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Discussion Starter #1
All,
(Long winded sorry)
Been living in our rural home for about 4+ years now with the wife and our 5 children.

Upon purchase of the home I had the septic system emptied. The main reason to get the system emptied was it gave me some piece of mind. The previous owner was not sure when they emptied the system last as they had not really been living in the home continually for some time as they had a home down south. They said they never had any issue with the system and they had a family of 6. Not to mention the county inspection did not really want to be involved in the home sale/inspection...so this was the best it was going to get type of thing. The age and condition of system was unknown but there is mention of extensive remodeling of the home in the mid to late 1990's. The home was built in 1900 and is 3100 sqft farm home. The house has always had 4 kids or more in it. We ended up meeting the original family who built it (great grandfather of the guy actually).

Anyways we have been working on a remodel of the downstairs bathroom. Its been going on for longer than I care to admit which is unusual for me. The bathroom is getting a new sub-floor and a complete gutting of all fixtures etc. One day we began to smell a sewage smell in the bathroom. This is after we started the remodel...in fact months after. I originally assumed open pipes (toilet/sink/tub) but upon stuffing the pipes with rags, etc the smell did not leave and in fact began to get worse. I began to wonder if we somehow affected the sewer pipe (riping up floor) but we were not really messing with the exhaust pipes as the exhaust (sewer) pipes are in the corner of the room. Everything goes through this bathroom in the corner of the room behind whats normally a closet space.

A couple days go by and I notice the crawl space appearing to become wet (not open standing water) but the ground is dark instead of normal sand looking. Smell continued at times. Specifically when we ran high water items. For example our new 6.0 cubic foot washer machine or when the kids took a bath in upstairs bathroom.

I climbed under the home (thru the bathroom open floor) to find 24 ft away a open clay pipe coming out of the ground about 12 inches under what is now the laundry room. This section of our home is a newer section but I believe its not part of the late 1990's remodel. Anyways this pipe was over flowing with water. (not capped and pipe was not a clean cut) This pipe is in direct line up (underground) of the pipe in the bathroom closet it appears. Keep in mind the septic tank is closer to the bathroom (front of house) not the laundry room (back of house). In fact they are on both outside edges (about) of the home. So my guess this was probably a original drainage line for the house on that side for some reason in the past.

So I decided to have the tank emptied. It seemed about the right time 4 years as the septic fellow mentioned to us have it cleaned every 3 to 5 years based on number of kids/people/use etc. Also I figure it would dry things up so I could boot/cap/seal the clay pipe discovered open under the home. I have since done this capping of the pipe. There was standing water under the house once I reached the pipe. This over flowing water ended once capped and septic was emptied but I still believe the ground looks damp.

So when the fellow came out and emptied the tank he told me he believe it was a 1500 gallon tank and it was modern setup and it either emptied in to the ditch or hooking into a drainage tile. The tank is plastic (black) and has ribs it appears. The piping coming into the septic tank is PVC. There is a cleanout before the entry side.
The exhaust side is also PVC. I do not see a cleanout on that exhaust side of the tank. After that I do not know where it goes.

So I figured that was the end of all this problem. I complete the bathroom changes (couple days later) to the point I am about to seal the subfloor down when I noticed the smell is outside and I begin to see bubbling water out the top of the tank. Standing water forms outside around the tank when I run the dishwasher or any major water in the house. It is clearly coming out the top of the tank. (Cleanout cap) This of course has stopped the remodel.

So I dug the plastic lid up. Confirmed its placement. Put a flat patio block on top. Reburried it in soil and tamped it down smooth. Later that day it bubbled up again.

So I begin to wonder I must have a blockage outside the tank but where exactly is anyones guess as I have no idea where the pipe goes that is coming out of the septic tank.

My yard is somewhat hard to describe but I believe the layout may give me an idea where the pipe goes so here goes.

There are two large Black Elms in the front center of the house that I believe have been there since the house was built. The closest tree to the tank I think is a good 30 feet away or more from the exhaust side of the tank. There is a road approximately 65 feet straight out from the tank (front of house/tank). Further out from road there is a deep ditch. Minimum 6ft deep could be more. To the right of the tank is a drive way going straight out to road. The closest tree branches about reach the drive. On the right side of driveway my yard drops/slopes 3 ft or more quickly. On the opposite side of tank (left side) is the house (kitchen(side of tank)/downstairs bath (intake of septic tank)) and rest of the house. Further over which is about 50 feet from the house is the pond.

