Modern septic system manufacturers and installers design their systems to be reliable and unobtrusive. In other words, you should rarely need to think about your septic system, and you should never need to smell it. Unfortunately, a faulty septic system can produce some highly distinctive and unpleasant odors, which may even be noticeable inside your home.
Unfortunately, septic odors do typically mean that there's a problem with your system. Understanding why these odors occur and what they mean can help you quickly resolve the problem, potentially avoiding more costly and challenging issues with your septic tank or other parts of your system.
What Causes Septic Tank Odors?
The root cause of most septic tank odors will depend on where you're smelling them. If you can smell sewage in your home, that's usually a sign of a backup somewhere in your system. Unlike a municipal sewer hookup, a septic system means that your home's waste management system ends with your yard. This design requires effluent to flow continuously into the drain field in a typical septic system.
Anything that stops effluent flow through your septic drain field will eventually cause waste to fill your tank, forcing it back through the inlet baffle. You will usually notice septic odors as an early warning sign, although it probably won't be long before sewage begins backing up through the drains in your home. Sometimes, the problem may be less severe, such as a dry P-trap allowing gases to escape.
On the other hand, septic odors outside your home are typically a more serious issue. These odors usually indicate an overloaded septic drain field or a leak in your septic tank. If you can see moist spots on your lawn, a drain field problem or a severe leak are most likely the blame. A cracked septic tank lid is more likely if there are no obviously moist areas.
What Should You Do About Noticeable Septic Odors?
The bottom line is that you should never smell septic tank odors in your home or on your property. Noticeable odors are nearly always a sign of a failure in your septic system, or, in some cases, of a severely overloaded and neglected septic tank. The longer you wait to address these issues, the more likely it is that you will cause damage to your septic system or face a messy sewage backup.
Once you can smell sewage from your septic system, you shouldn't waste any time contacting an expert for an evaluation. While repairing problems with your septic tank or septic system can potentially be expensive, the cost of ignoring these problems is often much higher. Locating the source of the odor and fixing the problem is the best way to protect your septic system and home.