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Thread: septic tank problem, or not?

  1. #1
    DIY Junior Member bounced's Avatar
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    Default septic tank problem, or not?

    Hello all,

    I have yet to find a local plumber I have absolute confidence in so I thought I might get a second opinion here.

    A few days ago, we started having slow draining from both bathrooms (tub & toilet) in our house - drain pipes for both meet near septic tank. Since it'd been about 5 years since I've had the septic tank pumped, I knew that was overdue, so I called and had some guys come out. They said that the tank seemed healthy except for the fact that the inlet t-pipe was clay and had collapsed (house built in '57 so seems plausible - the outlet t was PVC so they said that'd been replaced at some point). Later that day, the slow draining had turned to nearly completely clogged up, so I called again. The plumber said that until I had the t-pipe replaced, I'd have problems and that he could come clean the line with an electric auger but he'd make no guarantees that would solve the problem. I had him try that (I wasn't at home for the procedure , so I have no idea of the effort he put forth), and for 36 hours it seems to have worked, showering and flushing without problem...but then we tried a few loads of laundry and now we're back to very very slow draining. Everything is bubbling also - if any water is run in the tub the toilet starts bubbling, for instance.

    Would a collapsed inlet t-pipe cause this? I was wondering if maybe the venting is now a problem due to the previous back up - could that explain the bubbling? Or if there could still be something clogging up the pipe between where the two bathrooms' drain pipes meet up and the septic tank?

    He did say that since the inlet pipe had collapsed they didn't jet that off like they'd normally do.

    Unfortunately, replacing the inlet t-pipe would be a huge hassle as the previous owner built a patio over the tank near the house , so I've been off-handedly quoted a price of $1000 for the repair job if I take the patio down.

    Does this all seem legit to you experts?

    TIA!

  2. #2
    DIY scratch-pad engineer leejosepho's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by bounced View Post
    ... if any water is run in the tub the toilet starts bubbling ...

    Would a collapsed inlet t-pipe cause this?
    Yes. The tub water cannot get through the septic inlet, so it fills the available area and thereby forces air back up through the toilet. That might not happen if the vent were directly behind the toilet, but venting is not your problem there.

    Quote Originally Posted by bounced View Post
    ... Or if there could still be something clogging up the pipe between where the two bathrooms' drain pipes meet up and the septic tank?
    That sure seems to be the case.

    Quote Originally Posted by bounced View Post
    He did say that since the inlet pipe had collapsed ...

    ... replacing the inlet t-pipe would be a huge hassle ... I've been off-handedly quoted a price of $1000 for the repair job if I take the patio down.
    It sounds to me like the plumber wants the patio out of the way in order to use an excavator rather than a shovel, so I would either begin digging myself or find someone else.

    Disclaimer: I am a DIYer and not an "expert", per se'.
    "Great minds discuss ideas, average minds discuss events and small minds discuss people." --Eleanor Roosevelt

  3. #3
    Moderator & Master Plumber hj's Avatar
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    "Clay tee pipes" do NOT collapse, they crack and break. I do not know what he means by it has ''collapsed" because it would normally just crack and fall off, thus NOT causing any drainage problems. Without a little more description of what HE thinks is the problem, I am not confident about his diagnosis. The pipe to, and into, the tank should be either cast iron or plastic, so that would not normally be where the stoppage is. I would want to see both the tank INLET pipe and the line to it, while the house is backing up to make a recommendation, and fix it. Right now, and given what you have described, the "tee" should not be the problem and should NOT need replacing to fix it, but it can create some "long term" problems with the tank's operation and should eventually be repaired.
    Licensed residential and commercial plumber

  4. #4
    DIY Senior Member Smooky's Avatar
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    Here in NC no T is required on the inlet side of the septic tank. It is required on the outlet. All new tanks have a baffle with the first compartment being about 60-75% percent of the total volume of the septic tank. You might be having a problem with the drain field (leach field) on the outlet side of the septic tank. Over time grease can can get out into the drain-field if the tank is not pumped. Also roots can clog up the drain-field pipes. Fines fill-in the voids in the gravel trench and soil etc. Here in NC we have to get a repair permit for septic repairs. Someone from the county Environmental Health Department comes out and determines what has to be done. There may not be a charge in some counties for a repair permit. Then you hire a septic contractor to come out and do the work. When the work is done the county inspector comes back to make sure everything was installed according to the repair permit. If you open the septic tank and if the level is above the outlet then you will know the problem is in the drain-field. The inlet should be about two inches higher than the outlet. If there is a back-up in the house but no problem in the septic tank then the problem is in the house plumbing on the inlet side of the septic tank.

