While septic tanks are durable and can last for decades, they're still subject to being damaged by vehicles or tree roots. When a septic tank cracks, it allows your waste to leak into the surrounding area. Not only is this a major environmental concern, but water in the ground can enter your septic tank through the crack and cause it to fill up more quickly than normal — a full septic tank can prevent waste from draining into the tank, causing it to come back up the plumbing fixtures in your home. Below is some information on how to tell if your septic tank is leaking and what you can do to fix the problem.
What Causes a Septic Tank to Crack and Leak?
Cracks often form in concrete septic tanks due to shifting soil, similarly to how concrete sidewalks or driveways become cracked. As the soil underneath the septic tank settles, it can cause tiny cracks throughout the concrete tank. In most cases, these cracks are too small to allow septic waste to escape from the tank. However, septic waste is corrosive to concrete. Older concrete tanks that have been exposed to septic waste for decades become weak and brittle, allowing for major cracks to form that will cause septic waste to leak.
Plastic and fiberglass septic tanks, on the other hand, don't crack as easily and aren't corroded by septic waste. They're more commonly broken by vehicles that drive over them or park on top of them. Tree roots are another common source of cracks, since they place considerable pressure on the tank when they grow around it and may cause it to crack.
What Are the Signs of a Leaking Septic Tank?
One of the most common signs of a septic tank leak is a persistent foul odor that comes from the area where the tank is buried. When a cracked septic tank leaks waste, some of it can percolate up through the soil and become exposed on the surface. The ground around the septic tank will often be damp and muddy due to the waste constantly leaking from the tank.
If the grass above your septic tank is mysteriously green and healthy when compared to the surrounding grass, this can be another sign of a septic tank leak. Septic waste is rich in nitrogen, so the leaking septic waste acts as fertilizer for nearby vegetation.
A leaking septic tank can also cause standing water to pool in the area above the tank whenever it rains. Sewage leaking from the tank forces air out of the surrounding soil, which causes the soil to become more compact. This creates a small valley above the tank that allows water to pool, and the saturated soil underneath slows the rate at which rainwater drains.
How Do You Repair a Septic Tank Leak?
First, you should never attempt to inspect or repair your septic tank yourself. A cracked septic tank's structure has been damaged, and walking on top of it may cause it to collapse and fall apart entirely. This is very dangerous, as you can easily fall in to the tank or become stuck in muddy sewage when your septic tank breaks apart.
Instead, schedule an appointment with professional septic system services for an inspection. Some other septic system problems such as a leaking sewage pipe can cause the same symptoms as a cracked septic tank — waste that leaks from the pipe will be channeled down towards the septic tank, where it pools and appears to be leaking from the tank itself. A full septic system inspection will help spot the source of your septic system problem so that the proper repairs can be made.
Generally, you'll need to install a new septic tank in order to correct the problem. Fiberglass and plastic septic tanks cannot be repaired once they crack, so they need to be removed and replaced. Concrete septic tanks can be drained and patched with cement, although the feasibility of this repair depends on the extent of the damage — a concrete septic tank that has been heavily damaged by corrosive septic waste needs to be replaced.
If you think that your septic tank is leaking, contact a professional septic system service, like LP Murray, as soon as possible. If the leak worsens, the ground around your septic tank can become entirely saturated with waste. When this occurs, the plumbing fixtures in your home will become unable to drain wastewater through your septic system, leading to overflowing toilets and backed-up shower drains.
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