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Basement drain

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Dec 08, 2013, 03:52 PM
Basement drain
I have a rental property in Northern MN. When the renters use multiple water sources, dishwasher, shower etc... At the same time the basement floor drain over flows. Some background on the place. It just got a new septic tank this summer, doesn't have a sump pump, it also has been in the single digits the past week. I'm wondering why all of a sudden this is happening. Is it the cold weather slowing down the out flow? Any ideas? Any tips on fixing this?

Thanks for the help in advance!
Dec 08, 2013, 04:07 PM
If your floor drains are tied into your septic line then I would suspect that you have a clogged line leading to the septic. It is very seldom that cold weather affects the drains unless they are above ground. The reason they are fine until multiple water sources feed to the septic is that there is less than full capacity available in the line and it will only drain so much at one time thus causing the rest to back up. Generally if given time they should at least drain down. The larger the clog the more time it takes to drain unless it is completely stopped up.

Generally just having the septic pumped will correct some flow and backup but if you had a new septic installed then there should not be an issue. Maybe they (contractor) didn't connect the line to the tank correctly.

This message has been edited. Last edited by: redoverfarm,
Dec 08, 2013, 04:23 PM
I agree with redoverfarm that it's either in the msin line to the septic tank, the tank itself or the leaching field. Sounds like everything is still working but if there is a lot of flow then it backs up. As the low point in the system, the basement drain is where it will beck up to.

Hard to say which of the three areas has the problem. Getting the tank pumped is the easiest thing to get done, but remember that the tank is supposed to always be full - you just don't want a deep build-up of sludge inside.

The other simple check is to get a camera run down the main line. This will quickly tell you if you have a clog or crushed line between the house and the septic tank.

Both of these are things that you need to hire pro for, so maybe take their advice as to where it's more likely for there to be a problem.

Dec 08, 2013, 09:09 PM
Why was a new system put in? It should not need pumping yet, and if the field lines were properly installed, this should not be a problem. Possible reasons are a partial clog (?tree roots?) in the line to the septic tank, improper connection to the septic tank, or water standing over the septic tank/field line area.
Dec 08, 2013, 10:06 PM
The new system was installed prior to us purchasing the property because the old system wasn't up to code. Do you think I should contact the company that installed the new system or a plumber to come and investigate?

Thanks again for the help!
Dec 08, 2013, 10:30 PM
If it were mine I would eliminate the possibility of a clogged line. Then if that proved to be OK then contact them about the possibility of faulty installation of the new tank connections.
Dec 09, 2013, 10:35 PM
Add to my reply above - i didn't catch that the tank was new. So, forget about pumping it out, no way it could sludge up already. Odds are it's either a clogged or crushed main line to the tank or a clogged / over-saturated leaching field that is backing up into the tank.

Dec 10, 2013, 09:19 AM
The basement floor drain should not be connected to your septic tank, but it will probably be a huge PITA to disconnect it and rerun it.

Given that your floor drain seems to be connected to the tank I assume you have a walk out basement and the septic tank is located at a lower elevation than your basement floor.

I wonder if there is a possibility of a check valve in your main drain beyond the floor drain. I have one on my sewer line because I'm the lowest point. This protects my house from a sewage back-up. However, when it was installed they put it in backwards or something because it caused a slight flood when we ran the washing machine the first time. Laundry Water came up through the downstairs toilet. My understanding was the water would get through slowly which was OK for normal showering and toilet flushing but the washing machine dumps about 40 gallons of water into the drain very quickly so it couldn't trickle out fast enough.

The plumber came back and had it fixed in about 5 minutes.

General Disclaimer

Any advice given here is general in nature and is not necessarily valid for your given area. If in doubt check with your local codes enforcement department for what is required when doing electrical, plumbing or structural work on your house. Permits may or may not be required in your area and home owners may not be able to DIY some tasks. I have no way of knowing if you have the skills needed to complete the tasks you are asking about, when in doubt seek professional assistance.

