General Septic System Information





Click the link below for information on septic systems.

For maintenance and management of septic systems visit the University of MN website:Maintenance

For information from Cook County Planning and Zoning: Cook County Information Link

Septic System Troubleshooting Guide for Homeowners

From the University of MN Extension Service

Potential Causes
Potential Remedies

Sewage backs up into house and/or plumbing fixtures don’t drain or are sluggish
Human contact with sewage is a serious public health risk. Many waterborne diseases exist in household sewage. AVOID CONTACT with sewage
  • Excess water entering system
  • Improper plumbing
  • Blockage in plumbing
  • Improper operation
  • Pump failure
  • Improper system design
  • Roots clogging pipes
  • Improper venting
  • Fix leaks/vents
  • Install water-saving fixtures
  • Stop using garbage disposal
  • Clean septic tank and check pumps
  • Replace broken or cracked pipes and remove roots
  • Seal pipe connections
  • Avoid willow trees near system

Sewage surfacing in yard
Human contact with sewage is a serious public health risk. Many water-borne diseases exist in household sewage. AVOID CONTACT with sewage
  • Excess water use
  • System blockages
  • Improper system elevations
  • Undersized soil treatment system
  • Pump failure or improper operation
  • Improper separation from water table
  • Fix leaks
  • Install water-saving fixtures
  • Clean septic tank and check pumps
  • Consult professionals
  • Fence off area until problem is fixed

Sewage odors — indoors
Toxic gases can cause discomfort and illness.
  • Sewage surfacing in yard
  • Improper plumbing
  • Sewage backup in house
  • Unsealed ejector sump pump
  • Roof vent pipe frozen closed
  • Repair plumbing
  • Clean septic tank and check pumps
  • Replace water in drain traps
  • Tighten seals on pumps and cleanouts

Sewage odors — outdoors
Major nuisance, but no serious health risk
  • Source other than owner’s system
  • Sewage surfacing in yard
  • Inspection pipe caps damaged or removed
  • Unsealed manhole cover
  • Short roof vent pipe (yours/neighbors)
  • Clean tank and check pumps
  • Replace damaged caps
  • Repair or replace drainfield
  • Seal manhole cover
  • Extend roof vent pipe
  • Add carbon filter to roof vent

Contaminated drinking or surface waters

The direct contact health risks are magnified by possible ingestion of contaminated water.

Drinking contaminated water can cause health problems such as dysentery, hepatitis, and, for infants, methemoglobinemia.

  • System too close to well, water table, or fractured bedrock
  • Cesspool or drywell in use
  • Sewage discharges to surface or groundwater
  • Improper well construction
  • Broken water supply pipe
  • High levels from other sources
  • Broken sewage lines
  • Replace your well and/or septic system
  • Contact your local government to investigate other potential sources

Lift station alarm activated
Tank effluent may back up into the house.
  • Pump failed
  • Fuse breaker tripped
  • Pump unplugged
  • Controls malfunctioning
  • Ground or rainwater infiltration
  • High water use
  • Control water use
  • Check breaker and plugs
  • Check controls and pump
  • Make sure a professional replaces pump with proper size unit
  • Fix leaks in plumbing, tank and piping

Distribution pipes and/or soil treatment system freezes in winter
The system may be inoperable.
  • Cold temperature with lack of snow cover
  • Water standing in pipes, sags, lack of draining back, undersized pump
  • Foot or vehicle traffic over pipes, trenches, mound or bed
  • Low flow rates or lack of use
  • Lack of vegetative cover
  • Undersized pump
  • Leaking plumbing fixture
  • Low flow from high efficiency furnace
  • Open or cracked manhole or inspection pipes
  • Saturated system
  • Check piping and pumps
  • Consult a professional
  • Keep people and vehicles off area
  • Increase water use and temperature
  • Have someone use water in house if you are away
  • Don’t use antifreeze, salt, or other additives
  • Fix leaking fixtures
  • Add insulation over tanks, pipes and soil treatment area
  • Don't run water continuously
  • Operate septic tank as a holding tank
  • Don't build a fire over system