  5. #5
    DIY Junior Member bounced's Avatar
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    Thanks guys, I believe the original plumber said the tee had cracked and fallen to the bottom, but I might be misquoting (that's what I meant by collapsed).

    Anyway, I went ahead and pulled the patio down this morning. Hated to do it but it really does seem like somebody wasn't thinking clearly when they put it there (it was 10X10 and only about 3 feet off the ground and directly over the septic connection). Not sure anyone could have gotten to the inlet with it in the way.

    Anyway called back and they're coming out in a few hours (talked to a different guy this time). Said maybe the inlet t isn't the issue because he doubted the tank (1000 gallon) would already be full with 3 days with only two of us living here (and I wondered about that too.) Might still be some obstruction near the entrance to the tank.

  6. #6
    General Engineering Contractor ballvalve's Avatar
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    You absolutely need an inlet tee, you cannot dump the turds on TOP of the floating cake. That in itself can block the inlet.

    Put all pvc to the tank if you're digging. Call a septic INSTALLER not a plumber.

  7. #7
    DIYer, not in the trades LLigetfa's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Smooky View Post
    Here in NC no T is required on the inlet side of the septic tank. It is required on the outlet. All new tanks have a baffle with the first compartment being about 60-75% percent of the total volume of the septic tank...
    No Tee on the inlet here either. Even if there were not a baffle, the outlet Tee should keep the floaters from leaving the tank and plugging the field.

    The only way a missing inlet Tee can clog the inlet line is if the field is so flooded that floaters are reversing into the inlet pipe. If that is the case, you have bigger issues that replacing a Tee would not solve.

    I really don't understand why there would be any more digging involved to replace an inlet Tee than what would be required to pump out the tank unless they are only daylighting the manhole on the one side of the baffle and not the other. We always open both manholes to get access to both sides of the tank otherwise it's just a half-assed job.

  8. #8
    General Engineering Contractor ballvalve's Avatar
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    Have'nt you been in a modern tank? even a much older one? There is a center baffle that keeps the cap in the first chamber. If your cap is in the second chamber you got a big issue. If you have a tank with no divider its time for a change.

    Many new tanks have a cast cement baffle at the inlet, and those are the ones that do not need a tee. Because the MFG knows there are guys out there that dont get it. All the tanks I buy INCLUDE the inlet and outlet tees prebuilt. Won't pass without them.

    Dumping effluent on top of the cap is disturbing what must be a quiet zone with nothing to cause undue drops to the bottom.

  9. #9
    DIYer, not in the trades LLigetfa's Avatar
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    I'm fully aware of the centre baffle as is evidenced in my post or did you not read it all? That is why I open both manholes. If the first chamber is not pumped out you are just wasting money. The first chamber is where most of the solids settle and it's the solids that need to be pumped, not the liquid.

  10. #10
    DIY Junior Member bounced's Avatar
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    Ok, so they came back out. Without the patio in the way, they were able to open the other access and get to the inlet. It is broken, the top part has fallen off right at the intersection, so I think it's pretty useless as is.

    The water level was not up to the inlet, however, so the inlet wasn't the source of the problem. The guy used a spartan 300 from the sewer side to clear out the drain. Eventually a pretty good-sized root ball came out and the water ran freely. So it was just obstructed.

    So now I guess I've got two issues: a root-compromised line and the inlet T. Once again they said they'd charge around $1000 to install the inlet T and replace the compromised section of the pipe. Does this sound like a fair deal? The original cast iron drain line goes underground down in the crawl space for about 6 feet before reaching the tank.

  11. #11
    General Engineering Contractor ballvalve's Avatar
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    fix the tee and rod out the roots every 20 years from the existing pipe.

  12. #12
    Moderator & Master Plumber hj's Avatar
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    quote; I really don't understand why there would be any more digging involved to replace an inlet Tee than what would be required to pump out the tank

    The "T" is embedded in the tank wall so they probably have to excavate the exterior of the tank to get to the pipe to install a new fitting.
    The pipe from the house appears to be cast iron, so the "root ball" must have grown where the pipe enters the tank, which is where the broken "T" is also.
    Licensed residential and commercial plumber

  13. #13
    DIYer, not in the trades LLigetfa's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by hj View Post
    quote; I really don't understand why there would be any more digging involved to replace an inlet Tee than what would be required to pump out the tank

    The "T" is embedded in the tank wall so they probably have to excavate the exterior of the tank to get to the pipe to install a new fitting.
    The pipe from the house appears to be cast iron, so the "root ball" must have grown where the pipe enters the tank, which is where the broken "T" is also.
    Easy once you have the benefit of hindsight.

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