Three Common Problems With Older Septic Tanks

With the right care and attention, a septic system can last as long as a few decades, but older systems are more likely to experience problems that can cause more frequent backups and necessitate more frequent pumpings. By keeping an eye out for these issues and having your tank pumped regularly, you can keep your system running longer and know what repairs or replacements may be necessary in the future.

Decreased Capacity 

In a healthy septic tank, there are three "levels" of waste. At the top of your tank is scum, below that is effluent, and at the bottom is sludge, or solid waste. The effluent, or liquid layer, is drained out slowly into your leach field, and scum is constantly being broken down by bacteria in your tank. The layer of sludge, however, is there to stay until your tank is pumped. With regular pumping every few years this doesn't usually present any problems, but with older tanks, or tanks that have gone several years without pumping, this sludge can solidify, making it hard to remove with the typical pumping. Over time, this can mean the amount of waste your tank can hold lessens, which will require more frequent pumping.

If there is no damage to your tank, this solidified sludge layer can sometimes be removed by having the tank cleaned as well as pumped. Cleaning isn't the same as pumping and refers to methods used to clean solidified sludge from the inside of your tank. This is typically done by trying to mix the contents of your tank up to dislodge the sludge without damaging your tank. If there is damage, such as when roots break through the bottom of the tank to grow into the sludge, the sludge may have to remain. In this case, you can still pump and use your tank, but it will lose its effectiveness until it is replaced.

Degrading Drain Fields

Your drain field is the primary component responsible for letting you go up to a few years without needing to drain your tank. The middle layer in your tank composed of liquid waste drains through the drain field, or leach field, getting slowly absorbed into the soil surrounding your drain field. As time goes on, the drain field starts to lose its ability to carry liquid and let it absorb. One problem common to older septic systems is a buildup of sludge; if a tank isn't emptied as often as it should be, it can overfill with sludge, which proceeds to slow into the drain field. This blocks some or all of the drain field and means the tank will fill up much more quickly in the future.

Because drain fields can't often be repaired, the typical solution is to have the drain field replaced completely. One alternative, if you have enough land nearby to use this option, is to install a second drain field without removing the first, then switching your tank to use that drain field instead. This can solve many backup problems, but your tank will need to be emptied on a regular basis to prevent the same problem from happening in the future. In addition, practice maintenance like preventing plant growth over the field to prevent root damage and avoid driving or parking vehicles on the soil over the field. This can compact soil, make the soil less capable of absorbing liquid and potentially damage the pipes with the weight.

Deposits in Sewer Pipes

Drain and sewer pipes are made of many different materials, including cast iron, which is common with older septic systems. Cast iron is durable and long-lasting and can go several decades without needing replacement. However, over time, cast iron pipes can develop corrosion deposits in the interior of the pipe, which get larger over time. This buildup process is also called tuberculation. These deposits effectively reduce the area through which waste can travel, which can make draining slower and make it easier for waste or paper products to get stuck, resulting in sewage backup even if you have your tank pumped on a regular basis.

The good news is that if the pipe is otherwise undamaged and in good shape, the section of pipe with this deposit buildup can be fixed using a process called descaling, where the deposits inside the pipe are broken down and left to drain harmlessly away. If you find yourself getting frequent sewer line clogs, ask your septic pumping specialist to examine this pipe, and see what they recommend. Descaling tends to be less expensive than completely replacing the pipe, so it's worth the inspection.

For more information, contact a septic service business like Economy  Septic Service.