

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I hate to bring this up....

To fix this correctly you need to dig up the old tank and install a new one.

Old tank may have leaked otherwise for a long time without any consequences.

New tank with reshaped placement hole in the ground and maybe some gravel/stone fill under it to stabilize.

Sorry, Jane. Would have liked to give you better advice. We managed homes for many years with septic tanks, always something......

Ferg

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Sorry Jane.  I am a Master plumber, This is my advice,  

have your local plumber:

replace  pipe from the house to the tank and replace tank 

cut the exit line out of the tank

install a 90 degree elbow on the line going to the leach field

add a 5' pipe to the elbow sticking straight up into the air

fill the pipe with water and time the amount of time it takes for the water to leave the pipe

hopefully your drain field is not saturated, but if the pipe is not draining, replace the field

over dig the hole under the new tank. by 24''  add  moist sand, water the sand with a hose, it will compact it

set the new tank on a compacted sand bed NO LESS THAN 12""

Edited by Frodo

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The plumber knows where the problem is - it's in the sewer line that goes from the east side of the house (laundry, tenant's apartment over the garage) and joins into the main house line just before going into the tank. 

There's an area in that line that must have sunk down over the years, and the camera showed the line is completely full of water for a distance of about 10 ft.  The water clears up before the camera reached the junction with the other line.

When the septic tank was pumped out, we took all 3 covers off it, so we got a really good look at it, and the guy doing the pumping said it looked okay. There were no blockages and no leaks. And it hadn't been pumped out in more than 2 years, so of COURSE it was quite full.  The tank has a very slight slope towards the weeping bed end, so it should be fine unless it settles further. We can check on that when replacing the sewer pipe. If the tank has a problem it's at THAT end, not the weeping bed. But the main problem is definitely the sewer pipe, as the camera confirmed.

The sewer line has been working fine since the plumber snaked it out. He say he thinks we have about a month before it clogs up again. I'm not so sure about that, and want to get it replaced ASAP!

Edited by Sheilajeanne

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For me, the best proof the problem is the sewer line, not the tank, is that the sewer line from my side of the house has been problem free. If the problem really were the tank, it would be backing up too.

Guess I should have picked another title for the thread, but I originally thought the problem might be the tank!

 

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Just now, Sheilajeanne said:

For me, the best proof the problem is the sewer line, not the tank, is that the sewer line from my side of the house has been problem free. If the problem really were the tank, it would be backing up too.

Guess I should have picked another title for the thread, but I originally thought the problem might be the tank!

 

It is kind of a shitty title.  :P

- Bill

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No kidding... ;)

I certainly hope the tank is fine. A couple of years ago, my neighbours had to have their entire septic system replaced, after it failed inspection when they were selling their house. It cost them $20,000.  :huh::huh::huh:.  I'm a pensioner, and so far this year, between my animals needing vet care, plumbing problems, and having to install a heat exchanger to keep my tenants from dying of heat stroke*, I've had over $7,500 in unexpected expenses! 

*The genius who designed the apartment over the garage didn't bother to put in a cold air return, which means the apartment is freezing in winter, and too hot in summer... :rolleyes2:

Edited by Sheilajeanne

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On 8/20/2021 at 6:13 AM, Sheilajeanne said:

No kidding... ;)

I certainly hope the tank is fine. A couple of years ago, my neighbours had to have their entire septic system replaced, after it failed inspection when they were selling their house. It cost them $20,000.  :huh::huh::huh:.  I'm a pensioner, and so far this year, between my animals needing vet care, plumbing problems, and having to install a heat exchanger to keep my tenants from dying of heat stroke*, I've had over $7,500 in unexpected expenses! 

*The genius who designed the apartment over the garage didn't bother to put in a cold air return, which means the apartment is freezing in winter, and too hot in summer... :rolleyes2:

Make sure they or you or whomever beds the new line and compacts it also like Frodo said or the problem will be dug back up in a few years. Most good knowledgeable plumbers will do this some just throw the pipe in the hole. I hate sewer lines and septic systems! 

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Have no fear, Chuck! My tenant is an contractor with many years experience. And even I know that a sewer line has to be properly bedded, with gravel or some other substrate around it to keep it at the right angle. The soil her is very sandy, so have to make sure the line has a solid base that won't sink again.

Have some limestone chips that should do the job, and keep things flowing in the right direction.

Since it's the tenant's sewer line that has the problem, that provides additional motivation for him to get it right!  B)

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So, I got the last of the big chunks of cement into the trailer this morning, then my tenant took it to the dump. Even though it's free to dump, they had him weigh coming in and going out. The cement weighed 2,425 lbs. :huh::huh::huh:

Wow. And all of it loaded into the trailer by Yours Truly...

I have to say I'm kinda impressed with myself, especially considering what I went through last year! B)

Not a lot being accomplished out there today. The humidex is about 37 C which is about 98 F! 

By the time W. got back from emptying the trailer, he was just about cooked!

Edited by Sheilajeanne

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By the time W. got back from emptying the trailer, he was just about cooked!

Cooked contractor with fava beans and a nice chianti  ?

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you said some idiot knocked a new hole in the old tank at a lower elevation?

 

That tank is now useless, unless you can water tite seal the hole the idiot knocked in the tank. it is going to leak.. Leaking means the  foundation under the tank will wash out and it will settle again..

 

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Frodo, there's a square spot on the end of a septic tank where the sewer line goes in. I assume the concrete is thinner in that spot. All he did was move the line from the middle of that spot to an inch or so lower. Everything was carefully sealed up with cement, and left for a couple of days to make sure there were NO LEAKS.