So I cannot figure for the life of me where there could be a leach bed. My thinking is this tank has a pipe that goes straight out the tank and under the road to the ditch ( as mentioned by the cleaning guys). So there really is no leach field just a drain line to the ditch. So I went into the ditch and weed whacked an area from the bottom of ditch to the road about the width of a car directly across from the tank but I do not see any piping. The ditch tehn was not overly wet at all and the bottom is currently soft but not muddy (lots of grass). In the spring this ditch will fill and has reached the road and overflowed in the fields surrounding house.

I will mention as I write this that I remember noticing a oddly white area in the wall of the ditch. Maybe crushed stone? It was not more than a foot wide tops and I am now wondering if the pipe may be somehow buried and I am seeing the crushed stone that could be normally surrounding the pipe. It may be hard to get to it again as it was raining all day today but I will check it out tomorrow.

I have not or ever have had any wet spots in our lawn or exceptionally green areas. The only exception is the water coming out of the top of the tank since the recent emptying. My previous home had a septic system that was failing which you could clearly see the "Y" in the yard. Luckily the county was already dropping in sewers in the area in that situation.

There is a cistern near the pond/road that handles the exhaust of our sump pump (2 inch pipe). I opened the cistern and looked down. The cistern has the 2 inch pipe on one side and a large pipe going under road. The cistern is directly next to the road. I doubt the septic tank lines would cross the yard (between large trees) to reach this cistern either as its a considerable distance.

As I mentioned the right side of the tank is a drive way and then a drastic slope. I also doubt they would run under the drive and deal with the slope or the driveway. Not to mention there is no wet spot on that side of the yard either.

Another thing worth mentioning, I noticed when they emptied the tank that the exhaust pipe on the inside of the tank was not a "T" setup. It was a Elbow and the open elbow was facing up to the top of the tank. My previous home it was concrete outlet that I believe was straight out the side. A lot of the stuff I see online says its a "T" to help prevent SCRUM from getting into the exhaust pipe which I guess affects leach bed.

So I am thinking I may have to get a Drain Cleaner/Auger and start on the Exhaust side of the tank. My guess the clog is probably close to the tank as I would probably have a wet spot in the yard previous to the clog. The only exception is if the exhaust line is solid drain line and I am clogged at the end in the ditch.

Any ideas, suggestions, does this make sense, or things people have done to trace there septic system are greatly appreciated,

Chris
 

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The first thing I might do is go back to one of the family members and see if you can gleen any information from them regarding what is what and where it is and goes.

It sounds like you are very diligent in your methods and practices.

Most clogs I have experience with were cleared by jetting the lines. Most septic trucks can do that type of work.
Of course, a 120 year old house, as you are finding out, isn't always that simple. They carry a lot of secrets.
 

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Assuming you are correct about the septic system discharging to the road ditch, the white area on the side of the road ditch could be toilet paper and/or scum (ie, congealed fats, oils, and soap). Sites where septage is land applied always have a white surface once the septage is dried and before it is incorporated.

To make sure there is a plug in the outlet line, and to help identify where it empties, you might want to stick a garden hose into the elbow on the outlet side of the septic tank. Turn the water spigot for full flow. Watch it and see if the water goes away or if the water starts to overflow the elbow. If the water keeps flowing, let it run for a few hours. Look around for a wet spot.

If running water down the outlet line doesn't help you find where the wastewater is discharging, I would make a probe with a 5ft section of re-rod. Weld a T-handle to one end and grind a point on the other end. You know where the outlet line comes into the septic tank, so start your probing there. You will likely find that the outlet line runs in a straight direction. Consequently, you should not have to probe very often to keep finding the line as you move away from the septic tank. Each time you hit the pipe with the probe, mark the spot with a stick or rock or spray paint.

