Asked on Oct 14, 2014

How to know when gray water tank must be connected to septic?

How do I know whenthe gray water tank needs to be connected to our septic system?
We live in the 1950’scountry home on a septic/drain filedsystem with a grand-fathered gray water tank. We replaced our septic system anddrain field in 2000 (14 years ago) and at the same time we replaced the exteriorgrade up to code-grade pipes to the septic system (is that called schedule35/36?)
We are retired, living on a fixed income and don’t’ have theready cash to pay a plumber to connect the gray water system to our septic unlesswe have no other choice. We’ve been fooled before plumbers and septic companiestelling us we need expensive “repairs” we did not need so we want to be surethat this is what we need to do?
SLOW DRAINING TUB: My west bathroom tub is draining slowly(slower and slower) and my sink is “gurgling” in just that one bathroom (the othereast side bathroom shower seems totally fine.) We took out a clump of hair from the tub, triedusing a recipe of baking soda and vinegar to clear the trap but nothing hasreally changed in the draining. This bathroom sink gurgles too. This tub cannotbe snaked due to the type of outlet hardware. We can’t get into the sink drain eitherso snaking is not an option there. We prefer to not use chemicals if at all possible.
LAUNDRY ROOM TUB: This is draining a bit slower.
KITCHEN SINK: One side drains slow (old broken garbagedisposal) the other side of the kitchen sink seems to be normal.
We had it pumped about three years ago and in a household ofjust two adults who are in and out (using other toilets too in out building, at work etc.) I use specialtoilet paper for septic systems, toss my toilet papers into the waste basket soI can’t imagine we have filled up the septic already. (We put all of our urine TP(which is sterile) in the compost bin too.)
We have an old “gray water system” but this is currently not connectedto our septic system so this should have no effect on the toilets orshowers/tubs, right?
We are trying to decide if the gray water tank is full (ifthere is a thing or if it has “given out.”) I’d rather not use chemicals as weare totally organic here, drinking our well water and eating out food from thesoil in the garden.
We do know our ground water is quite high right now, justabout three feet below the surface soil. Could this be causing the slowdraining?Can anyone tell me why else this slow draining might behappening? Thank you!!
  9 answers
  • That sounds more like a clogged vent than a septic / gray water field issue Have someone check where the plumbing vents out through the roof for a birds nest etc... Along those lines when is the last time you had your septic system cleaned? For more:
  • Gray water is simply water that does not contain solids. So bath sinks, showers, tubs laundry all can go to gray water. Some towns require the kitchen sink to go to the septic some do not. But if there is nothing other then a soap product entering into the drain its gray water. Now gray water must not go to daylight. It must always stay below the soil, so the same field that the septic drains the effluent to once the solids are digested should be where the gray water goes to. Of course the gray water can have its own field, but its built the same way as the septic system. Gravel placed in a well draining ditch or hole perforated pipes, covered with more gravel then filter cloth followed by soil. Cannot be near any well system. Or natural spring. If water is coming to the surface or no longer draining into the ground in the case of a tank, its time to do some repairs. The issue with any gray water or effluent field is that a mat of vegetation of sorts develops underground causing the filed to stop seeping into the ground. This mat is kept alive by the moisture and by products which act as fertilizer. AS it develops it slowly plugs the drainage and begins to back up. In conventional fields this has three methods of repair. One is to dig it all up and start again. The 2nd is some have another field installed adjacent to the one with the issues and then using a bypass valve water is diverted to the new field. Once the liquids no longer go to the old filed the growth mat begins to dry out and die. After several years when the newer field begins to slow the older field will be able to work again so the water is changed back. The last method is to use a air cannon. What the contractor does is using a large air tank he/she connects to the drain field, normally right after the diverter box on normal septic systems then with a single blast of high pressure blows air into the system which is supposed to break up the mat and aerate the field. My opinion of this its not really suggested as it can crack pipes and break apart older ones. But it is a proven method and used by many with success. In the case of a tank type leach field the issue is they no longer use these, at least in my area. Once they fail the owner must then have a septic engineer $$ come out and redesign a new one to handle the house load. But a field only system can be done. Or in your case connect to the field of the black water system or dump all the water into the septic and let it drain using that system.
