Your guide to septic system repair & replacement

Frank Taciak on the left wearing an orange high visability shirt is pointing into an open septic system lid that Sam Taciak in a blue shirt is holding open while crouching.

Understanding Septic System Problems Common to Baltimore Area Homes

Your home has a septic system, and now it's having problems. Where do you even start? Septic systems can be a confusing but integral part of your home's plumbing system, and when something breaks, it can be a stressful time. We get it, and we're here to help!

We've compiled three generations of septic system knowledge into this guide to help you through the repair process. If your home is experiencing septic backups, gurgling toilets, sinkholes, or a damp and smelly yard, this guide is an excellent starting point on your repair journey. When you are ready to start your septic repair, give us a call.

Please read on if you are curious about a C.A. Taciak & Sons septic system repair/replacement. This guide provides an overview of septic systems and our repair process. If you would like to quickly jump to a particular topic, use the links below:

Septic Components | Cause of Problems | Repair vs Replacement | Symptoms | Cost | Contact Us | FAQ

What is a septic system?

A septic system is a self-contained, natural alternative to a municipal sewer system. Typically, properties in rural areas use a septic system instead of a sewer.  If your home has a septic system, think of it as an onsite wastewater treatment plant. 

So how does it work? By harnessing the power of gravity and biology, a septic system removes solid wastes from your drain water and then filters the remaining water through the ground around your home. A traditional septic system consists of three main components; a tank, a distribution box, and a drain field.

The parts of a septic system

The septic tank

The first component of a septic system is the septic tank. A septic tank's main job is to separate your solid wastes from your wastewater. What is wastewater? It is all of the water sent down your toilets, tubs, showers, sinks, and other plumbing drains. As this water flows through the tank, solids fall to the bottom, while the remaining water continues to the tank outlet and onward to the distribution box. The solids and sludge left behind will gradually fill the septic tank. "Pumping out a septic tank" removes these solids before they fill the tank. Without regular pumping, this rising solid waste will interfere with the normal operation of the septic tank. On average, homeowners must pump out their septic tanks every two to three years.

A technical drawing of the components of a septic tank

The distribution box

The next part of a septic system is the distribution box. A distribution box, or "D-Box" for short, is a small container made of concrete or plastic. As water drains from your septic tank, the distribution box distributes this water to two or more drainage areas. The pipes exiting the distribution box allow smaller, more manageable amounts of water to flow into each drainage area. The water diversion from the d-box keeps your drainage areas from becoming overwhelmed and your yard from flooding with wastewater.

The drain field

The final part of any septic system is the drainage area. Other common names and types of drainage areas are "drain fields," "leach fields," "seepage pits," or "dry wells." Whatever you have at your home, the purpose of a drainage area is to clean and dispose of your septic wastewater into the surrounding soil. Drainage areas, in essence, are just oversized filters. Water drains through the ground in the drainage area, and the ground filters the water. After passing through many soil layers, the now clean water re-enters the water cycle.

Other types of septic systems

This article is not exhaustive for every type of septic system and septic system component. Many one-off specialty systems are designed for a property's unique conditions, and we won't address these systems in this article.  

However, if you have a unique septic system, this article may still provide some help. No matter how obscure the system, its design will still roughly follow the guidelines presented above. The basic information provided in this article will help you determine if there is a problem with your septic system. After educating yourself on your septic situation, you can contact a trained septic inspector for help.

If you know that your home has a sand mound, low-pressure dosing system, or another BAT-type septic system, please call us for an in-depth consultation. These systems are a significant investment in your home's plumbing and require expert maintenance and repair. C.A. Taciak & Sons can help any property's septic system.

Cross section illustration of a septic tank, distribution box, and drain field

What causes septic problems?

Diagnosing septic problems is sometimes difficult due to their complex structure. Still, many of the same issues that affect all plumbing also affect septic systems.

Old age

Most septic systems are installed during a home's construction, which means the system may be as old as the home it services. With an average component life expectancy of 25-50 years, what goes wrong with your septic system as it ages?

Aging Septic Tanks

It is common for a heavy-duty concrete septic tank to last 50+ years if regularly maintained. However, many internal elements of septic tanks like baffles, inlets, and outlets can require attention from time to time. These components can disintegrate and prevent your wastewater from getting where it needs to go. This type of problem will typically show up as a backup into your home or a sinkhole around your septic tank. 

