Frequently Asked Questions
Septic Services Frequently Asked Questions
Scroll down to view all the septic questions and answers or click directly to one you’re interested in:
Question: What is a septic tank? ANSWER
Question: Where is my septic tank located? ANSWER
Question: Are all septic tanks the same size? ANSWER
Question: Why does the septic system need pumped out periodically? ANSWER
Question: How often do you recommend having your septic tank pumped? ANSWER
Question: If I had my system pumped a week ago, why is it full again? ANSWER
Question: How do I know if my system is not functioning properly? ANSWER
Question: What items should NOT be flushed down the toilet? ANSWER
Question: What additives will help maintain optimum performance in the septic tank? ANSWER
Question: What chemicals can I use that would be safe for my septic system? ANSWER
Question: Should the top of my septic tank be accessible? ANSWER
Question: Can flushing unused pills down the toilet harm my septic system? ANSWER
Question: We have a strong odor outside our house. Could this be coming from our septic system? ANSWER
Question: My down spouts drain directly onto my lawn. Can this hurt my septic system? ANSWER
Question: What are the advantages of new septic systems over the older septic systems? ANSWER
Question: How long should my system last before I need a new one? ANSWER
Question: How much does a new septic system cost? ANSWER
Question: Will my garbage disposal hurt my system? ANSWER
Question: My yard has a wet spot in it and has a bad odor. What is the problem? ANSWER
Question: I am getting ready to build. How do I get a permit for the septic system? ANSWER
Question: Is any one type of system better than the other? ANSWER
Question: What do you look for when you do an inspection? ANSWER
Question: What is a septic tank?
- The septic tank, a key component of the septic system, is a large container usually buried near the home that collects sewage and decomposes it through bacterial activity before draining.
- The septic tank serves three main functions:
- Removal of solids. As sewage enters the septic tank, its speed of flow is reduced so that the smaller solids descend to the bottom creating a sludge and larger solids rise to the surface. These solids are retained in the tank, and the clarified effluent with suspended and dissolved solids is discharged.
- Bacterial Action. The solids in the tank are partly degenerated by bacteria and other natural methods. These bacteria are called anaerobic because they thrive in the absence of free oxygen. This decomposition of sewage under anaerobic conditions is termed “septic.”
- Sludge and scum storage. Sludge is the buildup of solids that have broken down and reside at the bottom of the tank, while scum is a somewhat submerged mat of larger floating solids that may form at or close the surface. Space must be present in the tank to store these residues during the interims between pumping. If there is no existing space, the effluent or sewage that has been treated in the septic tank, will ultimately be scoured from the tank and will clog the leach field and receiving soil.
There are three main types of septic tanks for on-site water treatment:
- Concrete; the most common
- Fiberglass; used often in “hard to get to” locations because they are easy to carry
- Polyethylene/Plastic Tanks; like fiberglass tanks, these are light, one-piece tanks that can be carried to “hard to get to” locations
Question: Where is my septic tank located?
- The septic tank is usually buried near your house and connected by a sewer pipe to your indoor plumbing. Most newer septic tanks have access lids that are visible at or just above ground level. Some older septic tanks can be located by finding an area of the yard that grows faster and is greener than the rest of the yard, or it may even be an area with less growth. If there is no visible sign of where the tank is situated, contact your local health department. Depending on when your system was installed, the health department may have a permit on record, which should include a diagram showing the location of the system.
Question: Are all septic tanks the same size?
- No, they are not all the same size. Septic tanks are sold in a variety of sizes for numerous applications. The size of the septic tank you need depends on the number of bedrooms in the home, number of people living there, the home’s square footage and whether or not water saving fixtures are used.
Question: Why does the septic system need pumped out periodically?
- As the septic tank is used, sludge will continue to gather at the bottom. Properly designed tanks typically have enough space for two to three years of safe accumulation of sludge. When the sludge level rises beyond this point, sewage has less time to settle properly before leaving the tank. As the sludge level increases, more solids escape into the filter or leach bed area. If sludge accumulates too long, there is no time for settling before the sewage leaks directly to the absorption area. When this happens, your drain fields will become terminal and will need to be replaced. To prevent this, the tank must be pumped out every 2 years at a minimum. The amount of time between pumping depends on the size of your family and household usage.
Question: How often do you recommend having your septic tank pumped?
- Pumping may depend on the size of your family. A family of 4 should have their tank pumped about every 2 years. A 2-member household should be pumped every 3 years. Systems with larger families, families that use their laundry and their garbage disposals frequently should be pumped on a yearly basis. Pumping frequency may also depend on the type of system the house currently has. Regular pumping is cost effective as it extends the life of your leach field.
Question: If I had my system pumped a week ago, why is it full again?
- The septic tank will resume normal water level soon after being pumped. The purpose of having your tank pumped is to remove the effluent or sewage that has been treated in the septic tank, that will eventually lead to system failure. It is typical to see water in the tank; however, the water level must be at or below the bottom of your outlet line. If the water level is above the outlet line, there is a problem with the system. If this should happen, call your service provider for assistance.
Question: How do I know if my system is not functioning properly?
- If you system is showing any of these signs, it may need to be checked by a professional:
- Water surfacing on the ground
- Gurgling in the downstairs plumbing/downstairs toilet or laundry tub not draining properly
- Toilets and sinks draining slowly
- System backups
- Pump station alarm is going off
- Foul sewage odors inside the house or outside
Question: What items should NOT be flushed down the toilet?
