What Happens When Your Aerator Isn’t Working?

glass of water representing aerator of septic tank
glass of water representing aerator of septic tank

If you have an aerobic septic system (i.e., one with an aerator), chances are high that your system alarm has sounded at one point or another. More often than not, this alarm does not indicate your aerator is failing and that your system is facing catastrophic failure. More often than not, this alarm signals that something in your system needs your attention. Sometimes, however, this alarm, especially when coupled with other major telltale signs, alerts you to trouble brewing with your aerator. Here are some ways to decipher what your septic aerator is trying to tell you.

How Septic Aerators Work and What Happens When They Don’t

One big part of understanding when your aerator is not working is first understanding how it works. We’ve previously discussed the design and purpose of aerators in an aerobic septic system, but in a nutshell, aerators speed up the process of breaking down solids in your system by adding oxygen, which fosters growth of the bacteria that breaks down and digests the wastewater inside your holding tank. A higher concentration of this good, natural bacteria in your septic system means a more efficient system that cleans wastewater faster and also more thoroughly. Because an aerobic septic system outputs cleaner effluent, a much smaller secondary treatment system (if any) is required than would be needed for an anaerobic system.

If the aerator in your septic system stops working, your system will naturally turn from an aerobic environment to an anaerobic environment, a much slower, much less efficient environment for breaking down the solids in your system. Once your system is functioning as an anaerobic septic, the effluent leaving the system will be much closer to raw sewage than the clear, odorless effluent your aerobic system discharges. Because aerator septic systems typically have much smaller secondary treatment systems (and sometimes no secondary treatment system at all), your system will either begin discharging raw sewage directly into the environment or into the secondary treatment system. If a secondary treatment system is present, this system will quickly become overwhelmed and suffer catastrophic failure, which is why it is critically important to pay attention to the signs that your aerator may be, or has, failed. The surest sign your aerator has failed is an overwhelming unpleasant odor coming from where your system discharges, whether into a secondary treatment system or directly into the environment.

Aeration System Problems

Typically, the first indicator that there’s something wrong with your septic aerator is the system alarm sounding. Unfortunately, there are an several reasons your alarm may sound, not all of which are directly associated with the aerator. The septic alarm is similar to the “check engine” light on your car, and, just as with your car, sorting out the cause often requires the help of a professional. Though not all associated with the aerator, the most common causes of the septic alarm sounding we see are:

  • Loss of Power: This is one of the easier problems to solve. Often this is caused by a tripped circuit breaker. If this problem keeps occurring, however, it’s a sign of a larger electrical problem and should be investigated by us immediately.
  • Sewage Pump Failure: If the sewage pump fails, it will cause the water in your system to rise, signaling your septic alarm. You may need to replace or repair your sewage pump to restore your system to functionality.
  • Inadequate Air Pressure: Proper air pressure is necessary in order for your aerator to adequately oxygenate your system. If your system’s air pressure is inadequate, it often signals a need to replace or repair the system’s aerator.
  • Broken Timer: The timer in your aerobic system ensures water is not released until the effluent is clear and clean enough for your system’s next phase, whether being directly released or transferred to a secondary treatment system.
  • Clogged Diffuser: As the outlet for your system, if the diffuser becomes clogged your system will not be able to discharge the fluids held by the system.

If your septic alarm sounds, silence the alarm and immediately check to determine whether the problem is simply a tripped circuit breaker. If this is not the problem, or if the breaker continues to trip, you will need to have your system serviced immediately. Problems with your aerobic septic system compound quickly, so do not wait to call. 

Supeck Septic is the only septic service provider in Northeast Ohio that houses an independent aerator repair shop, enabling us to service all makes and models of aerators, typically repairing malfunctioning units within a week. We recommend aeration systems be serviced every six months or, as needed, when problems like those we’ve mentioned above crop up. Is your system in need of repair or servicing? Contact us today!