Need Help! Sewer line backed up.

Discussion in 'Drain Cleaning' started by Duphus, Mar 17, 2007.

  1. Duphus

    Duphus New Member

    I live in a house built in 1950. It originally had a septic system, since at the time of construction it was just outside the city limits. Then, around 1965, it was incorporated into this small town, and sewer connection was mandated.

    About two weeks ago, all the plumbing started draining really slow to the point that if water and toilet use is not spaced apart, the system backs up.

    I have no plumbing skills whatsoever, but because I basicly live on a few hundred dollars per month, I went out and bought a "50 foot flat snake" to try to punch through whatever was clogging the line. Used it. No help.

    So, I decided that maybe I could dig up my sewer line and "snake" it from the outside since it is only about 125 feet from toilet to city sewer.

    Well, to find which direction my "sewer line" runs to the street, I decided to first dig down to it only a few feet from where the line exits the basement. To my surprise, I hit solid concrete about 10-12" down. After some more digging in the same area, it appears that the septic tank is within 12" of the basement wall, which would seem to mean that there is no way that a separate sewer line could have been ran to the house. Evidently, when this house was put on the city sewer system, the previous owner simply hooked the septic tank outlet to the sewer system.

    If so, why has it taken over 40 years for the septic tank to completely fill up and stop up the system? By hooking a septic tank to the city sewer, would not the septic tank continue to need pumping over the years?

    Or, is the tank okay, and is my problem what I originally thought -- tree roots in the sewer line between the tank and the street?

    Any and all HELP, suggestions would be appreciated. As I hinted earlier, I live on a fixed income- poverty level.

  2. leejosepho

    leejosepho DIY scratch-pad engineer

    Digging down to your line is not likely to be helpful unless there is a cleanout fitting somewhere, and there likely is not one outside your house.

    I would doubt the previous owner did the connection himself or herself, and I would be very surprised if that old septic tank is still any part of your system.

    Have you actually opened that tank to see what is inside and/or possibly going on there? Septic tanks are always "full", but poorly-working tanks can build a hard crust of scum that can eventually block either the inlet or outlet, and septic tanks can eventually collect quite a layer of sediment at their bottoms. Since you have already done some digging, dig a little more in that area and see whether you can find an access to that tank. There will likely be two of them, with one at each end. My suspicion, however, is that the top of that tank has been broken down and a new pipe was laid over it to bypass it altogether when your house was connected to the city sewer those many years ago. And if so, whatever clog you have might simply be out-of-reach for a 50' snake.
  3. Duphus

    Duphus New Member

    First, thanks for being the only person who tried to help.

    The closest I could dig to the exterior basement was about 12" due to a large tree root. I was still hitting what is apparently the roof of the septic tank.

    The septic tank would seem to have to be hooked to the sewer since there is essentially no room between the tank and the basement wall -- 12" at most, if the tank ends where the tree root stops me from digging. Putting a 90 elbow in the line immediately outside the basement wall would seem to me to unacceptable, but I'm not a plumber.

    I don't see any other possible way a separate sewer line could have been hooked to the house. Thus, I'm assuming the tank is hooked to the house, and then to the sewer line.

    Originally, I intended to dig up the sewer line in my yard, which I am assuming is the typical clay tile used in this area, break one section, and then "snake" the line to the street. If not stopped up at the tank, then it must be stopped up by tree roots between the tank and the street. I'll then replace the broken section assuming I'm able to clear the line.

    By posting here, I was hoping that a professional could point out any flaws in my assumptions before I kill myself digging anymore, or before I hire a contractor who I can't afford.

    I'm also curious if a professional has seen this done before -- that is, hooking the sewer to the old septic tank, and if so, if the tank could be the source of the blockage, instead of a tree root further down the line?

    Also, is it possible that a flexible line was run inside the tank from its inlet to its outlet -- thereby eliminating the tank operation as part of the system?




