Old house new septic - where do they connect? Can't find the blockage.

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Wausau, Wisconsin
Long time lurker first time poster! You all have helped me so much via solving other people's problems I'm hoping you can help with mine.

I bought an 1887 farmhouse a couple of years ago in foreclosure. After the farm closed and the last family member went into the nursing home it had three different owners in quick succession, was left empty for a while and now I have it. I have no records of anything and I have a mystery plumbing problem on my hands! This is a very long story but I’m hoping the details causes someone out there to go AHAH!!!

The kitchen and bathrooms sit directly above the old stone basement. I can visually see and access all the plumbing pipes in the basement. One reason I bought the house is because a brand new well and a brand new septic had recently been installed.

Winter of 2018 my water froze. After confirming that no pipes inside the house were frozen and after tipping tons of piping hot water down my well head and steaming the line, a well company came and dug a hole next to the well thinking we would find a frozen pipe. They dug on a direct line from the water pipe inside the basement and the well. Nothing. Well the electrical line to the well but no pipe. We are down past eight feet and no pipe going to my house from the well. They ask me if I have seen any other plumbing on the property. I take them into an old shed surrounded by a new larger foundation. It’s like someone intended to build a new shed, larger than the old shed, and located directly on top of the footprint of the old shed and got as far as putting in the new foundation wall and that’s it. We discover inside the old shed a rough plumbed bathroom and kitchen and pipes for a fully heated concrete slab. The two guys were really amazing. They go outside the old shed into a corner of the new foundation wall to an area they extrapolate could be the junction of the “new system” and the new well and they locate a pit with a ton of pipes in it. They reason that the new foundation, heated slab, new well, new septic and new rough plumbed bathroom and kitchen mean that a new house was being constructed and the pit is in the location of the new utility room. They believed that the old house was connected into this system while it was being built for convenience and that likely the old house was going to be torn down. The water pipes inside the pit were frozen due to no snow cover and we put a heater in the pit, placed hard insulation on top mounded snow over it and boom less than two hours later my water is back on. The first set of plumbers that steamed the pipe charge me $900 for two hours work and no resolution. The second set of plumbers – the well guys – charge me less than $400 and they dug a giant hole and fixed the problem!! But needless to say I’m left nervous about ever calling a plumber again because I don’t have this kind of cash laying about. They tell me to keep a heater in the pit in the winter.

I try to get information from the company that put in the well and the septic they say they don’t have records. I find out that the guy who did all of this was not from around here, was considered a little strange and was currently on the run from the IRS. So no one can tell me what the plan was or where all the pipes are. Is that normal?! I’m out in an unincorporated area. They have a one page building permit form on their website and basically it looks like you just check a box and pay $45 to build anything costing more than $2500. It doesn’t ask for drawings or anything. I didn’t get a building inspection done when I purchased the property. I bought it for cash. The house is just darling. I got to spend some time with the original owner’s grandson in the nursing home. He was born in the upstairs bedroom! He loved this farm. He has no idea about any of the changes that have been made since he moved out. But back to plumbing.

In addition to the water lines in the pit there is a pipe that looks like a septic clean out pipe.

You can draw an almost exact imaginary straight line between the pit and my new septic system pretty far away, down a hill and in between are two other new clean out pipes. A plumber inside the "pit" would have a direct shot at the septic tank if there was ever a blockage. The roughed in plumbing is also on a straight line from the pit just perpendicular. A pretty nice set up for the new building. Well thought through.

There is no external clean out pipe right outside the house. So the water line from my house connects to the pit and then the well, but I do not know how the septic line from my house ties into the new septic system or where. My house is about 30 feet to the left of this imaginary line and sits in midway between the pit and the first clean out pipe.

The day after the water is working again I take a massive bath. As I let the water out a loud banging sound comes from the pipes and my toilet starts bubbling. A few days later after the toilet is flushed, I have waste in my bathtub. I couldn’t remove the cast iron end cap in the basement but I can access the main pipe out through an elbow just above it. Using that elbow I confirm there is no blockage above me when I am standing in the basement. So I think I have a main line clog between the basement and the septic system. It wasn’t easy but I subsequently got a couple of different sewer snakes down there. The 100 flat rod just keeps hitting what feels like a t junction no matter what. The 50 ft springer auger cable just goes all the way in easily. I put them down all the outside access pipes even the one in the pit. I remove the upstairs toilet and stick it up the roof vent and down the roof vent (not going on the high pitched roof of a two story Victorian house in winter). I buy a little camera and put that down the outside access pipes attached to electrical fish tape. I check the roof vent with the camera. All clean. Can’t find the junction. Can’t put it down the pipe in the basement because it’s full of liquid. After three weeks and three weekends spent sticking cameras and sewer rods down pipes I get slow drainage and finally the system seems to be working normally again. It’s also spring.

