Septic Tanks: When Should They Be Pumped?

What You Need to Know About Septic Tank Maintenance

When to Get Septic Pumping
Letting a septic tank go too long without being inspected and pumped out comes with obvious dangers. Blockages and overfilling can cause a backup in a home’s plumbing or an overflow in the drain field. It is a common misconception that if you don’t notice any sign of a problem with a septic tank, there is no need for septic pumping. This simply is not the case.

A septic tank is designed for solid waste to sink to the bottom of the tank and let liquid and gasses flow out into a drain field. Eventually, the sludge of solids collecting at the bottom of the tank will need to be evacuated. When too much sludge accumulates, the time available for solids to separate and sink is minimized, leaving solids to flow out with the liquid waste. This results in blocked pores and/or the escape of solids into the drain field. Once a drain field becomes contaminated it will need to be replaced.

A blockage can also cause the backflow of waste into a home through the shower, sinks, and toilet. Once blockages and contamination, inside and outside the home, have occurred, the cleanup and repair is a much more costly fix than the cost of an inspection and pumping. It is well worth a home- or property owner’s time have the tank regularly maintained.

How does a septic tank work?

Understanding how a septic tank is designed to work is a useful part of homeownership. Water and waste exit a home through a mainline into a buried, watertight concrete, polyethylene, or fiberglass container. The wastewater sits in the tank long enough for solids to sink to the bottom and the liquid, oil, grease, and gasses to separate to the top. The liquid scum filters through compartments and an outlet valve designed to keep solids from passing through.

Most septic systems utilize gravity or a pump to move the effluent through a series pipes or an absorption system called a drain field. Generally, the effluent either runs through perforated pipes where it slowly moves into and through the soil where it is filtered, or it goes into a buried area of sand, peat, sawdust, or other organic matter where is in naturally neutralized of pathogens and contaminants.How Septic Tanks Work

Bacteria and other harmful agents are naturally disinfected and treated as the effluent passes through soil or a drain field system. If a septic tank is not pumped out when too much sludge has accumulated on the bottom of the tank, the dispersal system is disrupted by solid waste.

What are the warning signs of a septic tank problem?

Ultimately, maintaining and cleaning out your septic tank before there is a problem is the best way to avoid expensive repairs. However, below is a list of indications that a problem already exists.

  1. Wastewater has backed up into your home and is coming up through the drains
  2. Pooling water and/or a foul odor in the basement
  3. Saturated soil and an odor in the drain field and/or around the septic tank
  4. The grass over the drain field is overly green and the soil is moist, even during hot, dry periods
  5. Drainage inside the home gets slower

How often should I schedule septic tank pumping?

If you have moved into a home with an existing septic tank and do not have record of a recent inspection, schedule one right away. You should have an accurate feel for the current state of the septic system. Below are some guidelines for how often the average household should have the tank pumped out.

  • Homes with a garbage disposal

More solid waste is passed into the tank from homes utilizing a garbage disposal. We suggest getting the tank pumped once every year.

  • Homes without a garbage disposal

On average, a home without a garbage disposal (and therefore not allowing solid food scraps to pass into the septic tank) should have the tank pumped once every three years.

  • Check previous records

For non-residential properties or businesses, it can be more difficult to judge how often to have the system serviced. A good indicator will come from reviewing past records. Check how often it was pumped in the past and if it was full to capacity or had room to spare. Call the company who has serviced the system in the past and they can help you determine a good rule of thumb based on past usage.

  • When in doubt

An annual inspection, especially if you are new to a home with a septic tank, will help you measure the usage and accumulation. The inspection will help you avoid expensive repairs caused by overfilling the tank and, after 2 to 3 years, will give you a good idea of your annual usage. A licensed liquid waste professional can help you gauge how often to schedule septic pumping based on a review of a few year’s usage.

Get professional help for maintenance

Finding the right septic tank professional to maintain your system is important. If a company is inexperienced or does not have the equipment with the right capacity, they can cause damage to pipes, seals, float switches, or gauges. It can also become an unfortunate mess if the waste is not removed by experienced technicians with the right pumps and equipment for the job. Septic tank maintenance takes more knowledge than just pumping. A licensed professional will also understand the entire system, including the type of drain field used and how it works.   

When researching a company, make sure they are licensed to handle septic systems and provide full services: installations, repairs, maintenance, pumping, and relocation. A company that handles every aspect of installation and upkeep will have a comprehensive understanding of proper septic system care.

You can also check a company’s rating with the Better Business Bureau as well as the online reviews posted about them on professional sites like Angie’s List.

Call John’s Plumbing & Pumps, Inc with any questions or concerns you have about your septic system in Olympia or the surrounding area.

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