Saturday was fun with Pizza and Elastic, but later Saturday night, the gurgles from our slow draining tub returned and during a load of laundry the utility room drain started backing up. Yea!
Luckily hubby was home and I learned a lot from the plumbers who came the last time this happened. And I also half-buried some planter buckets over the septic tank lids last time, so there was no questions as to where to dig. So the first project for hubby on Sunday morning was digging up the septic tank lids.
We scooped out the remaining dirt and even used my little shop-vac to clear away the remaining dirt around the lids because dirt in your septic tank is not good.
So we donned disposable gloves and opened the lid on the "in" side of the septic tank.
And yes... it is disgusting, but not as horrifically smelly as you might suspect.
My first fear was that the tank was too full and would need to be pumped because the waste was high on both sides of the cement baffle in the center, but first thing was first... addressing the question of a clog.
Having had a septic tank in Georgia and here as well, I learned that the most likely place for a back-up is right at the entry area. The baffle that separates the upper portion of the entry from the rest of the tank is rather narrow and toilet paper can accumulate in a thick clog right at the entry, wedged against the baffle. While I had not personally viewed the issue before, this is what the plumber's had described.
So I grabbed an old hoe and sure enough, a thick clog of toilet paper was blocking the entry to the tank and I pulled it away from the entry and spent a little time breaking up the lump.
At this point I still expected that the tank would need pumped out, and knowing the plumber's opened both sides before pumping last time, I set hubby to work digging out the other lid while I went inside and did some googling on how to tell when the tank needs pumped. Surprisingly enough, it has nothing to do with the total level of stuff in the tank, but in the ratio of what is in your tank.
Sure enough, when we opened the lid to the other side, we could see the level of water at the very bottom of the exit drain to the leach field. And it was clearly flowing with no visible issues.
The videos and information I looked up on the computer gave me two methods to determine the ratios of stuff in the tank and testing if it needed to be pumped. The top layer contains scum from oils and grease, the second is the clear water, and the bottom of the tank slowly fills with sludge. Both methods were supposed to tell you how much sludge and scum there is, and a tank will generally need to be pumped out around 1/3 filled with sludge.
The first method I found relied on a light color fabric attached to a board with the idea that the sludge on the bottom of the tank would stick to the fabric when you pull up the board and you could then see how much sludge was in the tank vs water.
The second relied on feeling when the board hit the sludge and using measure marks on the it to see how much further you pushed the board to the bottom of the tank after you felt it hit the resistance of the sludge.
Being new to this, I decided using both methods would probably be best. (Note... both of these methods are tested on the EXIT side of the tank.)
NOTE: UPDATE on 11/9/14 THE INFORMATION I GOT FROM THE WEB WAS INCORRECT AND THE TESTING SHOULD BE DONE ON THE ENTRANCE SIDE OF THE TANK IN A TWO SECTION SYSTEM. Not on the side of the baffle where the waste comes in, but on the other side of that baffle but in the same opening. So both methods failed to tell me anything when done from the exit side of the tank, and I will have to do a new test in the right place when we dig up the lids again... probably in the spring. THIS is where I found information that was MUCH better about inspecting the system correctly
So I stapled light fabric to my board AND marked it with lines every 6 inches.
I felt virtually no resistance in the board as it went down, only guessing that it might have hit some sludge in the last foot or so...
And after I pulled up the board, only the last inch or so showed any black on the fabric.
I feared that maybe both methods had failed and that the board was just too heavy for me to have felt when it hit the sludge, so I tried again with the hoe. My guess was that the light hoe with the wide area of the flat head for sludge to give resistance to would be much easier to feel with. But down it went smoothly with no notice of resistance.
"Great!" I thought. "Neither method works."
But after thinking about it for a little bit, I realized that we had almost no scum at all on the top... so it might then be realistic to have almost no sludge in the bottom, either. So two people in a house rated for 4 (or more), and the fact that it has only been about 2 1/2 years since the last pump out, means that it probably will not need pumped out again for quite some time... if we can keep the clogs at the entry baffle from happening too much.
Of course, this means that back when it clogged before at about 2 1/2 years after we bought the place (with the tank pumped out clean) and the plumbers said "You probably also need your tank pumped soon... do you want us to do it now?"... probably the tank wasn't any where close to needing pumped and I paid the money for no reason at all.
Just another reason to learn how to test and do things yourself... and save yourself a lot of money.
So to double check the drainage, I filled the bathtub a few inches and then we drained it... Happy to watch as the water poured in to the tank freely and exited to the drain-field smoothly as well.
One good thing I learned as well is that most septic tanks are now installed with an effluent filter that keeps the exit water from taking debris to the leach-field and clogging it up. While it is not required on all systems in all counties, it can greatly reduce the risk of damage to the leach-field and extend it's life considerably. And while our lids are dug up, it will be a perfect time to install one, so we have one on order and will install it hopefully next week.
In the mean time, it seemed like a good idea to go ahead and snake the drain from the bathroom to the septic anyway to make sure there were not additional small half-clogs causing slowdowns.
Luckily the drain pipe in our bathroom runs beneath a bench and I attached it with flexible pipes that only take a few pipe clamps to remove.
With the pipe disconnected and painters plastic over the area, hubby was able to push the painters plastic over the drain and fish his "snake" tape down the drain without making a mess everywhere.
Down the pipe it went until I could see it come out into the septic tank.
With everything clear, hubby retracted the snake-tape, we balled up the plastic, and re-clamped the pipe. If you ever have pipe work done, request a clean-out of some sort be placed where you can get to it. It makes things much easier when there is an issue.
And of course, if you have a septic tank, marking the dig spots with a large pot or stepping stones or something also makes life a lot easier when it comes to a problem or time to pump.
So we closed the lids and will leaved them un-buried until we get the filter to install next week.