Aging Distribution Box

Distribution boxes are one of the first septic system components to need repair or replacement because they often collapse and clog. Replacing or repairing a distribution box is rarely a large project and can usually be done in a day. 

Aging Drainage Areas

Over time, drainage areas become saturated with sludge from the wastewater it has filtered over its service life. At this point, water will no longer drain through the surrounding soil, and the drainage area cannot do its job. Sometimes, resting a drainage area for a few years and letting nature run its course can rejuvenate a drainage area enough for it to be usable again. However, taking the time for this to occur is not always practical. If this is the case, a septic contractor must design and install a new drain field to keep your septic system functioning.  

Material defects

Even a carefully installed septic system will experience problems if built from subpar materials. We frequently encounter this kind of problem with septic tanks. Over the last 70+ years of service to the Baltimore area, we've encountered many types of septic tanks. Not all of them have been created equal, and some have had more issues than others.

Most modern septic tanks are concrete, fiberglass, or plastic. Concrete tanks are the standard for Maryland septic systems. Even though concrete tanks are the most durable, if cast from a low-quality concrete mix, a tank is still liable to crack and leak. Fiberglass and plastic tanks are other common alternatives and come with their own problems. For instance, plastic tanks can crush or dent during installation.  

If you have an older septic system, you could have a steel septic tank. Manufacturers no longer make steel septic tanks because they have a much shorter lifespan and often fail from rust. If you have a steel septic tank, it's best to replace it as soon as possible. If it has not failed already, it will soon. Rusted steel septic tanks pose a significant and severe danger for cave-ins, collapse, and sinkholes.

Poor workmanship

All parts of a septic system must work together for the system to function. When one component fails from poor installation, the rest of the system suffers. For example, if an improperly installed septic tank moves from shifting ground conditions or water table levels, it will damage any attached pipes and not function correctly. Any excess strain on your septic system will result in an even more expensive repair down the road.  

When repairing your home's septic issues, always go with an expert. A quality job done right the first time prevents needless headaches in the future. C.A. Taciak & Sons has been repairing Baltimore's septic systems for three generations. Give your home's septic the high-quality materials and expert installation it needs.

While affected by common plumbing issues, there are also problems unique to septic systems that may be happening to your home. These issues are derived from the way a septic system works.

Specific component problems

Septic tank problems

If you are experiencing a sewage backup or slow gurgling drain, it could be an issue with your septic tank. A backup in your home can mean several different things. First, your tank may need pumping, and this step is a good start if you haven't had your tank pumped in the last three years. Another potential cause of a backup is debris clogging the tank's inlet, outlet, or baffles.  

Sometimes a tank doesn't backup, but it does leak. A leaking tank is a sign that your septic system may not be able to drain correctly. This situation usually shows up as a sinkhole. A collapsed or cracked tank can pull dirt into itself, leaving a large pit in your yard, and these holes do not plug themselves. The septic tank will need repair for the sinkhole to stop growing.  

Distribution box problems

Problems with your septic distribution box can also cause a sewage backup in your home. Distribution box lids sometimes cave in or break, and dirt floods into the box, rendering it inoperable. At this point, water no longer drains from any point upstream of the distribution box; when this happens, wastewater will back up into your home.  

One common sign of distribution box problems is a wet or soggy yard. If a distribution box isn't level, an influx of wastewater will repeatedly flow to the same drainage areas in your lawn. These overwhelmed drainage areas will suffer premature wear and stop draining effectively. This situation can fail your septic system and require significant repairs down the road

Dry well problems

Most dry well and drainage area problems occur when water can longer drain from them. This situation arises from two leading causes; some form of pipe blockage or over saturation of the drainage area. If the pipes leading to a drainage area collapse, clog or suffer root infiltration, water can no longer drain from the septic system. This situation would then create a backup. The surrounding soil of a drainage area can also become too saturated with wastewater and can no longer drain and filter correctly. This usually results in a wet or soggy yard but can also lead to a sewage backup into your home.

Deciding between septic repair and septic replacement

Most septic system problems only require a repair because it is very unusual for all three septic systems – the tank, distribution box, or drainage field – to fail simultaneously. Usually, only one component needs attention at a time, and a little maintenance gets everything back in working order. Since septic system components are all related, fixing one part improves the entire system's health.   

