If you’ve ever had your septic alarm go off in the middle of the night, you know what a nightmare it can be. You probably jumped up thinking about calling a plumber, but there are a few things you can check yourself and possibly fix before dialing a professional.
If your septic alarm is going off, don’t panic. They are designed to go off to alert you before a potential problem when your tank’s water level is either too high or too low, which could be caused by a few different things, including a clogged drain, leaking pipe, or broken pump. And while you should take action quickly to avoid a system backup, you typically have 24 to 48 hours of regular usage before you have to fix the problem.
In this guide, I’ll walk you through a few reasons your septic tank alarm might be going off and what you can do to troubleshoot it.
How Septic Systems Work
A septic system is basically a large system where wastewater goes, is treated, and then pumped out into a drainfield.
How does it work? Sewer lines carry wastewater and sewage outside the home and into a septic tank. Sand in the tank helps absorb the wastewater that goes down the drain, while bacteria break down the waste and turn it into harmless substances like carbon dioxide and methane gas. These gases are pumped out or go out through vents in the bottom of the tank and then into the soil, where they are absorbed.
If something happens to stop the flow of water into or out of the tank, it can lead to serious problems like backups and overflows. These issues aren’t just annoying; they can cost thousands of dollars to fix. But if you install a septic alarm, you’ll be able to catch those problems early, preventing costly repairs and potential health hazards.
Why Is the Alarm Going Off?
Septic alarms are designed to go off when the water level in your septic tank is either getting too high or too low. So what it essentially means is that one part of your septic system is not properly working and is disrupting the rest of the process.
This disruption could be caused by a number of reasons. I’ll go into more detail about a few of the different scenarios below and give you a few troubleshooting ideas.
Remember, an alarm going off doesn’t necessarily mean your sewage system is going to immediately overflow all over your house. Septic alarms are usually set up to alert you 24 to 48 hours before you’re faced with trouble.
Of course, if you ignore it, you could have a big problem on your hands.
What’s Happening When There’s a Problem
When there is a problem with one part of the septic tank, the entire process is going to be affected and could eventually cause a backup. So you need to find out where the problem is coming from in order to keep the system flowing all the way through.
One of the most common problems is a malfunctioning pump. If the pump isn’t working, the wastewater cannot be pumped out of the tank and into the drainfield, which will cause water levels to rise in your tank.
Another common problem is a clogged drain. Clogs can be detrimental to the flow of a septic system. You can use a plunger or snake to clear the drain to make sure the drains aren’t blocked.
Potential Causes for the Alarm to Go Off
The best part of installing a septic alarm is knowing that you’ll be alerted before a backup occurs, and it will give you time to prepare before the situation gets worse. Let’s take a look at some of the things that could set your septic alarm off.
Too much water is being introduced into the septic system
A lot of people don’t realize just how much water they waste every day, and all that water flows into your septic tank. If the water level in the tank is getting too high, you’ll most likely hear a loud alarm go off. So being water-wise can save your septic tank.
A few ways you can use less water at home by turning off taps while brushing teeth, washing dishes, and flushing toilets. If you live in a hot climate, consider installing a tankless water heater instead of one that runs constantly. Opt for doing laundry once a week instead of small loads throughout the week.
Groundwater is somehow getting into the system
A common cause of a septic pump shutting off is groundwater. Water from rain, snowmelt, and irrigation can enter the drain field and cause the pump to stop running. Check the area where the pipes connect to the drainfield. There might be standing water that is preventing the pump from operating properly, and this could potentially set the alarm off.
Problem with one of the septic system’s components
This could mean that you are experiencing a problem with the pump, the valve, or some other part of the drainage system.
Leaking tanks can also cause an alarm to go off. This is because the water level in the septic tank is rising due to the leak. A leaky tank can also cause damage to the surrounding soil and plants.
If the pipe is leaking, you might notice water dripping into your basement or a lot of standing water around the area where the overflow pipe is located. If the tank itself is leaking, you’ll likely smell something like rotten eggs.
