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Question DetailsAsked on 10/19/2016

My Septic Tank is gushing water right behind my foundation, has the septic failed or has a pipe broken?

The house I am living in is 116 years old. The old woman that had it before we bought the place, was disabled. The brick foundation behind the house has been stained green with nasty slimy goop. I have never owned a house with a septic system so I am not too keen on how it works. I am not sure if the house is actually sitting on top of it or if the pipe has busted. I just found out today that it was gushing behind the house. I had my son to flush the toilet while I went behind the house to see what happens. Sure enough, it started gushing up from the ground and running down my hill. can anyone tell me what might be happening???

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Um - green slime on the foundtion sounds like this could have been a long-time problem - possibly the previous owner did not ever have the tank pumped.

How a septic system works in 5 seconds - household fluids drain through drain pipe from house out to a typically 500-1000 gallon range tank (or in older houses sometimes to a cesspool - a deep covered pit like a well), then (except sometimes when the cesspool is all there was, typically about 1940's or before) through pipes from the tank to a leach field, which is a series of parallel (typically 4-8 of them) perforated pipes laid a foot to a few feet under the ground (at least 1 foot below frost penetration depth) and typically 3-12 feet apart and commonly from 25-100 feet long, from which the fluid "leaches" into the soil through the pipe perforations and is "purified" by filtering through the soil. Most of the solids and floatables and grease and soap scum drop out or are trapped in the tank, which has (except in very old ones - typically about 1960 or before) baffles to skim off and retain the floating materials and grease and also commonly one or more in the bottom to trap the solids, so the effluent leaving the tank to the leach field is a gray to blackish fairly fluid liquid - skimmed of most of the stuff that would plug up exfiltration in the leach field.

If leach field gets clogged up with grease and roots and such, can fail to handle the flows coming from the house and cause backup into the house - or break through to the surface. (The old "grass is always greener over ther septic system" thing.)

The tank has to be pumped out periodically to remove the soap scum, floatable, grease, grit, etc - typically (if sized right for the size of house/number of people in it) not more than every 2-3 years and typically every 3-5 years or so for a typical full family, or sometimes as infrequently as every 10-20 years or so for just 1 or 2 occupants in a house "sized" for 4-6 occupants. [Sizing is usually done by number of bedrooms]. Here is a link to a table on common pump-out frequency for the materials caught in the tank based on family size and tank size -

One of the key factors, other than number of people in the house, is whether the garbage disposal is used to dispose of food (as opposed to scraping dishes into the trash before washing) - that can cut the pump-out cycles by half or more, as can dumping cooking grease or pan grease down the drain rather than pouring/scraping into a can and letting it gel/harden and then throwing out in the trash. Also, especially in cold ground areas, the biodegradation in the tank is slower, so houses that do not use a lot of hot water for showers and clothes washing (baths are not hot enough to help much) tend to require more frequent pumping too.

You could ask neighbors how often they get their tank pumped for an idea - and they might be able to help with info about what type of system you might have and if they know when it was last pumped.

Cesspools or pits, because they both retain the grease and grit and such and also serve as the "leaching area" tend to plug up faster, but if the groundwater is deeper than the pit can also have more pressure pushing the effluent into the soil, so pumping frequency can vary widely depending on soil conditions and such. Can be as frequent as several times a year for an old crudded up one to decades. Cesspits (if still allowed in your area) commonly have to be "whisked" or "brushed" when pumped out - a power wire brush or sewer jetting cleaner is run down into the pit after it is pumped dry to clean the surface of the pit of the accumulated slime. In larger diameter ones a pressure washer is uses with a long wand to clean the surface - which has to be done carefullyk to avoid washing the dirt out and collapsing it, or accidentally washing out deteriorated mortar and causing a stone lingin to collapse - definitely a job for an expert with cesspit/cesspool experience.

Worked on one old house in New England that had a solid one-piece stone cover on the cesspit with a 100+ year old oak growing right over the top, so it obviously had gone at least 100 years without cleaning and still worked fine - but was also an 6 foot diameter well almost 50 feet deep, so had a lot of surface area for infiltration and was a very free-flowing soil with no groundwater in that depth so had ideal drainage conditions. (Was evidently a hand-dug well that never hit water so was used for a cesspit, because the house got water from a creek several hundred feet away.)

Since it is 116 years old, could be you have a cesspool/cess pit, a simple concrete tank without baffles and leach field, or a more modern tank with baffles and leach field. If your area requires permits for septic systems, there might be records on your system if it has been replaced with a more modern one, which might tell you something.

If the tank was pumped as part of the purchase closing arrangements (commonly is required to be pumped and inspected as part of the inspection process) there may be data there on system type too.


If gushing up from the ground typically about 10 feet from the house or so, could be the tank is full and overflowing and needs pumping, and it is flowing out of a vent or access pipe. (Tank usually 10-15 feet from house to nearest point - should NOT be under the house and not many people would be foolish enough to put it there). Or could be a broken pipe. Since not flowing continuously - only when water is run in the house - does NOT sound like a groundwater or broken pipe flow happening to come up there.

I would start with a Septic Tank service company to come inspect, vacuum up the overflowing sewage, and pump out the tank and determine if due to a tank leak, broken pipe, overflowing tank, or what. Typically about $250-500 depending on how much investigating is necessary and local labor and sewage disposal costs. Get a septic company that both pumps and installs/repairs septic systems, not just a pumping company. That way they can dig down and repair it if the problem is a broken pipe near the tank or a leak where the pipe enters the tank.

I would also notify any neighbors whose property the effluent might run onto - especially if they have a pool or kid's play area or well that could get contaminated. Might be you will have to pay for some cleanup on their property too if it flows that far. And of course, you should not use water in the house - meaning move to a motel or friend's room or rent a port-a-potty until it is fixed.

Also - if you have a well that provides drinking water in the direction the overflow is going and the overflow gets within 100' of it, it should not be used till the problem is fixed, then it should be tested to be sure the sewage did not contamate it - and have a well and pump company decontaminate it and the water system if the fecal coliform test comes up positive.


Here are a couple of other previous questions which may or may not be of help too, depending on your specific situation:

Answered 4 years ago by LCD



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Answered 4 years ago by Member Services

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