If the running water from the hose quickly starts to overflow our of the outlet elbow, then there is a plug somewhere. As GTX mentioned, you'll likely have to hire a company to jet the pipe. Jetting the pipe will only help if the pipe is plugged. If by chance the wastewater is going to a drainfield or cesspool, and the soil surrounding the drainfield or cesspool is plugged, jetting the pipe will not help.

I don't know about the laws of your State, put running septic effluent to a road ditch is illegal in Minnesota. If the jetting company fines that the pipe empties to the ditch, make sure you're nice to them. Pay them right away and give them a tip. Hopefully, they will not turn you in.

When the problem is corrected, cut off that outlet elbow and replace it with a tee. Glue a length of PVC to the top and bottom ends of the tee. The bottom section of pipe should be about 24" long and the top section about 12" long. These lengths are measured from the bottom of the outlet pipe. Of course, the dimensions are dependant on the size and dimensions of your septic tank. With your current set up (elbow facing upward) all of the scum is being sent down the outlet line. Scum is great at plugging pipes and soil.
 

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Discussion Starter #4
GTX63,
I gave that a shot already as the fellow is the great grandson and he is almost 70. He recently sold the land (retired) behind me to another farmer (another neighbor) and we were going to buy his original barn and a small parcel of land from the now owners but Covid-19, a job loss, and a death of my wife's Dad has put that on hold (possibly permanently) as the land again switched hands in the new owners family as well and the new owner has appeared not to want to hold up the land agreement we came up previously. In all it will work out....that is a whole another discussion.

I have asked the new owners of that land and the great grandson if they remember anything. Both said they believe it goes straight to the road ditch, similar to other homes in the area, but they are not positive as we are quite distanced space-wise between neighbors. Not to mention the newer tank I would think would had to been done from the people we purchased the house from originally. Not the original builder of the house family. The people we purchased the home from lived in the home for about 25 years. They unfortunately have moved completely out of the area as the wife got a new job (She was retired) but she came out of retirement and he was recently retired and they moved.

I am going to go out to that ditch with a shovel today and dig in the small odd white area hoping its white gravel to find a somehow buried drain pipe.

I will let everyone know what I find.

Thanks
Chris
 

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Discussion Starter #5
Cabin Fever,
Thanks for the response!

I am heading out to the ditch this morning to see if I can ascertain things more. I hope the pipe is somehow just below the surface and the white is stone/gravel or discharge.

As far as legality, I know Minnesota definetly has there multitude of waterways...used to do a annual trip with my father to Bemidji to fish on Twin Lakes. I miss those days! It does make sense on the legal/ecological side of things....but...I believe in my area this is quite common scenario for the rural areas especially with homes older then the late 1990s. I know the US Geological society issued mandate then on Well drilling locations and depths. (It was a big news story then and guess whose well is older then the 1990s but I have had it independently tested and everything mechanically (Filter/softener/pressure tank and pump) has been replaced in last 2 years.

I know neighbors have a mixture of what I believe my septic system is and what I had in my previous home (leachbed etc).

I know commonly, at least when I was a kid, farmers used to put "refuge" on their fields which it sets for a certain amount of time then they till it under. I believe the refuge came from our treatment plants and other sources (large pig and dairy which there are many). Which as we all know will get in the ditches in runoff scenarios.

My area (County) has more ditches then supposedly any other location in North America as they (settlers) drained the Great Black Swamp. The ditch across the way from me is a small ditch...There are very deep ditches (~12+ ft deep or more) that head to the Maumee,Portage, Sandusky, or Blanchard Rivers. Some of these rivers empty into the Lake Erie (40 miles away) which today and in the past have been blamed on the Algae bloom we experience in Lake Erie. Farmers unfortunately find themselves at the front of this battle and scholars have debated it for decades. The problem is, in my limited Geological experience (Minor in Geology - Bachelor of Science and a Masters in Science) is due to them draining the swamp actually as it was originally and is a "filter" for the Lake. Honestly its not something your going to fix overnight and "progress" is to blame. Its a very interesting scientific issue.

There are many opportunities (Grants) to help in scenarios I may be in. In fact a guy I know at my past work had his system completely replaced ($23000) and his out of pocket was less than $2000 as the local county grants picked up the tab. Evidently his county (two over) have very little applications annually.

