Septic systems are an excellent way to provide wastewater disposal for homes too far from local municipal sewers. While most septic systems can last for many years, poor maintenance, age, or environmental conditions can result in early failure. Slow drains are a common symptom of a poorly running system, and this problem may eventually cause wastewater to back up into your home.
Like most plumbing problems, there's not always a single cause for a slow-running system. However, you should never ignore this issue since there's always some underlying cause for a system that isn't draining correctly. Diagnosing and addressing the problem may allow you to avoid much more expensive repairs or replacements.
Residential Septic System Design Explained
The typical residential septic system features a relatively straightforward design. Clogs typically occur in one of four areas, listed here in increasing distance from the house:
- The drain line from the house
- The tank
- The header line
- The drainfield
Clogs in the main drain line usually don't indicate a problem with your septic system, and a plumber can usually solve these issues with a snake or water jet machine. On the other hand, clogs that occur further in the system can indicate a more severe problem. Since solids should never travel past the tank, you should treat slow-running distribution lines and drainfields as serious emergencies.
Why Do Septic Systems Run Slowly?
The leading cause of slow-running septic systems is simply poor maintenance. If you don't pump your septic tank often enough, solids and grease will eventually reach the outlet pipe inside the tank. This situation can sometimes occur rapidly since solid build-up means that the waste levels in your tank are overwhelming the septic system's microbiome.
Once clogs begin to form beyond the septic tank, you can expect your entire system to run slowly and eventually back up into your home. Since your drainfield can't effectively allow effluent to escape into the surrounding environment, that water instead travels back into your septic tank and, eventually, into your home.
Unfortunately, you'll usually need a professional to help you diagnose and repair these problems. If the problem is in your header line or distribution box, a septic system contractor may be able to access and clear the blockage. Drainfield issues can be more severe, and these may require you to take extra steps to restore or even replace your existing drainfield.
Like many plumbing problems, septic system issues will become progressively worse when ignored. If your septic system seems to be running slowly, contact septic repair services so you can avoid a worst-case scenario drainfield or tank replacement.