Septic system saveable or destined for city sewer?

robin11034September 23, 2011


(Warning this is fairly long ...)

We are doing some research about our septic system to see if it is salvageable or if we are destined for city sewer?

The history:

Ten years ago dh and I bought a house with a septic system. Did some research on how to treat a septic system and immediately told the family, there may be a garbage disposal, but WE are not going to use it.

Septic tank finally rises to #1 on the to-do list and had it pumped. No real problems with the septic system and the company did not say anything except where the leach field was located.

The facts:

1) No city sewer when house was built.

2) Previous owners (at least wife) didn't realize they had a septic system, never had it pumped, and used a garbage disposal. I'm sure it was horrible abused. Red flag #1.

3) Found out when I had the septic tank pumped that the original owner had the leach field put in the back of the lot amongst trees. Red flag #2. From my previous research, I knew that was not good. Still no real problems. Maybe I misunderstood what I read. "Professionals" installed it there.

4) Original owner installed a pool and then concreted over the septic tank leaving just a small clean out cap and pipe to bottom of tank. Should have been red flag #3, but I didn't know any better.

5) Noticed when I was adding to my compost pile that a geyser was gushing from the ground. Definitely red flag #4. "That looks expensive."

After 1st company came to look at geyser:

1) Found the distribution box was completely clogged with roots. Huge alarms going off now, not just raised flags.

2) Distribution box has one inlet pipe (2.5") and one outlet pipe (3.5"). (One outlet pipe seems like not enough.) The outlet pipe has roots coming out. The geyser was fluid being pumped from the pump gushing out beneath the concrete lid. Probably has been going on for awhile, but we didn't notice because it was so far from the house and amongst trees and brush.

3) Since covering of septic tank with concrete, it has probably never been fully and properly emptied and now has hardened sludge.

4) We can't physically repair or replace or relocate the leach field without calling health department out to inspect.

After 2nd company came:

1) Same as first company except to blatantly say the health department will force us onto city sewer.

After more research on our part:

1) $4000 for city to install tap to hook up to the line installed in front of the house about 12 years ago.

2) Recommends, but doesn't mandate, the septic tank be filled with sand. Um, no, it's under concrete; don't want to do that.

3) $???? for plumber to dig trench, lay pipe etc. to the tap.


After days and days of research ... this is what I found.

We can TRY to save our septic system since there is no backing into the house ... yet ... by doing the following. (Okay, okay, I should have followed up on my research 7 years ago when the red flags started going up.)

1) Use RootX to kill roots in pipes from distribution box and and in leach field. It kills on contact and then has an agent to help biodegrade the roots. I know ... it will not be a quick fix (probably a year, maybe more) and will require multiple treatments.

2) After (if) leach field is saved, turn my attention to the septic tank. I've found a product that SUPPOSEDLY (and it does seem to have a good reputation) for breaking up hardened sludge etc.

Does this sound like a plan that has a snowball's chance of working? Or should we just gulp hard and hook up to city sewer ... which is totally grating on dh. Not the $, but that they can even force him to do something he might not want to do.

Robin in NC

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Here's what I've learned living on a septic system for 15+ years and just having gone through adding a second leach field and replacing the tank.

1. Whatever you do, do it according to code. If you ever go to sell your house you will have to get a septic inspection and even if all is well you may be forced to bring the system up to current requirements to execute a sale.

2. If an inspector EVER finds your septic tank covered by concrete he can, and most likely will, red tag you.

3. Rarely ever is there such a thing as a septic repair. If you have field problems then the answer is to correct the acute problem and let the field rest for 3 or more years so it can recover. That presupposes you have the real estate to add a second field to live on while the original field recovers.

4. Septic repair in a can does not exist regardless of what it says on the can.

5. An abandoned septic tank has to either be collapsed and buried or filled and buried.

Considering your options as you stated them, the most cost effective and a legal solution is to join the municipal sewer system and abandon the septic system.

    Bookmark   September 23, 2011 at 2:54PM
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My very limited experience has been that when a municipal sewerage system is built, homeowners are required to hook up to it. That is not the case where you live?

    Bookmark   September 23, 2011 at 6:05PM
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Generally when a city extends their municipal sewer lines into an area that is currently served by septic tanks they DO NOT force anyone to connect to the sewer at that time.

If your septic system is functioning correctly you may continue to use it, but you may not make any repairs to a septic system once the municipal sewer becomes available.

If you were building a new house where they have a municipal sewer you have to pay upwards of $2k for the final connection from your house sewer line to the municipal line however, here is a part that most homeowners are not aware of. Generally when they install a municipal sewer system each homeowner is levied a tax for the municipal sewer. In most areas that tax assessment also includes the "hookup fee" so when it becomes necessary to make the connection to the municipal sewer the final connection fee is already paid. You only have the expense of installing the "house sewer line" from the structure to the point of final connection on the municipal sewer and the cost of properly abandoning the existing septic tank.

In most jurisdictions to properly abandone an existing septic tank you have to have the tank pumped, and in some jurisdictions it must be pressure washed, rinsed and pumped again. Then you have to punch a large hole (generally 1ft in dia.) through the bottom of the septic tank and fill the tank with sand, then backfill over the tank.

Changing from a septic tank to a municipal sewer may also require changing the "Main drain" in your house because septic tanks are generally installed behind the house and the main drain is pitched toward the rear of the structure, but generally the municipal sewer is in front of the house and they have to reverse the pitch of the main drain.

    Bookmark   September 23, 2011 at 6:51PM
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Your system is toast. No hope. No prayer. Do NOT pass Go. Go directly to Jail. You face some pretty hefty fines if you don't hook up to the sewer ASAP, and even then, you may be fined. You're violating code regulations and endangering the health of the community. Your plumbers are required to report you. It would look much better on your part if you attempted to be proactive about the issue rather than trying to skirt around the right and legal thing to do.

    Bookmark   September 23, 2011 at 9:08PM
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All of the rules, tap fees, decommissioning requirements, etc. are local. You can have an anxiety attack listening to the different versions of what people think... Find out for sure so that you know what is involved in your locality.

Good advice from Lurker: Whatever you do, do it to code. You don't want this biting you when you go to sell the house. Also good advise, there's no "Fix in a Can".

There are sewer companies who know the rules in your locality and can deal with the entire job of connecting you to the city sewer and decommissioning your septic. Find a good one by asking around - including your neighbors.

    Bookmark   September 26, 2011 at 9:55AM
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Brief summary of the facts:

1. The Septic system is broken. The effluent sewage is just pumping out like a geyser.

2. Your compost pile is near the geyser of raw sewage.

3. You have to compost because you can not use the disposal.

4. Your husband hates authority and won't be told how to use the bathroom.

5. You live in North Carolina.

My recommendation:

Have you considered using an outhouse? Last time I visited NC I noticed many. That was back in 1998. Maybe these are grandfathered or something.

Seriously, who would pass on a city sewer hook-up? This is a no-brainer.

    Bookmark   September 26, 2011 at 6:04PM
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Probably time to hook up.

Many places will not even allow a new drain field (let alone new septic systems) if municipal sewage is available.

    Bookmark   March 6, 2013 at 2:32PM
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Roots at a d-box in a pump to serial distribution can usually be saved quite easily, the roots are usually in the first 10 to 20 feet of line. It will depend on your health department and the sewer district (which by general statute in NC) has the authority to make you connect. The root killer won't work, at this stage the roots have to physicaly removed, trust me, I see dozens of these a year.

The d-box with one inlet and outlet is quite common for NC systems with pumps. The whole idea was to reduce flow velocity going into the trench.

    Bookmark   March 6, 2013 at 5:03PM
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