- Cigarette Filters
- Paper Towels
- Baby Wipes
- Plastic Products
- Feminine Hygiene Products
- Any product that cannot be broken down
- *It is recommended that you use a 2 ply toilet paper for best results, as too much cotton fiber will not properly breakdown.
Question: What additives will help maintain optimum performance in the septic tank?
- Additives are used by many homeowners to help take an active role in maintaining their septic system. There are several products that can be used in septic systems; all of which have pros and cons associated with them.
A few general recommendations for the use of septic tank additives:
- Acids and bases may cause sludge bulking and disturb the biological activity of the septic tank. They may also transfer over into the drain field and change the soil characteristics in ways that might cause drain field failure.
- Enzymes only added to augment septic tank performance without adding bacteria may instead add to the loading of the drain field, increasing the likelihood of failure.
- Adding yeast may actually increase the performance of the system.
- Many root killer products should not obstruct performance of the system if used as directed.
Question: What chemicals can I use that would be safe for my septic system?
- No chemical will enhance or protect the septic system in any way.
Question: Should the top of my septic tank be accessible?
- In order to inspect and maintain your septic tank, access to the inlet and outlet ports is necessary. Risers and childproof access lids can easily be installed to ground level to provide for easy access.
Question: Can flushing unused pills down the toilet harm my septic system?
- Yes, it is extremely harmful. The purpose of your septic system is to consume and break down human waste. When chemicals such as antibiotics and so on enter your tank, it causes an imbalance in the ecosystem, weakening or killing the bacteria in the septic tank. This causes solid waste to build up in the tank much quicker, leading to problems in the drainfield and/or mound. Not only is flushing medications down the toilet harmful to the septic system, but it can also lead to drinking water contamination.
Question: We have a strong odor outside our house. Could this be coming from our septic system?
- Yes, but it could also be from another source. You will first want to determine if the source is on your property. To locate the cause, go upwind from your house. If the source of the odor is on your property, check for possible propane or gas leaks and take appropriate safety measures. Once the possibility of a propane or gas leak is eliminated, you can then move onto the septic system as a likely source. Have the tank pumped if it has been more than 2 years since you have had it pumped out.
Question: My down spouts drain directly onto my lawn. Can this hurt my septic system?
- Yes, it can be very detrimental to the septic system. All roof and water should be channeled away from your septic system. Excess water can hinder performance by flooding the secondary treatment system. Install gutters, make changes to your landscaping and install down spouts connected into tiles to channel the surface water away.
Question: What are the advantages of new septic systems over the older septic systems?
- There are a number of advantages to newer septic systems. Peace of mind, when properly installed and maintained, is the most obvious advantage. Another advantage of newer systems is the use of PVC lines and other modern plumbing techniques, greatly reducing the risk of system backups if properly maintained.
Question: How long should my system last before I need a new one?
- The lifespan of a septic system can vary depending on a number of factors. Septic drain fields or drywells may last up to 35 years if the system has been installed correctly, kept up with regular maintenance, and used appropriately.
With proper maintenance, steel septic tanks can last, on average, about 15 to 20 years. After this length of time, they tend to rust, therefore, needing replaced. Concrete septic tanks tend to last much longer; if the soil has a good ph balance, some septic tanks could potentially last forever. With proper maintenance and pumping, drain and leach fields can also last for several decades, most lasting for at least 50 years.
Question: How much does a new septic system cost?
- The cost of a septic system will depend on its size, and the size will hinge on how much water you use. Both of these can be estimated by using the number of bedrooms in your house as a rule of thumb. For example, a three-bedroom home can expect to need a 1,250-gallon tank, which can range in price from $8,000 to $10,000. For a five-bedroom home, you will probably need a 1,500-gallon tank, which can cost up to $15,000. All of these estimates would vary depending on the county ordinance in which you reside.
If you are considering replacing your system, now may be the time to do it; once new regulations are passed, the cost will dramatically increase. Aside from the cost of the system and installation, other costs may include permits, soil tests, excavation equipment, etc.
Question: Will my garbage disposal hurt my system?
- Your garbage disposal should be used in moderation, or not at all if possible, as it will put too many solids in your system. Garbage disposals are meant for city sewers, not septic systems. When you use a garbage disposal for your septic system, you are overfilling the waste that is being put into the tank. This is an issue because the excess waste will never get a chance to break down in the wet environment.
Question: My yard has a wet spot in it and has a bad odor. What is the problem?
- There is most likely something wrong with your drain field. If too much of the effluent or sewage that has been treated in your septic tank gets into the field, it produces a film that will not let the water drain into the ground; instead of going down, the water eventually starts to come up into the yard. Your field may need revitalized or it could be something as simple as a blockage in the line that needs cleared.
Question: I am getting ready to build. How do I get a permit for the septic system?
- Contact your local Environmental Health Department for information.
Question: Is any one type of system better than the other?
- Your professional septic installer will be able to give you their opinion on the different types available. The permit you receive from the Environmental Health Department will identify the type of system that should be installed; however, you may be able to use another type depending on your individual circumstances.
Question: What do you look for when you do an inspection?
- The type of system (septic tank, aeration system, etc.)
- The capacity of the tank in gallons
- Was the liquid in the tank at the proper level?
- Was there any surface discharge observed or effluent noticed on the ground?
- Did water enter the tank from the house?
- Was the outlet tee in place?
- Did the tank appear to be in good working condition?
- Does the tank have lids and risers? Are they in good condition?
- Did the level of solids in the tank warrant pumping?
- Was the system working properly as observed?