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Do You Have a Septic Tank Problem?


Feb 20, 2018

Oh no, do I have septic tank problems?

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Septic tanks — not the most fun topic to discuss. Our plumbers, however, get tons of calls about what homeowners tend to think are minor issues that turn out to be signs of more serious septic tank problems. 
 
There are a lot of septic systems out there! The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates that over 20 percent of American homes “depend on an individual onsite system or small community cluster to treat their wastewater,” comprising over 60 million people. Imagine everyone in New York and California used a septic system — that still wouldn’t cover the number of people reliant on this old-school plumbing tactic.  
 
Fifty-five percent of people in Vermont and over half of Maine and New Hampshire residents use septic systems, 48 percent of our friends in North Carolina rely on septic plumbing and roughly 40 percent of South Carolinians and Kentuckians still go the septic route.
 
A malfunctioning septic system seems a little gross — you may start finding what is called “pooled effluent” in your yard, which is exactly what you think it is, and you’ll know it by the smell. 
 
It’s no joke, though: the Northern Virginia Regional Commission reports that “malfunctioning septic systems are one of the leading causes of groundwater pollution in Virginia. Nitrogen, disease-causing bacteria and viruses from wastewater can contaminate drinking water supplies. Nitrogen can cause birth defects, cancer and a dangerous form of anemia in infants, ‘baby blue syndrome.’” 
 
Septic issues can also kill fish and wildlife and poison the environment. Not so funny, eh? 
 
There were over 12,000 conventional septic systems in Loudoun County as recently as 2009. In the late 1990s, failing septic tanks throughout Northern Virginia were responsible for a public health scare. At that time, The Washington Post noted that “health officials in Fauquier County have warned of ‘growing health problems’ caused by failing systems in the Cattlett-Calverton, New Baltimore and Midland areas of the county.” 
 
Think you have a septic system problems? It’s your responsibility as a good citizen to get it fixed. Warrenton plumbing experts or plumbers in your Northern Virginia town can help you find solutions. But first, let’s make sure we all know what we’re talking about in regards to septic issues.
 

What is a septic system?

Septic systems are composed of a main sewer pipe, a septic tank, a drain field, and soil. When you flush the toilet, take a shower, or turn on the sink, wastewater travels from your internal plumbing system to the main sewer pipe, where it exits your house. 
 
From there, the wastewater is carried to the septic tank, a buried container made of concrete or polyethylene. A septic tank functions as a holding device for wastewater where solid materials can separate from the liquid before the liquid passes through to the drain field. 
 
The drain field is made up of a series of pipes that disperse the water across a large expanse of soil. As the water is pushed through the soil, harmful bacteria and viruses are removed. 
 
Although septic systems are supposed to be used to handle human waste, they often have to deal with kitchen waste, water from showers and washing machines, and non-biodegradable products — any of which can contribute to septic tank failure. 
 

Do I need septic tank service? Signs your septic tank is failing

Is your septic tank failing? You may be up a certain creek without a paddle, as they say, if you’re experiencing one of these problems and choose to ignore it instead of reaching out to plumbers in Warrenton or your Northern Virginia community.
 
Problems Flushing the Toilet. A common indicator of septic tank problems is a toilet that’s slow to flush — or won’t flush at all — and a plunger can’t fix the issue. The tank may be full, or there could be a clog in the pipes. 
 
Slow Drains. Watch out for slow-draining sinks, showers, and bathtubs. Like the toilet-flushing issue, this problem may be caused by a partial clog in the pipes and require septic tank service.
 
Strange Pipe Sounds. Dripping or gurgling noises coming from the pipes when you flush a toilet or turn on a sink could indicate that your septic tank needs to be pumped. 
 
Water Backup. If you drain a sink and notice water backing up into the shower or bathtub, or run the washing machine and  see water — or worse, sewage — backing up into the house, start looking for Warrenton plumbers immediately. 
 
Greener Grass. While you may think green grass simply means you have a healthy lawn, it is important to note that lush, fast-growing grass around the same area where the septic tank is buried could mean that your septic tank has been failing for an extended period of time. You’re fertilizing your yard with your own waste — and possibly creating health problems for your neighbors and the neighborhood wildlife.
 
Standing Water. Puddles or effluent near your drain field are sure signs that the septic system is failing. If dirty water is leaking from the septic tank, there is a risk of exposure to harmful bacteria. Call a Warrenton plumber at the first sign of puddles near the drain field. 
 
Bad Odors. Foul odors are a clear indicator of septic tank failure. Walk toward where the septic tank is buried — is the smell getting stronger? Turn around, go back in the house and start looking for plumbers in Warrenton or your community. Your septic system may be leaking.
 

How to avoid septic tank failure 

Many septic tank problems are caused by clogs. Septic users must remember that everything going into the sewage system eventually ends up in your septic tank, whether you’re flush something down the toilet, pouring it into the sink or obliterating it with the garbage disposal. 
 
The only item you should ever flush down the toilet is toilet paper.  Seems so simple when you put it that way, no? Somehow, everything from paper towels to soap to toys to keys and pens and pencils and you name it ends up getting flushed. Be careful around the toilet and remind any young children that the toilet is not a toy.
 
The following items should never be flushed down the toilet:
 
  • Feminine hygiene products
  • Paper towels
  • “Flushable” wipes
  • Diapers
  • Dental floss
  • Cotton balls
  • Liquid medication or pills 
  • Cigarette butts
  • Band-Aids
You should also avoid putting solids down your sink, keep cooking grease away from your drains and minimize use of the garbage disposal to prevent clogs.
 
Avoid pouring these items into the sink or garbage disposal:
 
  • Cooking oils/grease
  • Coffee grounds
  • Egg shells
  • Citrus peels 
  • Cleaning products 
  • Paint or paint thinner
Keep the drain field free of heavy objects, like cars, motorcycles, tractors, or other heavy equipment. Excess weight puts pressure on the pipes below, which can lead to broken pipes and expensive repairs. 
 
Never plant trees near the drain field; roots seek out moisture and can invade your septic tank or drain pipes, wreaking havoc on the septic system. Large trees already present near the drain field may need to be removed.  
 

Contact a plumbing professional 

The average life of a drain field is approximately 25 years, depending on the level of usage and maintenance. Even if you do everything right, you still might encounter septic tank problems simply because your system is old.
 
Sometimes you need a pro to handle your plumbing problems. One of our 5-Star technicians can get to the bottom of whatever is causing you grief. Give us a call at 1-877-740-6657 or contact us online today.

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