There are times when your septic system fails when sewage backs up into the house or the backyard smells horribly. Repairing or replacing the equipment will depend on what’s causing the problem.
The cost of patching a broken pipe is probably not more than several hundred dollars. It may cost up to $10,000 to replace the drainfield. You need an alternative treatment system that costs at least $15,000.
Here’s how to handle problems when they arise.
Check the water level in the septic tank, or hire a company to pump it for you, if you have sewage in your house. There might be a clog in the pipe between the house and tank if the water is lower than the outlet. The plumber can help.
The problem is the tank or something beyond it if the level is higher than the outlet. It’s best to have your tank pumped ($200 to $400), so you have a little time to figure out what to do next and the pumper can see if there’s an obvious problem, such as a clogged screen.
Drain fields that are saturated from flooding should be emptied after they have dried out since emptying them may cause the tank to float, breaking pipes. Be careful when cleaning up the mess in your house, so you don’t get sick.
In case the drainfield stinks or is wet: Keep people away from any standing water or soggy ground, which can pose a biohazard. You might need a temporary fence if you have children or pets. Make sure your septic tank is pumped and cut back on water use. By following these steps, the odor should be reduced.
The solutions, however, aren’t sustainable. Often, a drainfield fails because the septic tank wasn’t pumped often enough. Layers of sludge and scum can build up so thickly that they prevent wastewater from pooling as ingredients separate.
This allows grease and solids to accumulate in the drainfield and clog it, which results in stinky water rising to the surface. The damage is already done when you notice it, and the drainfield must be replaced.
Drainfields can also fail despite your best efforts. Within 30 years, the beneficial microbes are so numerous that they clog the soil, preventing water from being properly absorbed.
If your drainfield is plugged, your only option is to abandon it and build a new one. Having a new drainfield will eliminate this problem for good. Over time, the bacteria will die because they have no food, and will decompose. You can use the first field again someday when the second plug fails.
When to Repair the Problem
Problems can be solved relatively easily in some cases. It may only be a cracked pipe between the drainfield and septic tank, which is found around $600 in repairs. It is possible that a part might need to be adjusted or replaced if you have an advanced treatment system.
It is possible that the beneficial bacteria could have died off in your aerobic treatment system — a system that uses air to break down waste faster. It may just be that you have to use your systems sparingly for a few weeks.
When to Replace System Components
In most cases, a failed drainfield can’t be repaired. Most likely, you will need to replace some or all of your system.
Treatment and drainfield alternatives can be combined in many ways, and your decisions will impact your costs as well as how your property will be used in the future. It may be worth it to invest more in a compact system if, for example, you are planning a garage in the future.
In some cases, a faulty drainfield may not affect the septic tank itself. Saving $1,000 or more through reusing the tank will keep your yard intact and save you money. The time is now to move the tank if it would solve a landscaping issue or simplify future pumping.
Paying for Septic Repairs
Contact your local health department or environmental agency to find out if you qualify for tax credits or affordable financing for major septic work. By offering low-interest loans, some municipalities use money received from the federal Clean Water Act to finance septic system repairs.