Now I believe today that any new system must have very specific setup (I would have to look it up/talk to the county inspector) and my assumed setup would not pass. On the house purchase (wife was the realtor) we dealt with the County and they basically sat me down and said "The fee for inspection is $175. We will inspect and tell you the condition etc but if we find anything not meeting today's requirements the system will be required to be updated either by us (new owners of house) or the previous owners going forward (set amount of time) regardless of the sale of the home or not. If we do not come out then there is no problem." I had a similar situation when I went for Permits for my pole barn. County inspector asked my location. (I went in to the office) I told him and his exact words "No permits are necessary unless you add additional electrical service as its Agricultural". I made them put it in writing and they did as I guess its a common surprise. I know my last pole barn/garage inspection was over $700 with electrical permits.

So I could see how this system whether its correct or not could have gotten past Inspection but as you said I will work gingerly in this situation and will try to do most of this myself or with neighbors. The neighbor 2 doors down is the local field tiler.

Thanks everyone for the help I will keep you posted.
Chris
 

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Since your area has so much drainage taking place, and since your neighbor is a field tiler, it could be that your septic outlet pipe is connected to a field tile. This type of connection is not uncommon for older farm homes in Minnesota.
 

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Discussion Starter #7
Since your area has so much drainage taking place, and since your neighbor is a field tiler, it could be that your septic outlet pipe is connected to a field tile. This type of connection is not uncommon for older farm homes in Minnesota.
That field tile is a possibility as well...

Well I did not find the pipe in the ditch. I even went over to the Cistern and tried to follow that pipe. As its quite literally next to the road.and clearly has a pipe going underneath it. I even weed wacked the whole area down. I will say in the ditch by the Cistern its much wetter at the ditch bottom (standing water but not more than a inch).

So I went and got my toilet auger/cleaner hoping my problem was at the opening or within three feet of the opening of the exhaust pipe. I have a large wet dry vac and I drained the tank down and dumped the "Water" well away from my current location. I clearly could see my exhaust pipe inside the tank. I have mispoke previously there is a T setup on the inside which is a relief. Unfortunately the exhaust line is clear well beyond the reach of that tool.

I tried a sink auger/cleaner (drill type) as I have one at my current location. Did I mention most of my tools are 50 miles north....lol. I did not have much luck for numerous reason but most of the reason is my inemptness with it and the crappy angle and the tool is really not made for that scenario.

OK, so I got out a hose, got on my belly, and tried to push the hose into the exhaust pipe. I got the hose to what appears a good 8 to 10 feet. Then I seem to have a stop. I am barely clearing the house porch (inches). No where near the trees or overhanging branches. I am thinking I am hitting a lip on a pipe connection, maybe a "Y" (?), and I cannot get past it. I turned on the hose and it took a while (~10 minutes) but it filled the septic tank again over the top. The backflow of the water from the exhaust pipe (circulation seemed dirty almost like dirt). The ten minutes of flow against the stoppage did not seem to cause it to drain.

I marked the hose distance. Then took the hose out of exhaust pipe and placed a marker directly straight out from that point in the direction of the exhaust pipe. To label roughly the location of the stoppage.

So I am tempted to dig the spot out quick to see what it is exactly. It cannot be more than a couple feet down. I am also tempted to pick up one of these;


It will be about $320. Or call the plumber and say $%#% it.

I am going to call around to see the availability of the above tool and see the availability of the plumber as well.

Suggestions or ideas?

Thanks
Chris
 

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Just be real careful using a power auger in PVC pipe.
 

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It can't hurt to grab your shovel and start digging out that area.
In my non professional experience, the majority of clogs are just inside the entry to the drain line or just before the exit.
Some of my greatest homesteader education, and most of it, "was learn as I go".
You might even save a few bucks doing some of the digging and troubleshooting yourself.
 

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Discussion Starter #10
All,
First I tried to use a plumbers snake (Flat Fish) my mother in law had in her basement.

In the Air Force she was a plumber and she used to be the Plumbing Manager for years at the local Mendards till my Father-in-law passed this past April. So she knows a thing or two on plumbing and she has more then the typical persons tools. Not to mention my Father in Law was in HVAC in the Air Force and 26 years. So they have been the plumbing resources for me for a while.

