Snow melting over the septic tank - might be normal or might indicate a problem - an expert can find clues and perform tests that reduce risk of a costly surprise

Signs of Trouble With Septic Systems
Easy Guide to Inspection & Testing When Buying a Home With a Septic Tank

Septic tanks and drainfields, what to watch for before you buy: this septic system inspection article discusses other things that can go wrong with a septic tank or septic system, of special concern to home buyers.

Septic backups, failures, breakouts, odors: This document provides advice for home buyers who are buying a home with a private septic system: homes using a septic tank and drainfield or similar soil absorption system. Here we describe what goes wrong with septic systems and their various components.

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Other signs of trouble with a septic system

Slow Building Drains can indicate septic system trouble

Photograph of a slow-flushing toilet - water backing up to the top of the toilet rim. The following section of our buyer's guide to a property with a septic tank recommends and describes septic inspection and test methods in more detail, explains how to be sure your septic inspection and septic test are conducted properly, tells you where to get more septic system information about a given property, and warns of unsanitary or dangerous site conditions.

Slow or sluggish fixture drains: Slow flushing toilets (such as shown in this photo), shower or tub or sink drains, can indicate a developing septic system problem, though it could also be a partial drain blockage.

That is, slow fixture drains may be system-related but it could also indicate just a clog in the interior piping or sewer line.

You should have the interior piping checked before proceeding with an investigation of the sewage disposal system.

See Diagnosing Clogged Drains: A First Step for Homeowners for a guide in how to determine if a slow drain is a clogged pipe or a septic system problem.

Washing Machine Backups can mean septic system or drywell trouble or even a public sewer line problem

Washing machine backups: Large volume wastewater discharges (such as, washing machines, dishwashers and bathtubs) may cause either a backup, as noted above, or, an overflow of sewage above the septic tank or leaching field.

Photograph of a main drain leak where a washer had been overflowing out of the washer stand pipe drain connection.If this condition is usually at its worst during and/or directly following a heavy rain event, then the septic system is indeed suspect.

If backup alone occurs independent of wet weather, you might first check for a partial blockage of the main drain that has occurred some distance from the house.

In such cases a small discharge will simply be held by the main waste pipe, draining slowly past the blockage, while a large discharge will cause a backup.

Septic or sewage odors can indivcte septic system trouble

Septic or Sewage Odors: Foul septic odors in storm drainage piping, catch basins, footing drain piping or curtain drain discharges may indicate that sewage from your property or an adjacent one is entering these ground water systems.

Photograph of a TIF 8800 combustible gas detector pinpointing sewage odors coming out of a sink drain. Curtain drains or intercept drains can protect septic drainfields in areas of wet soils or surface and subsurface groundwater

See "Sewer Gas Odors diagnosing, finding, and curing septic tank and sewer line smells" and if odors are occurring in wet or cold weather, be sure to see see "Sewage Odors in Wet or Cold Weather - Septic Odors or Sewage Odor Diagnosis & Repair Guide for diagnosing and eliminating cold weather sewer gas odors"

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