I intend to put a camera down the sewer pipe from the basement in the summer of 2018 to find out where the basement connects to the new pipes. I don’t end up doing this. Yes I regret that now. The system works fine all spring, all summer, all fall.

Winter 2019. Polar vortex. Pit freezes despite heater. Water out. After four solid days of running the heater in the pit day and night water comes back on. A few days later – yes you guessed it – after a bath, banging pipes, bubbling toilet, sewer water backed up into first floor bathtub. I snake, and snake and snake. Eventually I get slow drainage. Nothing shows up on the camera in any of the outside access points except clean new pvc piping. The rod vent is confirmed clear. I think the house connects into the system somewhere between the pit and the first access point. My camera is not long enough to see the junction. I put buckets of food colored water into the pit access point and see that water come past me at the next two access points with the camera. I consider that my house if not tied into this system at all and search the property for another septic tank.

After going for ages taking short showers and only flushing once per day and with the weather fully warmed up the system still isn’t working correctly. I’m convinced my pipe going out of the house is just badly gummed up, that the snakes are passing through a clog that is resealing itself and I buy a sewer jetter kit online to connect to my pressure washer. Two weekends ago I stick it down the pipe in the basement about 25 feet, connect it to the hot water pipe meant for the washing machine and turn it on. After 10 minutes the waste water in the pipe starts to drop and then it disappears. I’m putting water down the pipe and nothing is coming back. I run outside and listen down the access pipe and I can hear running water. Stupidly I think I have solved my problem. I turn the jetter off and take the jetter out and we start using the system like it is fixed right away.

But by the weekend, we are right back where we started. I decide to try the sewer jet again and take it really slowly and really clean the whole pipe. This time I cannot for the life of me get it in as far. I get it in about 15 feet, turn it on. I carry more than eight giant buckets of poop water out of the basement that come back at me out the pipe. I cannot advance the jetter further. I do send it up and down slowly. Eventually only clear hot water is coming back at me. But the water level in the pipe itself doesn’t appear to be dropping or disappearing. I also can’t hear rushing water in the access pipe outside. I feel like it’s because I can’t advance the sewer jet . It’s more floppy because it’s hot. I feel like last time I pushed it to the junction. Then when I withdrew it without scouring the pipe the clog closed up again (?). Or my pipe in the ground is broken (?).

I gave up. It was a really unpleasant experience and I was very tired. We resolve to spend the week trying to rest the system in the hopes it starts to drain enough to send a camera down. Now the weekend is almost upon us. This is going to be my last push before I throw in the towel and call someone. I checked the pipe in the basement last night, the camera can only go down less than two feet before it hits water.

Does anyone have any ideas of anything to try? If you don’t have ideas for me what professional should I call Monday. Someone with a better sewer jetter or camera system? Someone to dig up the yard? If something works this weekend (like the sewer jet advances and clears the system) what is the true source of my problem? How is the timeline of water not working/ winter/ bath issue connected? What does it all mean? I have to know.


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Tucson, Arizona
I can tell you how I found my septic line routing in my old house.
I use the old coat hanger trick. Two coat hangers bent and holding one in each hand.
I then walked the property horizontal, vertical and at a 45 degree angle and each time I
found a pipe, I laid a piece of wood in parallel to where the wires were pointing.
I did this because I had to do some digging, and my analysis was right on. Found the
distribution box where pipe entered / exited. Also had to dig up one leaching line about 5
foot deep with a backhoe and bucket missed hitting the line about 4 inches.

FWIS: With an old house you may have clay drainage pipe which has disconnected or collapsed.
Had a friend recently who lived in a townhouse built 1977 as I recall. Was having similar
problems as described -- work not work but once in awhile a backup.
Ultimate problem turned out to be that the original plumber had connected her ABS
drain pipe to clay and the clay to the main. Guess he had clay leftover, short ABS and didn't want to run to the store.
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Hey, wait a minute.

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