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Septic System Nightmare

2013 November 12

By Cyndy Kopitsky

The backyard construction site

The backyard construction site

This story I am about to share will hopefully shine a light on one of those “out-of-sight/out-of-mind” homeowner’s responsibilities. To all of you who own homes or plan to make a purchase in the near future in an area without public sewers (if you don’t know whether or not you use a public sewer, please ask!), this story may be of interest.

Homebuyers know that there can be many costs that you encounter after settlement day. We can expect certain larger repairs like a new roof every 30 years or we may opt for energy smart upgrades when the water heater breaks down. These repairs and others are the more obvious types because they are external, but what about the quality and safety of your home insulation or the effectiveness and safety of your septic system? These “hidden” responsibilities could one day cause you an expense and an inconvenience beyond your expectations or imagination.

Septic system repairs

Septic system repairs

That leads me to tell you my experience with the “septic system nightmare.”

One day last week we heard water bubbling noises in the downstairs bathroom sink. Later that day my husband noticed water seeping up from the ground behind our home. After digging a hole, he saw a few pipes were separated by a large gap and water was collecting in the hole. After following instructions to locate the “septic box” and removing steps and cement slabs to get to an access point, my husband called in a professional.

The solution to the bubbling problem was far more complicated than we expected as we watched our backyard turn into a dirt-field and a construction site.  It seemed that because we never pumped out (something that must be done approximately every three years) and the initial system was placed too close to the house and trees 25 years ago, several pipes had broken leading to the septic “field.” I was informed that we were “lucky” and matters could have been worse indeed!

To that end, if you don’t pump out, watch out!

Septic system repairs

Septic system repairs

For more information on septic system maintenance you can visit the U.S. EPA’s Septic Smart webpages at: http://water.epa.gov/infrastructure/septic/septicsmart.cfm. In New Jersey more information can be found on the New Jersey Onsite Waste Management webpages at: http://www.nj.gov/dep/dwq/owmp_main.htm. In New York, please visit: https://www.health.ny.gov/publications/3208/.

About the Author: Cyndy Kopitsky has worked for the Environmental Protection Agency for 16 years in the Clean Water Division. Currently she is the lead contact for the national Urban Waters Initiative. Cyndy is a far commuter with her home in Cape May County, New Jersey. Her personal interests include housing rescue parrots and macaws, gathering fresh eggs from her 11 chickens, and spending time with her dog, cats and when there is time, with her retired husband John. She loves to bake, she eats healthy foods, and tries to respect the environment with her lifestyle choices.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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One Response leave one →
  1. Anonymous permalink
    December 2, 2013

    Also, remember to have your septic professional install a riser in the top of your tank, so access will be a snap next time clean out is necessary. He will be there and gone in a couple of hours with little or no damage to your lawn. Good luck.

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