As a septic pumping contractor in Southwest Florida, hands down the most common question we receive is – why is my septic system backing up? This is a simple, but simultaneously complicated answer: it’s usually because your septic tank is full. However, the cause behind the symptom of a full tank that is causing your toilets and drains to back up in your home is usually a bit more complicated than that. When it comes to your backed up septic system, there are a few things you should know in order to best troubleshoot your septic system backup.
The structure of your septic system:
Your septic system is a very simple system that uses natural processes to process the waste that leaves your home via your plumbing.
The main system elements are your septic tank and drainfield (sometimes called a leach field). Your septic tank connects directly to the plumbing in your home. Waste goes into your septic tank and solid waste sinks to the bottom. Natural bacteria begin to break down the solid waste, and then the partially treated wastewater (called effluent) exits the septic tank and goes into the drainfield. Your drainfield is a simple system of pipes with holes that spread the water over a large surface area. The soil then filters the effluent naturally and eventually the clean water makes it into the groundwater, recharging the aquifers under your home.
What makes my system back up?
When it comes to the answer of what is making your system back up, it could be a number of things:
- Too much water use
- A malfunctioning drainfield
- A tank that needs pumping
- A blocked septic system filter
- Standing water / flooding in your drainfield
Too much water use
When you have too many house guests or when you’re using too much water, this can cause issues with your system. The system will be become taxed and overloaded, not allowing for enough time for solids to separate from the wastewater can cause issues with unprocessed waste going into your drainfield. It can also fill up your tank and too quickly and if the soil doesn’t have the ability to absorb all the water, it can back up into your home.
Responsible water use is critical not just for your septic system, but to save you money as well. It is best to spread out laundry loads, avoid excessive guests (or order portable toilets for parties), shorten showers and use water as responsibly as possible.
The more responsibly you use your water, the less taxed your system will be, which will prolong the life of your system and help avoid your wastewater backing up into your home.
A malfunctioning drainfield.
A lot of factors can go into a malfunctioning drainfield, but the most common is build up of biomat over time. The effluent that goes into your septic system is partially treated wastewater. While typically the majority of the items in your wastewater are either removed by the septic tank filter or the natural separation process, when your system is often overloaded or you’re pouring things down your drain that you shouldn’t be, this can cause buildup in your drainfield pipes over time.
Perforations in drainfield pipes are what allows effluent to be dispersed slowly over a large area. However, buildup of sludge in your pipes can cause them to become blocked. We outline some of the solutions we leverage when we do drainfield repair in our blog. These include using high pressure water or installing additional vents and clean outs to avoid sludge buildup.
Other issues with your drainfield could be intrusive landscaping (check here to landscaping dos and don’ts for septic system homeowners) or damage from heavy equipment or cars parked on your drainfield.
Your tank needs to be pumped
Your septic tank should be pumped every 3-5 years depending on how many people live in your home and how you use water. The sludge in the bottom of your tank builds up over time and should be pumped out every few years so that it doesn’t begin to accumulate in your drainfield. If your system is backing up into your toilets and showers, it’s likely that your tank may need to be pumped out. At the time of pumpout your technician will perform an inspection to let you know if there are any potential issues with your drainfield or tank.
Slow drains are a symptom that your tank needs to be pumped out, so be sure to watch for this in order to avoid backups in your home.
A blocked septic tank filter
Septic systems often have clean outs and vents or filters that are installed to capture some of the things that don’t belong in your tank. Items like kitchen grease and sanitary products are common things that develop over time and can cause issues in your tank and drainfield. When your system is pumped out, a technician will clean your filter at this time.
They will also likely establish best practices for you and let you know if there are things going down your drain that aren’t ideal for your septic system.
Heavy rainfall / Standing water / Flooding
Heavy rainfall that causes standing water or flooding on top of your drainfield is a big problem for your septic system. Your drainfield relies on effluent absorption through the soil. If soil is too saturated surrounding your drainfield it can be impossible for your partially treated wastewater to be absorbed into the soil, and this may cause your system to back up.
Flooding around your drainfield can cause your tank to overflow, which can cause damage to your septic system. It is important that if the flooding and standing water persist, you contact a septic professional to assist you.
As you can see, many things cause your septic system to back up into your home, so it’s not always something we can diagnose immediately. The most important thing to remember is to use water wisely and know to watch for slow drains. Store a reliable septic contractor’s information and be sure to contact them if you begin to experience any issues to avoid long term damage to your system.
Need help troubleshooting sewage backups or ready for a pumpout?