  • To answer your question about draining. The water table has a lot to do with the drainage of the house. So that can be the cause of your issue. However if its just some sinks that are having issues and others are not, then the issue is with the pipe itself. I understand that you do not want to use a drain cleaner. Organic and all that. But the amount of water that you use on a daily basis will dilute the chemicals so much that it will never show up in testing as the water that filters down into the ground is filtered so much that you have a 99.99% chance of never even seeing this water return back into your water system. In most cases water that is drawn out of the well is so far down that any pollution that is found in the water comes from sources miles away. So do not let this be a concern. However I also am not a big fan of using these products with the exception of last case attempt. If you have lead pipe drains on tubs I can understand not wanting to snake as you will simply drill though the bottom of the trap. But any other type of pipe there should be no issue for a smaller snake making its way around the inside of the pipes. Perhaps a professional drain cleaning company can clear these for you. Sometimes the pipes simply need to be taken apart to be properly cleaned. In the case of a tub, I use a plunger. I remove the lever for the drain on the side of the tub and push a large wet wash cloth down into it to seal it from venting air. Then with several inches of water in the tub I have at it with a toilet plunger. After some serious plunging the clog ends up breaking up and the tub drains well again. Remove the cloth rag in the air vent and reinstall the drain handle. As far as septic safe toilet paper. Most is safe to use. To know what is and what is not, simply put some in a glass of water, let it sit for 30 seconds or so and stir. If it breaks up and does not color the water its septic safe. If color comes out or the paper stays together like paper towels are supposed to, do not use it. Its that simple. My rule of thumb with septic systems if you cannot eat it, it should not go down the toilet or drain. Following your local public extension office suggestions on how often to pump the system is suggested. In the NJ area it is suggested to pump a system every three years. If the system was properly installed and your not abusing the system by flushing solids that cannot be broken down and the baffles remain in the tank without rusting or breaking the pumping should reveal only about a 1/4 to 1/3 full tank. Do not flush any product that claims to digest the solids in the tank. While they will add to the digestion process, they break up the solids to fast causing them to float into the field where it will plug it. Let nature do what it does best and try not to overuse the laundry all in one day. Spread out the use of laundry day so you do not over fill the tank with gray water that will dilute the enzymes in the tank slowing down its digestion process.
  • White Oak Studio Designs White Oak Studio Designs on Oct 14, 2014
    I will definitely have my husband check those roof vents again, though I believe he said he looked at them before. I am printing off both of those articles and will read them carefully Thank you!. YOUR QUESTION: Our septic system was pumped out about three years ago fall/possibly four now as it is fall again. At that time the septic guys said it was in perfect condition and looked just like they like them to look, no issues (they actually said it could easily have gone a few years more before it was pumped out) but I did not want to risk it. Any other ideas anyone? I really wonder if our high ground water is effecting this pit system. as the water table is very high here, just 3 ft. down we hit water while digging.
  • Hi water tables will slow system down, but as long as the water is below the pipe level of the outlet drain it should still work. I do not think that is the issue. If some sinks are working and some are not and they are both connected to the same drainage field. Its the pipes that are plugged not the gray or septic system. Vents can cause this, but its doubtful that there would be more then one that is having issues. Plus if the sinks and drains are on different vents, more then one would need to be having issue. But its free to look at them so it cannot hurt. Just be careful on the roof!
  • Adrianne C Adrianne C on Oct 15, 2014
    Another problem is roots, if there are any trees close. Or some kind of damage to the drain line itself. Had both problems before!
  • White Oak Studio Designs White Oak Studio Designs on Oct 15, 2014
    Yes, we did have root problems at one time too. 14 years ago when we first moved here and had the old orange, clay type "drain pipes." We replaced all the drain lines then (as well as the septic and drain field) and were told then that with the newer type of pipes that tree roots should no longer be a problem. I am "praying" that that is true and not just a "sales job." Though we had no other choice anyway as it all backed up.
  • White Oak Studio Designs White Oak Studio Designs on Oct 16, 2014
    Thanks everyone for your ideas and tips. We are still working to resolve our dilemma.
  • James Baker James Baker on Feb 27, 2022

    Each drain is connected to a single drain that empties into the septic tank. Consequently, all water that goes through the drain eventually ends up in the septic tank.