Emergency Trouble Shooting

For any homeowner with septic system problems, “troubleshooting” involves a limited inspection focused on the specific problem situation.

It is important to identify the type of problem you're having.  These are the most common. If you don't see your issue listed and need service a Site Inspection Troubleshoot is required.

 

1. Septic Alarm is Sounding
The alarm system sounds to give you a warning when the water level in the pump tank has risen above normal levels.

What to do…
While concerning, alarms are installed to give you approximately 24 hours of usage until sewage will start to back up.[1]

Immediate steps a homeowner should take when their alarm sounds:

  • Push the red button or switch on the alarm box to silence the alarm. You will notice two lights located on the alarm box. The green light indicates power to the alarm and should ALWAYS be lit. The red light, when illuminated, indicates the alarm is receiving a signal from the pump tank that water levels are above normal.
  • Check your electrical box to ensure the septic pump breaker is on and the septic system has power.
  • Reduce water usage to a minimum – do not do laundry, do not run the dishwasher, reduce shower length, etc.
  • When power is restored, give it 30 minutes with reduced water usage to see if the red light on the alarm goes out on its own. If so, the system is working properly and just needed time to catch up with the additional or excess water introduced into the system.

Common causes…
The sounding of the pump tank alarm is NOT an indication that the septic tank needs to be pumped. Rather, the alarm may be a result of one of the following:

  • One or more of the septic system’s components may not be functioning (i.e., pump, floats, alarm, timer, etc.). Additionally, if you have an Advanced Treatment System there is a control panel with an alarm, in addition to the pump tank alarm, which activates when there are problems.
  • Ground water is getting into the system. Long periods of heavy rain and too much standing water around the septic tank could cause water to seep into the pump tank.

Homeowner’s Next Course of Action…
If after 30 minutes, the alarm continues to sound and/or the red light on the septic alarm is still illuminated, you need an electrical troubleshoot to determine the cause and corrective actions needed.

The charge for an electrical troubleshoot is $225.

[1] Reserve capacity is 500 gallons, 650 gallons or 800 gallons for a 3BR, 4BR or 5BR house, respectively.

2. Toilets/Fixtures are Slow Draining or Backing Up

 

Homeowners often self-diagnose slow draining bathtubs, showers and sinks, and slow flushing toilets as interior plumbing issues; however, this is not always the case. Slow draining fixtures or dirty water backing up through your interior drains could also be a septic system issue arising either between the house and the septic tank or between the septic tank and the drain field.

Diagnosing the problem…
A rule of thumb to consider, if one fixture is slow draining it is indicative of an interior problem requiring a plumbing contractor. Conversely, if multiple fixtures are slow draining it is indicative of a main line or septic system problem outside of the house. New Jersey Septic Management Group has the equipment and experience to fully investigate and diagnose the direct cause of any issue relating to the main line and septic systems. At the onset of a site inspection troubleshoot, our technicians would inspect the water level in the septic tank.

If levels are determined to be normal, the technician would conclude the issue lies between the house and the septic tank and would:

  • Examine the sewer clean out to see if it is clear of blockages. The sewer clean out is a capped pipe located near your foundation which connects to the lateral sewer line. The lateral sewer line connects your home’s sewer lines to your septic tank.
  • Introduce a video camera into the piping at the sewer clean out and work backwards towards the septic tank to diagnose the exact location and cause of the problem.

If the problem components are buried too deeply and equipment such as a small backhoe is needed to investigate further, NJSMG is equipped to resolve almost any problem. 

Common causes…

  • Clogged Baffle or Piping - A clog can occur in one of the pipes leading into or out of your septic tank. If so, the whole system will stop moving and the wastewater will have nowhere to go causing a backup when you try to use your drains.
  • Damaged Piping – The drainage pipe that leads from your house to the septic tank or the pipes from the septic tank to the leach field can become damaged. Over time, settlement can take place along the foundation or at the inlet of the septic tank causing the sewer line to sag or even separate at the joint causing a blockage. Additionally, excess weight passing over the pipes leading into or out of your septic tank, such as large equipment driving overtop, can cause the pipes to be damaged or crushed. Tree roots can also break through and intrude the piping causing failures.
  • Septic Drain Field Failure – Within the septic system, the septic tank separates solids from liquids, sending the wastewater out to the drain field for treatment. If your septic system is not properly maintained or if irregular items are introduced into the tank, the drain field may become blocked. As a result, water will not be processed and treated which can result in backups.
  • Overwhelmed Septic - The septic system can be functioning properly but become overwhelmed with excess water caused by periods of heavy rain or abnormal usage. If the ground is already saturated, the water treatment process will slow down. If slowed significantly, any water you send down the pipes will accumulate in the septic tank until its full and then start backing up the pipes.