A common situation that showcases this concept is dealing with a collapsed or broken distribution box. When a distribution box collapses, it also negatively affects the drainage area further downstream. Simply replacing the small "D-box" fixes the problem in the larger drain field.  

At the other end of the spectrum, a complete septic replacement requires installing new versions of all three components. While not typical, this situation is a possibility. A total septic system replacement usually only occurs after decades of serious neglect.  

Does my septic system need to be repaired?

If you are on septic, the need for repair is always a possibility. There are a few symptoms that show something in your system needs help. Are you experiencing any unusual or frustrating plumbing problems such as:

  • Sewage backups
  • Slow flushing toilets
  • Gurgling toilets
  • Foul smells in your yard
  • Sinkholes
  • Overly green portions of grass
  • Unusually fast-growing trees or bushes
  • Wet or mushy areas on your lawn

If you answered "yes" to any of these symptoms, you might want to consider a drain clean or a septic pumping first. A diagnostic drain clean and camera inspection is a reasonable first step that may get your septic up and running. A septic pumping is also a logical first step if you have not had your tank pumped out in the last 2-3 years. If your problem becomes more serious, a septic repair is often a minimally invasive procedure. Please give us a call if you need help deciding on a course of action.

Does my septic system need to be replaced?

We only recommend a complete septic replacement after a detailed system inspection. In fact, we rarely recommend total replacement because most septic system problems are solvable with a simplified repair-based solution. In the extreme case that your entire septic system needs replacement, we will work to create a plan that fits your needs and budget.

What does a septic system repair cost?

We understand that a septic system repair isn't an exciting project to spend your money on, and a vacation is a far more enjoyable use of your time and money than plumbing work. Still, making the investment in your home to have working plumbing is often a necessity.  

Most Baltimore area septic system repairs begin around $3,900. Pricing depends on job site requirements, the condition of your septic system, and the addition of other options. When you hire C.A. Taciak & Sons, you gain access to 70+ years of plumbing knowledge and our extensive level of equipment. We often save our clients money when other problems reveal themself during a repair because of what we bring out to each job site with us. Instead of paying a company to come out a second time, we are already on site with the needed equipment. We can immediately take care of any additional issues for nominal material costs.

What does a new septic system installation cost?

A completely new septic system installation is usually only required during new home construction. In these situations, septic system installations begin at $30,000. Although this is a hefty price tag, your home's construction loan covers the cost. Always remember a properly maintained septic system can last 50 years or more, and it is a worthwhile and important investment.

Solve your septic problems today

If you're home is experiencing septic issues, we're happy to help! With a long and storied history solving septic issues throughout the greater Baltimore area, our licensed septic installer Frank Taciak, and Master Plumber Sam Taciak, are a knowledgeable team that's eager to help you get your home's plumbing back in working order.

Frequently Asked Questions About Baltimore County Septic Systems

Does C.A. Taciak and Sons do Septic Pumping

We do not perform septic pumping at this time, but we happily recommend several different pumping companies to our customers.  We currently recommend:

I’m on Septic and Well.  Does C.A. Taciak and Sons also do well repair?

Unfortunately, repairing wells is a science and trade unto itself.  We currently do not have the manpower or specialized equipment to help with well repair.  If you need help with your well we recommend:

Patton Well Drilling: 410-592-8662

My septic system is clogged and I'm in a time crunch. How long does a septic repair take?

We can diagnose many septic problems over the phone immediately and onsite within 36 hours.  Depending on our schedule, we can repair most major problems within a few days.  In emergency situations, we make every effort to get to you as soon as possible.  We can often repair small issues that require less equipment even faster. 

Isn’t it Baltimore City or Baltimore County’s responsibility to make sure my septic utilities are working?

Your septic system is a self contained system completely on your property.  Unfortunately it is the homeowners responsibility to ensure that it is working properly. The state of Maryland does require a septic inspection at the sale of every home with a septic system. This ensures that the home’s new owner is taking possession of a house with a working septic system. We are Maryland state certified to perform many types of septic inspections. Please give us a call if this is what you need.  

I know there is a problem with my septic system, but I’m not sure what is wrong or where to start. Can you help?

We know septic systems can get complicated. If the above guide doesn’t cover your unique situation give us a call. We’re here to help. We can often diagnose issues over the phone with our decades of septic experience.