Rural Home Technology


Septic System Troubleshooting Guide

Suspect that something is wrong with your septic system?

This Guide should help you locate your system and determine just what the problem is. The links that are provided should help you find a solution.


Before you begin troubleshooting we recommend that you check out the Evolution of the Septic System, to gain an understanding of how systems work and the relationships of their parts.

The Flow Chart appears as a conventional diagram (shown in the thumbnail at right) that allows you to navigate down through just as you would on the original printed version.

This will provide you with Troubleshooting Notes to help you understand where to go and what to do next and a Glossary that defines unfamiliar terms.

You have a choice of four starting points. Select any one of the following:

  • Routine Inspection to determine the condition of a system, even if no problem is apparent. (such as for property transfer or to locate a "missing system")
  • Poor Flush if a problem exists with this particular toilet fixture only and all other plumbing in the house is OK. For toilet problems check out
  • Toilet and Drain Backup if several of the plumbing fixtures have problems, which means that wastewater is not leaving the house properly, or
  • Odor, or Water on Ground if you detect a foul smell outside the house and/or water is seeping out of the ground in the suspected area of the septic system even though there is no problem with the plumbing inside.

For more information try these links:

Start Troubleshooting!

This Guide was originally published in the Journal of Light Construction (RR 2, Box 146, Richmond, VT 05477;; Subscription information: 800/375-5981) and is used with their permission.



Thanks for the effort you put into it. It has helped me figure out my backed up system. I have five daughters so it's essential I get it working by winter!

D. S., Whitefish, Montana

I've just been visiting your wonderful website! What generous sharing of helpful and thorough information!


I went to your website and spent an educational hour or more surfing! You have certainly taken a great deal of care in putting useful information out to educate your consumers.

J.S., Fryeburg, Maine, after having Russ do a septic inspection for a home purchase