Septic Tank Alarm Going Off What Should I Do & Troubleshooting

Jack Cacy

upset at warningWhen your septic alarm is going off it can be alarming. The key is not to panic, the warning is to alert you so you to a potential problem so you can investigate in a timely manner. In this article we will give you the tools to troubleshoot and when you should call a professional.

Over a third of US homes use a septic system to process their household waste from toilets, dishwashing, shower etc. Because you as the homeowner own the septic system as opposed to the county sewer, you are responsible for maintenance and troubleshooting on your property. As the septic system is such an important part of your home, regular maintenance and septic pumping by a septic company is vital. If you are not using a septic treatment, read some of the stories from the 21,000 homeowners who use a septic treatment every month to ensure their septic system runs smoothly and avoids alarms.


Septic tank alarm overview

What is a septic tank alarm? A septic alarm system is a monitoring device that sounds an alert when the water level in the tank is much higher or lower than it should be. Depending on the type of septic systems you own, an activated alarm can be an indication of a septic tank pump problem, aeration device problem or electrical problem. All septic systems that utilise a pump (such as a mound system) should have a timer installed. A timer is important to control the frequency and amount of wastewater entering the drain field. This is to prevent the septic drain field from becoming over-saturated during periods of high water use.

Timer systems are designed to pump waste water for a certain duration at set times of the day. This is why it is important to space out your water use in the house, because if too much water enters the pump tank between pumping cycles, it will have no place to go except into the pump tank. This raises the water level inside the pump tank until the controls cycle back and come on again. Because the pump is only activated for a set amount of time, it may take several pumping cycles before the water level in the tank returns to normal. It is important that you recognise when there is increased water use in the house. It may be a matter of waiting for the increased water to run through to the leach field to stop the septic tank alarm system.


Reasons for elevated water levels

There may be several reasons for tank water level problems. First, it could be happening due to the simple fact that too much water is being put through the septic system. Doing laundry loads back to back, a big load of dish washing or using the dishwasher back to back with lots of guests or teenagers taking long showers 🙂 There are many examples of excessive water usage that will cause your septic system run constantly. A big reason for many homeowners is if groundwater gets into the tank. It is important that you do not hook external drains up to your plumbing as this will cause your tank to overload during heavy rain. Too much rain can clog up your drain field if there is not correct drainage around the leach lines. If the ground around sewage tanks is damp, it can seep into the tank and cause the water within to rise to dangerous levels. It is important to make sure your lid or riser is secure and rain cannot get into this. Often the problem can be with a septic component (pump, timer, aerator, compressor, alarm, floats or filter).


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septic tank indicator light troubleshootingSeptic tank alarm troubleshooting

It is often hard to know where to start if you are geting a warning from your alarm box. The first place to start is knowing what type of septic system you have. If you don’t know what type of septic system you have, or you are not comfortable troubleshooting then contact a septic repair company here to do this for you.


Warning from a conventional septic system

Most conventional systems are gravity fed and do not have a pump or aeration device. Therefore the main warnings you will get would be a high water alarm signal. This could mean that your outlet pipe is blocked, or the effluent filter if fitted, or the leach field is overfed and there is too much standing water, or there is a clog in the line somewhere. This could be due to too much water usage. If you have been using a lot of water (several loads of washing, showers and doing the dishes at the same time, this may resolve itself with reduced water usage. If not you may have a blockage causing the high water warning and it is best to contact a septic repair company for advice.


Warning from Aerobic Treatment Systems

Aerobic Treatment Systems will usually have an aerator that is powered by an external air pump or compressor or a submersible aerator. Often the cause of the septic issue is that the aerator not work properly. Alternatively, like the conventional system, the alarm is going off for a high water level. This is easy to check by opening the septic riser or lid and checking the water level. It will either be at the normal operating mark, at the high water mark or overlfowing. Either of the last two and you have a problem. Again if you have been using a lot of water, wait a little for the water to work its way through the drain field.


Warning from other treatment systems

Other treatment systems you will find are listed below. If an alarm is going off in any of these systems it will typically be a high water alarm, one of the septic system’s components or a blockage somewhere:


Septic alarm goes off during heavy rain

It is common during heavy rain for the septic tank alarms to go off. It is key to remember that just because your alarm is going off, it doesn’t mean your system is blowing up or failing beyond repair. If you are worried then contact a local septic company here, or follow these simple steps to troubleshoot before calling a septic expert team.

  1. Step 1: In the alarm box turn the alarm off so your neighbours won’t complain. When you open your box there will be a red light, next to it will be a button to silence the alarm. This will not turn the alarm off, the red light will still be on.
  2. Step 2: Wait for a green light. After the rain stops, wait 12-24 hours to see if the light goes green. Green light means the system is operating normally. You do not need to switch on the alarm again, it will continue to monitor and a green light means it is working properly. You will however need to unmute your alarm so you can hear it in the future. If the red light has not changed in 12-24 hours, contact a septic professional to investigate.
  3. Step 3: Check the circuit box or ciruit breakers. Septic systems and septic tanks should be on a dedicated breaker. If this has tripped then there will be no power going to the air compressor, pump tank, aeration tank or any other component that requires electricity.

Septic tank false alarm

How do you know if it has been a false alarm? Often as described above a high water alarm has gone off due to excess water use. If you are worried about your system there are two things you can do:

  1. Use a monthly septic treatment to ensure your system is running at its optimal level. This will cost as little as $9 a month for peace of mind.
  2. Get a septic professional to check your system


How to reset septic tank alarm

If the septic alarm goes off you can open your box and you will see a red light. While you can’t turn it off, you can silence it. Once your system is operating normally, the green light located in the box will return the system to normal. If there is a red light, you will need to call a local septic company to investigate.


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