How Do You Unblock a Septic Tank Soakaway?
There’s a bad smell wafting towards your home and a stagnant pool of foul-looking water is slowly growing at the bottom of your garden. If you have a septic tank installed, you could have a serious soakaway blockage on your hands!
Septic tank soakaways rarely get blocked up or broken if they are installed properly and regularly serviced. But unfortunately, not every eventuality can be planned for. Expanding tree roots, an overload of objects being flushed into the system, or excessive flooding can all lead to a blocked soakaway.
If you suspect your soakaway could be in trouble, then you’ll need to act fast to unblock a septic tank soakaway before it causes permanent damage to your wastewater disposal system or to your garden. In this article, we ask our drainage experts at OMDI how to spot a blocked soakaway and the best way to unblock a septic tank soakaway.
Diagnosing a Septic Tank Soakaway Blockage
If there are bad smells in the garden and large pools of murky, smelly water forming near your septic tank, then you’ve almost certainly got a problem with your off-mains drainage system.
Soakaways form an integral part of an off-mains drainage system. If you have one installed in your garden, then pooling water and bad smells are an indication that the soakaway has a blockage or could be damaged.
Soakaways are constructed just below ground level to collect and store wastewater from the septic tank, before slowly dispersing it into the surrounding environment. The idea is to stop water pooling or causing flooding once it’s released from the septic tank. If a soakaway is working effectively, then wastewater diffuses through porous gravel, rocks, and soil when released from the pipes. It doesn’t pool or stagnate, and it shouldn’t smell.
If you have a blockage, then it’s important to diagnose it quickly, and then implement a fix to keep the system running. Failure to do so not only gives you lingering smells, but can cause other pipes in the system to block or burst, could cause your garden or home to flood, and will be expensive to repair.
If you notice any of the following issues, you could have a blocked soakaway:
- Pools of stagnant water and waterlogged ground
- Foul smells coming from the garden, toilets, or any other drains or pipes on your property
- Collapsed areas of ground or turf near the septic tank, soakaway or pipes
- Your toilets struggle to flush properly
- Water doesn’t drain in sinkholes when you run taps or have a shower
It’s important to note that off-mains drainage systems comprise a large network of pipes and components stretching from your home to your soakaway. The problem or blockage could also be found in the septic tank or in any number of pipes leading to the septic tank and soakaway.
If there’s water pooling around the soakaway, then the problem is likely going to be with the soakaway, but unless you have experience diagnosing these problems and know how to unblock a septic tank soakaway, it’s good practice to ask for a professional opinion before getting to work!
Potential Causes of a Blocked Septic Tank Soakaway
If your septic tank was installed by a professional and has been regularly serviced, it’s rare for these problems to arise. Septic tanks and soakaways are, after all, an effective and self-contained off-mains drainage solution.
However, soakaways can become blocked for any number of reasons, some of which can be controlled and prevented, and others that are difficult to predict. Here are some of the major causes of a blocked septic tank soakaway:
Soft blockages are most commonly caused by unnatural products being flushed into the pipes. Often, it’s a build-up of sanitary products or foreign objects that have been flushed into the system.
Septic tanks are only designed to break down natural, biodegradable waste products, not man-made items made of plastic or other materials. If these products don’t block up the pipes or the septic tank first, then they won’t easily make it through the soakaway.
Soakaways only allow liquids to diffuse into the surrounding ground, so any larger objects are going to be trapped. If they aren’t removed and are allowed to build-up, they can easily force the need to unblock a septic tank soakaway.
Tree Root Blockages
While soft blockages can be prevented, it’s more difficult to predict what are termed natural blockages. This is when nature works against you and causes a blockage or damage to your pipes or soakaway.
The most common form of natural blockage is caused by tree roots growing into pipes. Over time, roots can cause pipes to break, crack, or even collapse. This disrupts the system and quickly leads to blockages.
Unpredictable ground movements, shifts in the earth or earthquakes can cause soakaways or pipes to be damaged. If the ground shifts, pipes can be displaced and can even collapse. You’ll often see dips in the ground if this occurs.
Ground movements can cause damage suddenly and unexpectedly in the form of tremors or earthquakes. Heavy vehicle movements over soakaways or in the nearby vicinity can cause prolonged movements over time, which can also lead to damage.
Increased System Usage
Septic tank soakaways are specifically designed and built to measure, which means they have a maximum capacity. If this capacity is exceeded, then the soakaway can’t disperse wastewater as quickly as it’s coming in, resulting in a build-up that causes flooding or pooling.
Increased system usage is often the major cause of this. If your septic tank soakaway is only designed for a two-person household, but you have four or five people regularly showering and flushing toilets, then the system can quickly reach capacity.
Equally, if your soakaway is set up to deal with excess groundwater, then heavy rains, snowmelt and flooding can swamp the system, too.
Septic Tank Issues
A soakaway doesn’t exist in isolation, so it’s important to remember that issues can be caused by other parts of the system.
Soakaway blockages can result from blocked septic tanks, which often happen due to a build-up of sludge or unnatural waste. It’s important to have your septic tank regularly emptied and to look at the system as a whole before you start to unblock a septic tank soakaway.
How to Unblock a Septic Tank Soakaway
Before attempting to unblock a septic tank soakaway, we highly recommend contacting a specialist. Often, there could be multiple issues arising in different parts of the system, some of which are difficult to spot.
If there’s a build-up of waste products causing blockages, then a specialist can remove these from the system. If there’s a build-up of leaves or dirt, these can easily be removed too. The system can be flushed using high-pressure hoses to remove foreign objects.
If there are broken pipes, the problem is more difficult to fix. Piping needs to be dug out and replaced. If tree roots are the culprit, they need to be contained as well. If it’s ground movement, then piping needs to be redesigned so it holds out in the future.
If the problem is with the septic tank, you’ll need a specialist to identify the issues and provide a solution. Blockages are easy to fix, but structural damage to a septic tank can be costly and time consuming to repair.
How to Prevent Blocking Your Septic Tank Soakaway
If your soakaway is blocked, then the cost to repair or replace it could be significant (depending on the cause of the blockage and the extent of the damage). If the damage is extensive, then often the only option is an outright replacement soakaway or replacement septic tank. These do not come cheap, as they need to be designed and built to spec.
For this reason, we always advise that prevention is the best tactic to avoid unwanted soakaway blockages. The first step towards prevention is recognising the warning signs. If you have pooling water or notice foul smells, then contact a specialist for further advice.
A big part of prevention is regular maintenance and servicing. While servicing costs money in the short term, catching problems early and making minor repairs is always cheaper and preferable to replacing an entire drainage system. Your septic tank and soakaway should be serviced every 12 months, with the septic tank being emptied of any sludge or debris as part of this yearly check-up.
You can also put in place simple preventative measures, such as warning people not to flush foreign objects into the toilet or limiting shower time if you have guests staying.
Contact OMDI Today for Your Free Quote
OMDI has years of experience designing, installing and maintaining soakaways. Our expert team can provide help and advice if your soakaway is experiencing difficulties and might be blocked.