The first symptom of a septic system back up often is it coming through household drains or from pipes in a cellar or basement. When backups occur, toilets flush sluggishly or not at all. In sever cases, raw sewage is sometimes seen bubbling up through the ground near the septic tank. Odour is always a good indication that something is wrong, as are gurgling sounds coming from the drains when a toilet is flushed or when operating a washing machine.
Septic tank problems can also develop during rainy season when the soil into which the pipes drain become saturated with water. This can be particularly difficult to resolve in areas where the ground water is naturally high, such as near small ponds, lakes, rivers, wetlands, bogs or other low lying areas that fill up quickly when it rains.
In some cases, large amounts of water and household products are more than the septic tank can handle. The worst culprit is a running toilet. Generally speaking, tanks should be pumped out every 4 years. Another recourse is to lighten the tanks load by redirecting machine drains into a separate system if possible and make sure that all toilets are functioning correctly.
If the tank has not been pumped for a while it is possible that some sludge has found it's way into the distribution field pipes. Obstructions at this point limit how much sewage water is able to leave the tank and escape through the distribution field and into the surrounding soil. The more the distribtuion pipes are plugged, the slower the tank will drain, eventually causing it to back up. One visual indication of potential distribution field problems is the atypical thickness of any vegetation growing there, due to increased nutrients in the soil from sewage plugging the pipes.
Septic tanks are primarily large holding units that provide a place for household waste and sewage to go. In a healthy tank, the solids fall to the bottom and decompose over time. Sewage water sits at the top of the tank, and whenever it reaches the runoff pipe, it passes into the distribtuion field via a distribution box. In some cases, a high level of household chemicals in the tank, such as cleaning products, laundry detergent and bleach, interferes with the bacterial action. The solids, or sludge accumulates rapidly and can even clog the distribution field if the tank is not pumped out regularly.