My advice may be worth exactly what you pay me for it. :-) For the record I did not stay in a Holiday Inn Express last night.
Dec 16, 2013, 07:30 PM
Update: first off I appreciate the advice that everyone has given.

I had a plumber come out and snake the drain. Didn't use a camera but claimed that he hit the septic and there was no clog. He speculated the the drain field was maybe 100 yards plus away (does a septic tank have a drain field?) He also thought that the sub zero weather was causing the problem.

It is a split level and if the direct outflow did run directly to the septic tank it is well below the ground to rule out freeze.

He also thought that the septic tank is full (brand new in May) or that the outflow from the septic is slow. This is all foreign to me, that's why I'm looking to the experts!

Any other ideas I should entertain?

Again, I appreciate the help,
Dec 16, 2013, 08:23 PM
Yes the septic tank does have a drainfield. The waste from the house enters the tank. The water discharges through the discharge pipe to the field. The field disperses the water into the ground. The solids are left behind and are broken down by bacteria. That is why every so often (5-7 yrs) the tank has to be pumped to remove the solids which have worked their way up and covering the inlet of the septic tank coming from to the house.

It is very possible that if the tank has had so little use since it's installation that it had filled up to the point that it is not draining to the field. It might be that the discharge pipe was installed incorrectly within the tank itself or possibly a distribution box (if required)at your drain field. The tank can be inspected internally but you will have to have it pumped first. The spetic tank should be able to be entered via the manhole lid to inspect and/or repair the internal piping.

If you have the tank inspected and it is full then there is a discharge problem which may include the field or any distribution boxes. It is very rare that a septic tank line freezes unless it is set too shallow.
Dec 16, 2013, 08:27 PM
Coming out of your septic tank are field lines. Matter in the tank breaks down because of bacteria, and is then carried out of the tank by the water to the field lines. Field lines are large pipes with holes sitting on a bed of gravel. Field lines, over time, fail because the gravel becomes packed with the matter from the tank. It is my guess that these field lines failed earlier, and the previous owner tried to fix the problem by just replacing the tank.

Every state is different, but in my state a contractor must get a permit from the health department. This permit would show what was done. If a permit was required I would check to see what was done. But I think you will need to replace or add to the field lines. Or, if room is not available because of the size of the lot, you may need to build an alternative system. If your field lines are bad, any real solution will be expensive Frown.

The cold weather should have little or nothing to do with your problems because the field lines should be below the freeze line.
Dec 16, 2013, 11:34 PM
So do you recommend that I contact the company that installed the new septic tank? Should I also see if they pulled proper permits and if they had it inspected?

I want to make sure I follow proper steps here, in case I have to go after prior owner or septic company!

Thanks again
Dec 17, 2013, 01:30 AM
I would go back to whoever installed the tank - not so much to get the tank pumped out but to find out why it was replaced in the first place. A septic tank is just a concrete tank with an input port high on one end and a discharge port slightly lower on the other. Unless it has cracked or been crushed, there is not much else you can do to it.

Also keep in mind that a septic tank will always be full. The thing is, it should be mostly full of fluid with solids settling on the bottom. One potential problem with a fairly new tank is that there hasn't been time enough for bacteria to form - this is what breaks down any solids. It's also possible that floating solids or too much toilet paper, tampons etc have clogged the outlet of the tank.

Since your plumber has determined that the line from house to tank is clear, your problem must now be either a clogged tank outlet or a clogged leaching field. The next step is to check the tank for any clogs as fixing problems with the leaching field means digging it up and replacing it. Considering your location, you may not be able to address that until spring.

Dec 17, 2013, 09:57 AM
All good answers above. Here is a tutorial and video on how your septic system works. Good to know information if you use this as your waste water treatment system.

General Disclaimer

Any advice given here is general in nature and is not necessarily valid for your given area. If in doubt check with your local codes enforcement department for what is required when doing electrical, plumbing or structural work on your house. Permits may or may not be required in your area and home owners may not be able to DIY some tasks. I have no way of knowing if you have the skills needed to complete the tasks you are asking about, when in doubt seek professional assistance.

