University of Maryland Extension

Possible Signs of Trouble

The septic tank has not been pumped out in the past five years. Even if the system appears to be working well, sludge may have built up to the point where waste water is released without sufficient time in the tank for treatment and settling of particles. This situation may result in pollution of groundwater or cause eventual clogging of the drainfield.

A wet area or standing water occurs above the drainfield. This situation can develop when sludge particles clog the drainfield, when tree roots or broken pipes keep the waste water from dispersing through the entire drainfield, or when water use in the house regularly exceeds the design capacity of the system. When these conditions occur, waste water does not move through the soil as it should, and instead rises to the surface creating a serious health risk and odor problems.

Toilets run slowly or backup: in the worst cases, the basement is flooded with sewage. This can be the result of plugged sewer lines to the tank, a plugged inlet or outlet pipe, a full septic tank, or a failed drainfield.

Septic odors occur in the house, above the tank and drainfield, or escape from the vent pipe. If the system is operating properly, there should be no odors. If there are odors, it can be an early warning sign that the system is failing.

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