Unfortunately the Exhaust line after a considerable about of playing around was discovered to drop just outside the tank and then do another elbow out. So kinda of like a double "s" but not exactly as the interior "T" just made it more difficult to get the fish or anything in. Anyways you just could not get it more then 8-10 ft from the septic tank....trust me 4 hours of different tools and approaches still that was it. So I figured that must have been the clog.

So I figured time to call the plumber. Called a reputable (national) chain to see what the worse would be on that. Basically $200 to show up (based on my remote location (trip Charger) - which was like 20 miles from his location ???) to look at what I have and so much hourly I believe it was like $72 but he said something about $54 I think for half hour. I was like ok come on out...then he says he might be able to see me Monday evening if not sometime Tuesday. This is a 24 hour emergency service number I called (???). Then he talked about some disperation box is probably the issue (collapsing) and he said $2000 if he had to break the soil in any fashion and he was almost positive that it was the box. Also he mentioned how my county had recently required a bunch of septic tank procedural changes etc.

So I told him to pencil me in for Monday evening but I was not giving up and I would call him in the morning with my address if I needed him. (I never gave my address) Honestly the feeling I got was its a nice day out...not working today but it could have been my mood playing into things...does not help I grew up in the trades (family business).

So I went to Harbor Freight and purchased the below as I was considering it before (it was a risk $$$) ;

Also a pair of Leather work gloves.

Gave it a try after reading the manual. I have had experience with one of these before but it was a rental tool. I got the drain clear of water with that one but it later (about a week) reclogged cause I did not go thru more than once. Just got the water to drop in the plug and moved on. (Mistake - the clog then was actually a Wallet of a family member - do not ask...lol) I ended up calling a local plumber who came out took a look and went on our roof and cleared the pipe (toilet). He only charged me $125 but thats been almost 20 yeas ago.I would have never figured that one in a million years. But he even said it was a tricky one and evidently common in our neighborhood to do the rough process.

So I tried using my new tool.and I hit about the 10 ft mark again. It took a little bit and it went thru (a lip or pipe change?) but my water did not drop at all. But the snake/auger just kept on going till my last 8-10ft of line. I was starting to get very worried I may not have enough. Then BAM I hit something. I tried the "arrow" tip (Spade) but it just did not get through and I really was getting used to the tool at that time. So I brought the snake all the way back. I swore the water dropped just a little bit. So I watched it for about 5 minutes. No more movement. So I tried the "discovery" (Bulb Cutter Tip) cause I was not really sure what I was dealing with exactly (roots, etc). So I used the bulb cutter and got used to the tool more. I guess its a automatic compare to the other tool Harbor Freight carries in stock. Four more passes at say forty feet out each time. Each time I brought a little something back. First it was a large toilet paper chunk or possibly a full wet nap. Which I am not sure where that came from cause we do not buy them but we did have guest over just prior to this all starting not to mention some other guests a month before things started. but who knows with five kids. The second time I brought back chunks of a plastic bag (grocery type (appeared brown - small chunks). Each time large amounts of hair and a little toilet paper. One time what looked to be Straw...not roots but actual pieces of straw/dried grass (thin and flat). Each time I felt like I understood the tool better and each time I swore I saw the water level in the tank drop just a little. Then finally on the next hit/run the water dropped to below/bottom of exhaust line and quickly. I ran it back in for in that area a few times. Then I ran it down an additional time all the way out on the machine (~50 feet). Finally an additional time with the Arrow cutter all the way out (Clean Pipe edges/handle any roots if any) and back slowly from about the 40 to 50ft mark.

I then turned on everything in the house water-wise. Then after that I put a hose in the exhaust pipe and let it run for 45 minutes. The tank never went up from the bottom of that white pipe.

So at this point darkness set in...I still have to cover the tank with dirt and fill a decent whole in my yard. Not to mention clean up my tools.

We will see.

Thanks for all the help,
Chris
 

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Congratulations! I love a story where perseverance and the refusal to accept defeat equals a great ending.

I have seen things removed from drain lines that have no explanation of how they even fit thru the toilet's trap.