My advice may be worth exactly what you pay me for it. :-) For the record I did not stay in a Holiday Inn Express last night.
Dec 17, 2013, 05:56 PM
Update #2

I spoke to the company that did recent work on the septic tank. They capped the field drain so the septic tank is now a holding tank. They said they did this because the field drain was too close to the neighbor to be compliant???

The previous owner said they put in a larger septic tank and the disclosure document says it has a drain field. I'm going to dig a little deeper because all this doesn't make sense.

The septic company says we should be getting our "holding tank" pumped every couple months and this is the reason we're getting water in the basement.

Is this common? Any comments on my situation?

Once again. Thank you all for your expert tips and advice!
Dec 17, 2013, 06:15 PM
I've got to say, that's a new one on me.

I can understand the issues if your leaching field is located too close to the neighbor. However, capping the septic tank is not a solution. Currently, it sounds like you have no septic system - all that s**t has to go somewhere.

Never, ever heard of a 'holding tank'. Even at a typical 1,000 gallons, you would need to pump out every few days.

A little history and research is needed here. If you have recently purchased this place then you need to be going back to the former owner (or whoever it was that capped the system). You may need an attorney, but if the tank is capped off then basically you were sold a house without a method of removing it's waste water.

And, if that's what has happened, you will need to be installing a new leaching field - on your property. That, or hook up to a sewer service if it's available.

This message has been edited. Last edited by: Jaybee,

Dec 17, 2013, 10:57 PM
Originally posted by speez16:
The new system was installed prior to us purchasing the property because the old system wasn't up to code.

If I understand correctly, it was installed this summer, or rather in May, and you purchased it after that?

I think I would follow up with the local authorities to determine if a permit was required, and if so, if it was pulled, as you considered in an earlier post.

Although I know little about septic tanks, if there was a permit I would think it would be for a properly installed and operating tank, not a holding tank. So there may be some issues with permit compliance. Based on what I've read by other posters, I wonder if the municipality would even permit installation of holding tanks without access to a drainage field.

If there was permit violation or noncompliance, the municipality may force the contractor to correct the situation. So I would also determine if an inspection was made after the installation.

Also, if I understand correctly, the closure of the tank prevents it from connecting to and discharging into the drainfield.

So the disclosure executed by the homeowner is erroneous, or perhaps false. Or perhaps the prior homeowner didn't understand or wasn't given accurate information by the contractor. Either way, I'd find out more from the homeowner, treading carefully as he/she may sense a liability issue and clam up.

I agree that you may need an attorney. If you decide to retain one, you'll want someone who handles plaintiff construction issues. You could contact your local county bar association and ask for a list of attorneys in those practice areas.

Minnesota probably also has "practice area sections" of its state bar, like Michigan. You could check with the Minnesota State Bar Assn. on how to locate attorneys within those practice areas.

Or try this:

Plug in your city or county and see what you get. You probably would have to start with the broader practice area of real estate and narrow it down to construction law.

This message has been edited. Last edited by: GardenSprite,
Dec 18, 2013, 07:17 AM
Our local code is no closer than eight feet to property line.

Here is what I suspect happened:

The field lines failed. Installing new field lines may not have been an option because of space. Rather than go to the expense of installing an alternative system, the owner just put in a holding tank. Almost no one puts in a holding tank because of the ongoing expense of pumping the tank.

There are alternatives to field line. Visit this site and talk to a competent septic installer.
Dec 18, 2013, 11:43 PM
if it were me..first, ck the piping for a crushed/ root bound pipe....then,
i would get a transit...and shoot the elevation of the inlet to the tank, the outlet of the tank and the tank itself
i have seen new tanks that were put in incorrectly,,,fill dirt under the tank, no compaction..the tank sinks a few inchs
or they will float, if put in and not filled with h2o