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There’s a Backup: Plumbing or Septic Tank Problem? [Video]

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Backup: plumbing or septic tank problem

When your plumbing backs up and into the house, it can be hard to tell if you should contact a plumber or a septic maintenance provider. Although plumbers and septic maintenance providers may seem to deal with the same type of septic system problems, the truth is these two businesses do not overlap; a plumber does not have the knowledge required to fix septic systems, and we are not equipped to resolve plumbing issues.

Here’s a quick video from Chad with some tips on how to know when to call a septic system maintenance provider like Van Delden or a plumber when your plumbing begins to back up.

If you are experiencing septic backup, try checking the septic system’s cleanout. The septic systems cleanout is the short PVC pipe with removable cap that sticks out of the ground between your house and the septic tank.

  1. If you do not see any backup in the septic cleanout, we recommend you contact a plumber, as this is an indicator that the wastewater from your home is not making it to the cleanout.
  2. If the cleanout does contain backup, it could be from the septic system or it could be a blockage between the cleanout and the tank. In this case there’s a 50% chance you need a plumber, and a 50% chance you need a septic maintenance provider.

Check your septic tank’s liquid level

If your septic tank is exposed, or if you are willing to dig up the lid of the tank, try looking directly into the tank to see if the liquid level is normal or overfull. Normal liquid levels indicate you should call a plumber; an overfull tank means you should contact a septic company.

Your septic system’s age can be a factor

If you do not have a cleanout or cannot check your septic tank’s liquid levels, there is no way of knowing for certain which service is needed; however, your septic system’s age can help you determine who you should be calling for the issue at hand.

The average life of a septic system is approximately 25 years, depending on its usage and maintenance. If your septic system is newer, you may want to consider calling a plumber before you call a septic system maintenance provider. If your septic system is older, there is a greater chance you are experiencing a problem that is directly related to your septic system.

Having problems with your septic tank? Sign up for a free phone consultation with a septic system specialist. No sales pitches, just answers to your septic system questions and concerns — we promise! Call us today at 830.249.4000 (Boerne) or 210.698.2000 (San Antonio).


23 thoughts on “There’s a Backup: Plumbing or Septic Tank Problem? [Video]

  1. I have standing water in 2 of my bathroom’s tub/shower. I had the septic system pumped out yesterday so I know that isn’t the problem. It seems to flow freely when tested before the technician left. What should I do?

    • Suzanne,

      If you tank was just pumped yesterday, then it likely has not filled back up yet to the point where water would flow to the drainfield. So if you are continuing to have a backup in the house, it sounds like a plumbing issue. I would suggest contacting a plumber to investigate further.

  2. Have a septic system that was pumped 7 months ago. Yesterday the clean out caps came off and had waste from toilets all over ground by 2 bathrooms. There was standing water in each clean out and clean out by septic. This morning there is no standing water. My first reaction is the tank is full again and there is an issue with my leach lines. Does this sound like my tank is full?

    • It’s hard to say without opening the tank lid and knowing where each cleanout is located. Its possible you had a blockage between the house and the tank. Or it could be that the system was backing up but since you likely didn’t use much water overnight, the system had time to absorb the water. Are any of the cleanouts located past the tank? If you have a cleanout past the tank that was overflowing, then that means the drainfield wasn’t working. Check for leaking faucets, running commodes, etc. that could cause a system to flood out. You may just want to keep an eye on it to see if it happens during high-water use times. Otherwise, I recommend calling either a plumber or septic company, depending on where you want to start. It could still be a 50/50 chance one way or the other (unless cleanouts PAST the tank were overflowing – that is definitely an issue with the septic system).

  3. My upstairs toilet and tub are backed up. When I plunged the toilet, all the water just backed up into the tub. We had this same issue about 6months ago and had a plumber remove the toilet from the floor and snaked it. It seemed to work fine but now it’s happening again. We have a septic system and I’m assuming we have an external clean-out by the tank but haven’t check it. No other toilets in the house are backed up though. Do you think there’s something more serious going on other than just the typical back up? And if so, do you think they can clear it out using the external clean out rather than having to remove the toilet again? I’m thinking he may have done it this way before because the toilet’s on the second floor and that access was closer to the problem/maybe he didn’t know where the external clean out was? I have no idea:( Just hate the idea of having to clean this the same way without addressing an underlying issue.

    • Well, I’m not a plumber, so I can’t say what the best route is for them to investigate the backup. However, since the backup is localized to the upstairs facilities, it would be extremely unlikely that the back up is due to your septic system. If you had the plumbing for the toilet snaked out 6 months ago and you are having the same problem again, you may want to consider having the plumber use a camera to determine what is causing the problem so that you are better informed of the best way to correct it.