I would add this, not a suggestion but our own personal practice. We add nothing to our toilets but waste. We use wet wipes rather than toilet paper, but regardless, it all goes into sealed trash containers. Absolutely no paper products whatsoever is flushed.
We had our system pumped and inspected two years ago and it has been in place going on 35 years without any major issue.
Now, you can go back to that project you were doing before this all occurred. What was it again?
 

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The one thing I would highly recommend that you purchase, now that the problem appears to be fixed, is an effluent filter. The type of filter I use (shown below) is like a big bottle brush. This filter will allow wastewater to flow out out of the outlet baffle (ie, the part you call the exhaust tee) but will not let hair, toliet paper, lint, scum, etc flow out. In other words, an effluent filter is protection against pipe and soil plugging. I clean mine every year.

91544
91545


https://www.simtechfilterinc.com/bristle-filters
 

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BTW, Good job!!

It would still be nice to know where your effluent discharges to.

The plumber you called must have assumed that your place has a standard drainfield that uses a distribution box and/or drop boxes.
 

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Discussion Starter #14
All,
Again thanks for the help!

I was actually looking at the Effluent Filters yesterday. Some of them are also part of the complete Effluent T piping like the below (No Bristles);


The once a Year clean out would be definetly acceptable to avoid this situation again.

My question would be ... does household size affect greatly the cleanout regimen. Meaning if I have a family of 7 total would that be more likely to have to be cleaned out at 6 months. Looking at the site it actually mentions to clean it out once every 3 years and the video says once a year...so I am probably a once a year type of thing. We do have a disposal but I use it like maybe once a week, if that, to clean out junk piled up from dishes in the sink. Dishwasher run 3-4 loads daily now with everyone home due to Covid-19.

Another thing the video nor their website mentions is its cleaning. Can you power wash or wash the bristles out? It appears looking at the replacement video that the brush was used previously due to crushing...but not certain.

I see that brand is available on Amazon and will be bought by end of day;


I did try to tell the plumber I believe I did not have a standard drainfield that some of my neighbors I believe leach into the ditch or the field drainage tiles. I told him it was before 2003 mandates for our area. So anything was possible...that is when he went into the distribution box and county involvement.

Again thanks everyone...I have some work ahead of me to clean up from yesterday,..hoping things continue to be good.

Chris
 

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I would suggest buying two of the brush effluent filters. When maintenace time comes, I remove the dirty effluent filter and insert a clean effluent filter (consequently, I rotate two filters). I clean the dirty filter with a garden hose and then allow it to dry by hanging it in the garage. When dry I will pull out some hair and lint that the hose spraying didn't remove. The cleaned filter is stored until the following year.

Coinsidently, I just bought two new filters from Amazon. The old filters were in rough shape (they were 14 years old).
91548
 

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Discussion Starter #16
Cabin Fever,

Sounds Good!

Thanks for the advice!

I have bought 2.

Now, completely unrelated to the septic, I get to work on my electric water heater. I get cool water...not cold but definetly not hot. The upper element has high resistance...no continuity buzzer and the lower element I have continuity on so the lower appears ok. Going to replace both thermostats and both of the elements. I am surprised at the water heater as it is one of the newest house appliances... "supposedly" replaced less than 2 years prior to our purchase of the home...it had a 6 year warranty...its the 7th year...

I guess its a plumbing month... :)

Thanks
Chris
 

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I would just replace the upper element. I bet that will fix the issue. Or, buy everything you mentioned. Replace the upper element first. Then, give it a try. If it works, return the rest of the parts or keep them as spares.
 

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Discussion Starter #18
I would just replace the upper element. I bet that will fix the issue. Or, buy everything you mentioned. Replace the upper element first. Then, give it a try. If it works, return the rest of the parts or keep them as spares.
Actually its funny you say that....I found the upper elelment locally at our Menards for a little over $5 bucks.

I am thinking of sourcing the complete tune up kit for $30 online shipped for both elements, thermostats, and plastic thermstat covers. Get the heater up and have a spare set all for around $35.

Thanks
Chris
 

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Discussion Starter #19
All,
Got Hot Water.

The upper heating element was beyond gone. I was just happy it came out in one piece as once it was out it fell apart before it made the table.

I am hoping the Effluent Filters arrive by end of day...Supposed to rain tomorrow.

Thanks
Chris
 
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