The hourly charge for a site inspection troubleshoot is $295.

3. Yard has a Wet Area and/or a Sewage Odor

 

While normal to occasionally notice a weak smell near your septic tank, if you’re experiencing a strong sewage odor in your yard, wet spots on your lawn like puddles, or especially green and lush grass around the septic drain field, there is likely an issue with your septic system. These issues vary in severity, but our technicians are equipped to diagnose and repair problems both big and small. 

Common causes…

  • Lack of Septic System Maintenance

Septic system maintenance is not complicated but when neglected can result in escaping sewer odors and/or sewage backup. Upkeep typically comes down to two key elements:

    • Pump and Inspect Regularly: As the septic tank is used, waste continues to collect in the bottom of the septic tank. Eventually, the tank will get too full to work properly and will emit sewage odors or cause sewage to back up into your home. To prevent this, the tank must be pumped out periodically. While frequency depends on the size of your septic tank and the number of occupants, household septic tanks should be pumped approximately every three years to keep the septic tank working efficiently. Additionally, the average household septic system should be inspected at least every three years by a septic service professional. A service contract is valuable tool to assist homeowners with an optimal maintenance schedule.
    • Proper Disposal of Waste: Whether you flush it down the toilet, or pour it down the sink, shower, or bath, everything that goes down your drains ends up in your septic system. What goes down the drain affects how well your septic system works. Flushing non-organic waste (i.e., feminine hygiene products, baby wipes, etc.) or pouring oil, coffee grounds, cleaning products or other chemicals down your sink changes the pH level in tank which disrupts the sewage breakdown or clogs the filter inside the tank resulting in a foul odor.
  • Septic Drain Field Failure

Within the septic system, the septic tank separates solids from liquids, sending the wastewater out to the drain field for treatment. Sometimes, whether because of freezing temperatures or because the solids have caused a blockage, the drain field can become clogged and the liquid can not drain from the main tank. If this happens, the tank can fill up and overflow, causing sewage odor to come up through the ground, swampy areas in the yard, or even sewage floating. This is a health hazard and requires immediate attention and repair by a professional.

(NOTE: As preventative maintenance, we also recommend introducing BioOne into your system, which contains biodegradable bacteria cultures that eats some of the solid waste.) 

  • Damaged Piping

Pipes are the connecting factor from your home’s water features to your septic tank and are typically buried underground. Over time, settlement can take place along the foundation or at the inlet of the septic tank causing the sewer line to sag or even separate at the joint. Additionally, excess weight passing over the pipes leading into or out of your septic tank, such as large equipment driving overtop, can cause the pipes to be damaged or crushed. Tree roots can also break through and intrude the piping causing failures. When septic pipes become damaged, it allows sewage to leak and rise-up causing a foul odor and perhaps even areas saturated with raw sewage. This is a health hazard and requires immediate attention and repair by a professional. 

  • System Venting

The plumbing roof vent pipe and yard-based septic vent pipe are a necessary part of your plumbing system. The vent pipes equalize the pressure in your drain system and allow septic gases to exit the system safely. Normally, vents are placed in an area, such as your roof, out of the way of outdoor activities and the gases are carried up and away. However, different climate conditions, such as temperature variances and change in wind direction, can direct the gases back toward your living area. To eliminate or reduce the odor, a carbon filter can be installed on top of the septic vents. These charcoal vent filters are designed to remove the hydrogen sulfide and methane gases from the exiting air. 

  • Improperly Sealed Tank

The septic tank cover is the only visible part of many septic systems and it can also be the source of nasty sewage odors.  Septic tank covers are typically made of concrete, steel or plastic. The lid attaches to the top of the riser to enclose the system in an air and water-tight fashion. This prevents surface water or debris such as grass clippings, mulch, or dirt from entering the tank and prevents gases and odors from escaping the septic system. More specifically, the septic tank lid has a rubber seal to keep odors inside the tank. For safety reasons, the lid is also secured with fasteners such as large bolts/screws. If the rubber seal on the cover deteriorates or if any bolts/screws are missing, the sewer gases may leak out into the yard.

The hourly charge for a site inspection troubleshoot is $295.