  4. leejosepho

    leejosepho DIY scratch-pad engineer

    While there are definitely some great engineers and plumbers here, I am not aware of any professional septic-system folks nearby. So, you are not likely to get many replies at all.

    Calling a drain cleaner out to your place will either get your line cleared and working properly or reveal to you precisely why that might not be possible ... and if necessary, you can decide what to do from there if more digging is required.
  5. plumber1

    plumber1 Plumber

    They could have crushed the top of the tank and extended the old sewer to the street or main sewer.

    What ever you do, put in a couple of clean outs and bring them to the top of the ground.
  6. hj

    hj Moderator & Master Plumber Staff Member

    Cave Creek, Arizona

    1. That flat tape is not going to do you any good, especially if it is roots.
    2. If they had bypassed the septic tank, the cover should have been destroyed and it filled the dirt or gravel.
    3. If you break a hole in a clay sewer, there is no way YOU will ever seal it good enough for that spot not to be the source of future problems.
    4. Regardless of your financial situation, you need a plumber.
    5. If the sewage is still going through the tank it could have taken 25 years to fill with solids.
  7. jadnashua

    jadnashua Retired Defense Industry Engineer xxx

    New England
    They could have connected a pipe where it comes into the tank and just continued out to the street, bypassing the tank and the leach field - removing the tank is not necessary, but it should be filled in.
  8. crossthreaded

    crossthreaded New Member

    i heard you mention tree roots, if they used orange paper or terra cotta pipes the roots could have grown into them.

    if there is a clean out on the elbow flowing out of the house you can take the cap off of it and get a flashlight and look down the pipe and see if it is obstructed.
  9. lovetohelpya

    lovetohelpya New Member

    ...and it could be that you found a chunk of the concrete from the broken up septic tank. I've come across concrete and thought wtf until I dug more, and found that it was a piece of old sidewalk/tank/patio.

    I agree with the suggestion of taking off the cap in the basement and looking in. It will answer a couple of questions. (Have at least one bucket handy if you're backed up. If you're backed up into your upstairs bathroom, have about 5 handy ;) )

    Seriously, as a professional drain cleaner - don't start busting holes into your sewer pipe. If it's clay tile, you are going to crack the whole section you're working on. If it's Orangeberg (tar paper pipe), it's crap anyway and there's NO way to fix your hole without replacing it. That pipe can compress over time to the point that it doesn't even resemble a pipe.

    Some companies come out for free (yes, I said FREE) estimates. If there's any digging to be done during the estimate, do it yourself and it's still free. (While they're there, everytime they start doing something, ask them if it's going to cost you anything - and remind them that you need to know, 'cause you don't have any money on you. I'm not trying to sound like a jerk, but they'll be sure to let you know if it's going to start costing you.)

    "And away go troubles down the drain." tm
  10. leejosepho

    leejosepho DIY scratch-pad engineer

    I have heard some advertising from a company that claims to be able to replace Orangeberg without digging up the yard ...

    How do they do that? Do they have some kind of way to insert a liner or something?
  11. Cass

    Cass Plumber

    They run wire rope through the terracota and starting at the house they pull a bursting head through the pipe then pull a new line behind that to take its place. I would think they would have to camera the line first to be sure it is all pitched right.

    I have also heard of some company that coats the inside of the existing drain pipe with something. I haven looked into any of this as the equipment cost is quite high.
  12. leejosepho

    leejosepho DIY scratch-pad engineer

    I would be a little suspicious of the coating operation unless the line being sealed was still at least mechanically sound, but pulling a flexible line through a bad one certainly makes sense.

    One of the most amazing jobs I ever saw done was when a company needed a communications conduit between two buildings about a hundred yards apart and with a small creek and a couple of trees in-between. The contractor used some kind of water pressure machinery to push a radio-controlled penetrator under a paved area, then dipping even further down to go under the creek just before next going around a tree and eventually popping up just a foot away from the target building!
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