Signs of septic system malfunction


Homeowners recognize that their work is never done. Homes require maintenance that runs the gamut from daily tasks like cleaning kitchen countertops to more significant undertakings like replacing roofs. For many homeowners, keeping their homes running smoothly involves tending to septic systems.

Estimates from various sources indicate that roughly one in five homes in the United States has a septic system. Homeowners who live in areas with regional sewage systems may not give much thought to the operation and maintenance of their wastewater and disposal system. But that responsibility typically rests squarely on the shoulders of homeowners whose homes have septic systems. Learning to maintain septic systems so they operate safely and efficiently is essential. Homeowners should know that recognizing signs of septic system malfunction is vital to avoiding potentially costly, messy accidents that can put the health of humans and local wildlife in jeopardy.

What happens when a septic system malfunctions?

The Washington State Department of Health notes that a malfunctioning septic system is a threat to the health of both humans and animals as well as the environment. When a septic system is malfunctioning, untreated sewage can be released and end up in places where it shouldn’t be, such as groundwater, surface water and marine water. That’s true even if it’s not visible to the naked eye. Humans and animals are in danger when septic systems malfunction because untreated sewage contains pathogens and other contaminants that can make them sick.

What are the signs of a malfunctioning septic system?

The DOH of Washington State notes that properly maintained septic systems should provide reliable service for many years. Part of that maintenance is keeping an eye out for these signs that suggest a system is malfunctioning or failing:

  • Water and sewage from toilets, drains and sinks is backing up into the home
  • Bathtubs, showers, and sinks drain very slowly
  • Gurgling sounds are coming from the plumbing system
  • Standing water or damp spots near the septic tank or drain field
  • Bad odors around the septic tank or drain field
  • Bright green, spongy lush grass over the septic tank or drain field, even during dry weather
  • Algal blooms in nearby ponds or lakes
  • High levels of nitrates or coliform bacteria in water wells

Homeowners with septic systems should make tending to those systems part of their routine home maintenance.  FH218209