  4. My toilets are backing up into the shower, the septic tank has been emptied about a month ago…If I open the cleanout under the house everything goes down and is ok for about 5-10 flushes then it happens again. What could be the problem?

    • It could either be your system is backing up (your tank fills back up within a week usually) because the drain field may not be working correctly, or you might have a blockage. I’d call the septic cleaning company and ask if the level in the tank was normal, or overfull (backed up). If it was backed up before, then that’s probably your issue again. If it was not backed up before, then you might want to call a plumber first.

  5. Mt roilet started leaking from the bottom of it about 4 days ago. Right before that i remember plunging down an excessive amount of this new thicker toilet paper we have been using for the pass week. Now my toilet barely flushes, but it does flush and i have a backup in my bath tub. The septic was empty of fluids only about 6 weeks ago. Just enough to take it below the flow pipe ( the pipe that leads from the house to the septic). I have been in a similar position before the the tub filled with what ever was in the toilet. Now it looks like just dirty tissue in the tub every time i flush. Also the toilet still leaks

    • It sounds like you might have a plumbing blockage. Have you tried calling a plumber?

  6. Had our tank pumped abut 7 months ago give or take. We have 2 bathrooms here and the one works fin but the other flushes fine in the morning and then as the day goes on it doesn’t want to flush at all. We plunge it and it’ll go down but we hear gurgling in the sink. Tank has water above where the grease trap/ filter is…about 4 inches or so…any thoughts or advice is appreciated.

    • Are you home all day? When you sleep at night and no one is using any water in the house, the system may have time to allow the wastewater to percolate in the soil. But when you are at home and using water (adding water to the system), it sounds like it cant handle that water. If you have water over your tank, that is a sign that your septic system may be the culprit vs a plumbing blockage.

  7. For the past month or so, we have been having a slow toilet drain in both the toilets. The water will rise and stay risen for a couple of hours and then drain slowly but the content in the toilet remain there. We have a septic system and had it pumped a year ago. We checked the main tank but doesn’t look like there’s any blockage. Not sure what to do at this point. Any advise would be appreciated.

    • Have you had a plumber out to determine there is no blockage in the plumbing, and that the pipe from the house to the tank is clear? Does it happen every time you flush, or just when there have been periods of higher usage in the home?

    • It happens every time we flush in both toilets. I wasn’t sure if I should contact a plumber or someone who deals with septic tanks. I’m a first time homeowner so this is all new to me!

  8. I have all drains running slow and sometimes backing up. I check the clean out and there is some standing water at the bottom if the line , probably a 1\4 of the horizontal line with standing water. How can I check it better in order to know who to call. Thanks

    • If you only have 1/4″ of standing liquids in the cleanout at the same time that your drains are running slowly, then my guess is that you might just have some clogged drains….but no guarantee until its really checked by a professional. Are these slow drains the ones closest to the cleanout/tank? If not, then the changes are better that its clogged drains or a blockage in the plumbing. Sometimes a lack of fall in the pipe between the house and tank or a belly could cause a little standing liquids. In most cases, if the septic system is backing up that bad towards the house, then your cleanout would likely be completely backed up as well. I hope that helps.

  9. We had our septic tank cleaned out a few weeks ago because it was backed up into our yard and our toilet wouldn’t flush most the time. After we had it done our toilet flushed fine but now about every third time you go to flush it won’t go down. I have to plunge for about 20 minutes before it’ll go down. We don’t put any toilet paper in there at all. Any suggestions? Thanks

    • If your toilet back-up seemed to dissipate right after the tank was pumped, but is starting to happen again, it sounds like your drain field is not accepting the amount of water that you are using. You also mentioned you had backup into the yard…do you mean liquids were surfacing over the tank or drain field? if so, this is another sign that your system is not working properly. See the link below for further information as well.

      http://www.vdwws.com/2013/03/help-my-septic-tank-is-full/

  10. We have a clubhouse. Every time we leave and dont come back for awhile the toilet has waste in it. We just flush and it fine. Is this normal?

    • I can’t say I’ve heard of that before. That’s pretty odd especially if no one is using the system. Maybe someone is playing a prank on you?

  11. Where would I find my clean out at. I believe I saw one when I moved in 10 years ago but I can’t remember where.

    • The cleanout is usually between the house and the tank. Most cleanouts are 4″ PVC with a cap. You might want to contact your local septic department to see if there is a permitted drawing of your system, which may indicate the cleanout location (but even then, drawings are not always accurate).

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