A heavy rainfall can set your septic alarm off because it could force water into the pipes leading to your septic tank, causing it to overflow. This can lead to damage to your property and even pose health risks.
One way to prevent this from happening is to make sure your septic system is properly maintained. Before heavy rains hit, check your drains and ensure that everything is working correctly. You should also keep an eye on your yard to see if anything is getting wet. If you notice any signs of flooding, contact a local professional immediately.
What to Do When the Alarm Goes Off
First thing first: since the alarm is telling you there is a potentially high water level in your septic tank, you want to tell everyone in the house to stop using water until you can solve the issue.
Next, take a look to make sure your septic pump is correctly turned on and has power running to it from the breaker box. If it is not turned on, your tank won’t be able to drain, hence the reason the high water alarm will go off.
Then take a look around your property. Are there any leaks you can see? Any signs of water damage in your basement or puddles near your foundation?
Also, thoroughly inspect your septic system. You can either do this yourself or call a professional to help. Make sure that everything looks good and that nothing seems amiss.
How to Turn Off Septic Alarm
Locate your septic system alarm box, which is often near your breaker box. Most septic alarm boxes have a silencing option on them. To turn the alarm off, simply toggle the switch to “Silence.”
If you have a control panel, it will have a big red button on the front of it. All you have to do to turn that alarm off is press the button.
When to Call Your Septic Company for Emergency Services
When it comes to plumbing issues, nothing is worse than waiting too long to address the problem.
If you have inspected your septic system and verified the pump is turned on, there are no clogs, you don’t see any visible leaks, and the alarm is still going off, contact a local professional for help.
Sometimes you may not even want to wait so long. If you notice any of these signs, don’t wait. Contact a professional immediately.
1. Leaks – Leaks in your basement, crawl space, garage, or outside areas indicate a potential leaky pipe or drain. This is a sign that something needs to be repaired.
2. Odors – If you smell sewage or rotten eggs, you might have a problem with your waste lines or sewer pipes. You should contact a professional plumber as soon as possible.
3. Drainage issues – Your drains may be clogged up. If water isn’t draining properly, you may have a blockage somewhere in your plumbing system.
Cost of Replacement Alarm System
Most septic alarms run $150-$300, and some insurance companies cover the installation costs. They’re far less expensive than hiring a professional to do damage control after a septic backup. In addition, they can be easily installed in your home or business without having to tear up floors or walls.
Maintaining Your Septic Tank
The best way to keep your septic tank clean is by cleaning it out regularly. This will ensure that all the waste from your home gets treated properly. If you don’t clean your tank out often enough, then bacteria build up inside, which could cause problems if they escape into the soil around your house.
Be mindful of your water usage and everything that you put down your drains. Don’t throw any unnecessary solids down the sink or toilets that could cause clogs.
Also, make sure you aren’t using harsh chemicals in your household cleaners since they could damage your septic system. They can corrode pipes, clog drains and contaminate groundwater. Instead, pour some baking soda down the drain, let it sit overnight, and then run hot water through the pipes.
Another important part of maintenance is an annual inspection. This can help identify potential problems early, allowing you to take action sooner rather than later. A thorough inspection includes testing water quality, inspecting pipes, checking pumps, and looking for leaks.
Keep up with maintenance by having your septic tank pumped out once per year. Pumping helps prevent clogs and keeps sediment from building up inside the tank.
In conclusion, your septic tank is an important part of removing waste from your home. When it malfunctions, it can lead to problems like foul odors and possible damage to your house. Fortunately, these issues are easily preventable if you have a septic alarm to alert you before any backups happen. If you have any questions, call a local septic service provider for assistance.
Ruben has a diverse background in the home services industry, with experience running a construction company, a kitchen and bath showroom, and a moving and relocation company. This breadth of experience has provided him with a wealth of knowledge and expertise in various areas of home improvement in general and specifically in the heating and plumbing niche.