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How to identify septic tank problems and know it’s still working well

There are many reasons why you would want to know the health of your septic tank. For starters, septic system components are costly so you want to maintain your system well to make them last longer. Additionally, septic tanks and drain fields are usually hidden beneath the ground which means it is possible to have a potentially expensive problem with the system and not even know it. In this article, we will discuss how you can tell whether or not your septic tank is doing well.

how to know if septic system is doing well

The age of the septic tank (old = more problems)

Septic systems do not last forever. In fact, the government expects you to replace any septic system that is too old. It is estimated that a conventional septic system will last for 25-30 years after which a new one will need to be installed. So before you check for any other sign, start by finding out how old the septic system is. Knowing the age of the septic tank will help you to know what maintenance steps to take. That said, age is often not a big issue as long as the septic tank was being maintained properly. It’s only that the government takes pollution quite seriously and if the tank is more than three decades old, the government will probably start to think of potential pollution by your system and carry out inspections to look for it.

The pumping schedules

If your septic tank hasn’t been pumped in a while, there is a good chance you are sitting on a ticking time bomb. This is especially true if you use a lot of water in the house. Depending on your province, you should pump your tank every 2-5 years. The table below shows the frequency of pumping required per province.

Province Recommended Septic tank pumping frequency
Ontario 2 years
Quebec 2 years
Nova Scotia 3-5 years
New Brunswick 2-3 years
Manitoba 3 years
British Columbia 3-5 years
Prince Edward Island 3 years
Saskatchewan 3-5 years
Alberta 3-5 years
Newfoundland and Labrador 2-4 years

For the avoidance of doubt, you should have a documented pumping schedule. This will help you to know how long ago your tank was pumped and when the next pumping is due.

Signs of leaks

A failed septic tank can lead to leaks. Unfortunately, some of these leaks are quite subtle and most people won’t even realize they have a problem. One way of knowing if you have a leak is to check the liquid level of your tank. The liquid of the tank should ideally be 8-12 inches from the top of the tank. When a tank has a small leak, it might go unnoticed. Because of the constant use of water in the house, the septic tank will continue to be filled with new wastewater. Inspecting the yard can also reveal if you have a leaking tank. If you notice that there is a section of the yard that has greener grass than the rest of the area, there is a likelihood that the tank is leaking. Puddles in the yard, especially when it hasn’t rained could also be evidence of leakage. Leaks happen for two main reasons. Firstly, it could be due to some structural damage to the tank or plumbing. Secondly, the leaks could be as a result of a blocked drain field. Structural damages are quite rare so most leaks are as a result of a blocked drain. In this case, you can correct the situation by using biological additives which will help to introduce billions of bacteria into the system. The bacteria will digest the organic waste that is blocking the system and that should restore it to its normal working condition.

Smelling something bad? Another septic tank problem

Septic odors are a byproduct of the process of digesting organic waste by the anaerobic bacteria. The gases that are released in this process include hydrogen sulfide which has a rotten-egg kind of odor. Other gases include methane and carbon dioxide. When a septic tank is functioning properly, these odors shouldn’t escape the septic system and linger in the house or even in the yard. Venting usually ensures that these odors don’t get into the house. The vent allows for equalization of pressure in the plumbing as water drains through. If you hear gurgling sounds in the toilets, sinks, and tubs, it is an indication that the plumbing vent has failed. This will ultimately result in septic odors getting into the house. Apart from failed vents, odors can also come from wastewater that is backing up as a result of a blocked drain field or a full septic tank. If you smell any septic odors in the house or outside it, it is a sign that all is not well and you should get it fixed as soon as possible.

Signs of pollution

When a septic tank fails, it can result in pollution. It shouldn’t really get to the point of pollution but some septic tank owners may be oblivious of the failure and only notice when there is visible damage. When a septic tank is not functioning properly, it will not treat the wastewater properly. This means that pathogens will not be sufficiently removed from the wastewater.  If the failed septic tank is located near a water source, contaminants could get into water thereby causing pollution of drinking water. The pathogens from the septic tanks can cause diseases like typhoid, cholera, hepatitis A, and gastrointestinal illness.  Wastewater also has a lot of nitrogen, mostly from urine, and when not treated properly, the nitrogen and phosphorus can result in nutrient pollution of lakes, rivers, and other water bodies. Because of the introduction of excess nutrients in these water bodies, some of the aquatic plants will overgrow which causes a dangerous imbalance in the ecosystem.  If you live near a large water body and you notice an algal bloom, this could be an indication of nutrient pollution.

Testing your system is a good way to see if you have a problem with your septic tank

The easiest way to know for sure if your septic system is still doing well is to perform a non-intrusive test by using our tracer dye tablets. All you do is flush the tablets in the toilet and wait for up to  2 days. The tablets will dissolve in the water and if your septic tank is not working properly, you will notice a luminous green color around the drain field.

Conclusion

All septic systems are strained from normal use and there is no septic tank that can last forever. Experiencing a hiccup here and there doesn’t necessarily mean that your system needs to be completely replaced. Often times, a simple shock treatment is all you need to restore the system to normalcy. In addition, every septic system owner must take good care of their system. a well-maintained septic system will last for years without failing or causing any problems.

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