This had to be done because that end of the tank was slightly higher than the outflow end, due to some settling over the years. It did help, because there were no more sewage backups for a year and a half. I plan to check this area when the line is replaced to make sure the tank hasn't settled any further. (Crosses fingers!)

Or may be the tank didn't settle, maybe it was just the sewage line, which has now settled even further, causing the current problems. We'll figure it out - I know how to use a level and plumb bob!

 

Edited by Sheilajeanne

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My tenant has now uncovered the sewer line that was underneath the concrete slabs.

As Frodo will tell you, the main line for a house sewer should be 4 inches in diameter. The line coming from the upstairs apartment in the house is the standard 4 inches. 

It then drains into a 3 inch diameter pipe, which is what is going into the septic tank.

Jeez, how to guarantee flow problems... :ranting2::ranting2::ranting2:

 

Installing the correct size of line is going to  mean bashing a larger hole in the foundation of the house, and doing the same to the septic tank... :unsure:  Frodo, is that even possible? I'm assuming the original opening into the tank must have been 4 inches in diameter, because that's the standard size.

As a friend who's going through some renos on a house with a lot of D.I.Y. 'improvements' has said, 'this is not so much D.I.Y. as it is D.I. WHY???

Trying to keep my sense of humour intact... :(

Edited by Sheilajeanne

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9 hours ago, Sheilajeanne said:

Installing the correct size of line is going to  mean bashing a larger hole in the foundation of the house

I would rent a 4 1/2 or 5 " concrete hole saw and drill a new hole in the concrete a few inches away from the existing main house sewer drain pipe. When the old pipe is cut free you can simply cut out or knock out the old one and properly fill the hole in. I had to do that a few years ago. The concrete hole saw worked really well.

just a thought,

kgg

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Thanks for the suggestion, kgg. Sounds like a good plan.

Before it got too hot yesterday, I helped my tenant, W., dig down to where the two sewage lines join just before they go into the tank. Aaaannnd....of course, the line from MY end of the house is also 3 inches in diameter. It isn't covered over by concrete, though...just my back deck. :rolleyes2::rolleyes2::rolleyes2: So, the deck is going to have to be partially demolished, and I'll have to find a way of keeping my dog from exploring underneath it, and escaping through the holes in the lattice work at the front of the deck!

We don't have the whole of my tenant's sewer line dug out yet, but it's starting to look like it not only goes underneath the oil tank, but also underneath my air conditioner. 

This job just keeps on gettin' bigger...:bawling:

When the sewer line that was underneath the concrete gets replaced, I'm going to have to bring in some clean fill to bring the surface up to the same level as the existing patio stones. The cement was 4 to 6" thick, while the patio stones are only about an inch and 3/4. Lucky for me, Home Hardware still stocks that pattern of stone, so I will be able to fill in the area with matching stones once it's levelled off.

7:30 am and it's up to 70 F already. Need to finish brekky and get out there and do some digging before it gets too damn hot... The humidex is already 84 degrees, and tomorrow is going to be even hotter with a high of  32 C/90 F!  :helpsmilie: My tenant is fortunate his current day job is working in a nice air-conditioned house! (Which is why I'm pitching in to do whatever I can to fix the plumbing problem.)

Edited by Sheilajeanne

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Have you considered a new routing for the replacement line?  Might be a lot easier in the long run.

 

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Well, the first step is still going to be to dig up the old line, and find just where it goes. That's still a work in progress. If it gives the oil tank and air conditioner a miss, replacing it will be easier.

If not, your suggestion is worth a shot!

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Today we unearthed the problem section of pipe. Not only does it slope down too much, the join with the previous pipe is at a slight angle. And yes, it does go under the oil tank (but not the air conditioner) so my tenant/contractor is going to reroute it, as Northmount suggested. 

Since the 3 inch drain from my side of the house has never had a problem, I suggested to W. that we could join it with a 4 inch pipe just after it comes out from under the deck, and run that the short distance to the tank,  where it would connect it up with the new 4 inch pipe coming from his part of the house just before the tank. 

That way, we avoid having to tear up the deck, and having a 4 inch pipe draining into a 3 inch!  It won't quite be up to code, which requires a 4 inch pipe outside the house, but sometimes you just have to say, hey this is going to be too damn difficult!  It's a straight run of pipe from the house to the tank, no bends, and it's only about 13 or 14 feet, so it should drain without any problems. 

Edited by Sheilajeanne

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Pictures:

First picture shows the problem area of the pipe. You can see the pipes are joined at an angle, and there is too much slope.

 

IMG_2469.JPG

 

This is what my patio looks like right now!!  

 

IMG_2468.JPG

 

Here's where the two pipes join up. The one on the left is the line with the problem. The septic tank isn't visible, but it's at the top right of the picture. Wooden thing on the ground is a bird feeder that had to be removed because it was hanging right over the area where we were digging and hitting us on the head!

IMG_2467A.JPG

Edited by Sheilajeanne

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Oookay, what's wrong with this photo?  :rolleyes2:  Septic tank is just visible at the top of the photo, line on the left is the one coming from my tenant's apartment/laundry room, etc. Other one comes from the main part of the house:

 

IMG_2467.JPG

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maybe try a smaller  aperture slower shutter speed  increase your depth of field

 

i know i will get my coat and leave

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Is the T in their backwards sheilajeanne? Isn't it the wrong kind of T fitting? Unbelievable  

Edited by Tim Schroeder

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[rolls eyes at rednev]   :rolleyes2:

Got it one, Tim!  :thumbsup: You don't have to be a plumber to know the waste should flow TOWARDS the septic tank, not away from it!!

Whoever installed the plumbing was definitely NOT a professional. 

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