When you have a septic tank it’s easy to forget it’s there, and just to carry on as normal – that’s what is so great about them. However, it is worth taking note of what could potentially go wrong so that you’re not caught out if there is an issue.
There is little that can go wrong with the septic tank itself; it may suffer structural damage, or begin to deteriorate over time but the majority of problems with septic tanks occur with the plumbing and the soakaway system.
Unfortunately all septic tanks and soakaway systems will eventually have problems.
The most common problem with a septic tank is the most common problem with any plumbing or drainage system: a blockage. A blockage in the pipe between your home and the septic tank can usually be cleared fairly easily with plumbing equipment. Sometimes you may find that a blockage is caused by tree roots entering drainage pipes. This can be harder to clear, but a professional will know the best way to go about resolving the issue.
If there has been a period of exceptionally wet weather you may find that your septic tank begins to overflow, with septic tank effluent appearing at ground level or backing up the pipes of your system. It is worth noting that any septic tank whose effluent finds its way into ditches or streams – however this may occur – must be replaced with a sewage treatment plant by January 2020 – or before this date, at point of sale if the property is sold.
Sometimes the soil surrounding the soakaway can become clogged. If sludge and scum is not removed periodically from the tank – we recommend every 3 years or so – they can accumulate and be transported to the soakaway. This transportation of solids from the septic tank is the most common type of failure with this type of system. If a regular maintenance schedule is not adhered to, the perforated distribution drain pipe or the pores in the earth walls of the soakaway can easily become clogged.
If you have a malfunctioning soakaway, you may notice unpleasant odours, persistent wet spots or excessive green growth in any areas of the system. You may also notice that your waste plumbing becomes slow and sluggish over time, and your system may begin to back up into your bath or shower. If there is a problem with your soakaway, these problems will persist even if your septic tank is pumped and cleaned, or has been recently.
One worryingly common cause of problems with septic tanks is that they are often not emptied as often as they should be. A septic tank can only hold one year worth of sludge and must be emptied every twelve months. Another issue that often does not occur to people is the problem of more people using the system. You may have purchased a house which previously had only one or two people living in it and you are a family or four or five people, you may find that the existing system – especially the soakaway – cannot cope with the extra daily flow.