If you’re a new septic tank owner, figuring out when to pump your septic tank may seem overwhelming.
However, septic system maintenance doesn’t need to be complicated or expensive.
We’ll run through the basic elements of how to care for a septic system.
1. How often should you inspect and pump septic tanks?
The average household septic system should be inspected a minimum of every three years by a professional.
When it comes to pumping, household septic tanks are normally serviced every three to five years.
If you have an alternative system with electrical float switches, pumps, or mechanical components, then it should be inspected more often.
We recommend getting these examined by a professional once a year or so.
Here are the four major factors that influence the frequency of septic pumping.
The size of the household determines the size of the septic tank.
You can look at your house plans to determine the size of your tank.
Total wastewater generated
Each person uses on average 82 gallons of water per day.
Efficient water usage will lengthen the life of a septic system and reduce the risk of clogging, backing up, and leaking.
See our tips below about how to minimize waterwaste when it comes to doing laundry and flushing the toilet.
Volume of solids in wastewater
The volume of solids in your wastewater will impact the sludge and scum layer.
This layer should never be permitted to fill more than about 30 percent of the septic tank’s volume.
Thus, the more solids that are being put into the system, the faster you’ll need to pump septic tank.
Septic tank size
Most septic tanks are between 1,000 and 2,000 gallons in size.
If you’re not exactly sure how big your septic tank is, then a professional can help you inspect and determine the size.
The size of the tank is one factor that determines how often it should be pumped.
Here are some loose guidelines that’ll give you an idea of when to pump septic tank.
Keep in mind that other factors like total wastewater generated and volume of solids in wastewater will still have an impact on whether this is accurate.
- Family of four with a 1,000-gallon tank – 2.6 years
- Family of four with a 1,500-gallon tank – 4.2 years
- Family of four with a 2,000-gallon tank – 5 years
2. How does a septic system work?
Understanding how a septic system works can help you determine the correct interval at which to pump your septic tank.
While the general guidelines say roughly every two to five years, you need to understand what’s right for your system.
The sludge and scum levels inside the tank are generally a big determining factor.
Your septic system uses the natural power of gravity to separate the household wastewater into three parts.
Solids (sludge) at the bottom of the tank
Grease (scum) at the top of the tank
Watery mix (effluent) in the middle
Normally, the sludge and the scum will remain in the septic tank while the watery mix flows out into the drain field.
However, the sludge and scum need to be cleared out occasionally from the tank to keep everything running properly.
The sludge level can rise to a dangerous level.
The scum level can also develop a large thickness.
If either of these situations occurs, then the sludge or scum will be forced out into the drain field along with the watery effluent.
Additionally, if you force solids and grease into the drain field, it can clog the underground system of perforated pipes and lead to slow drains and even wastewater backups into your home.
This may lead to hazardous bacteria in your house, which can be expensive to repair.
You want to make sure you’re pumping enough to care for your system but not overpumping!
3. Why is overpumping your septic tank a problem?
Most people wouldn’t think it’s a problem to be ahead of the game when it comes to pumping your septic tank.
However, if you pump too often, then there’s not enough sludge and scum build-up in the tank to receive the maximum return on investment in the cost of pumping.
Like any other routine maintenance service, paying for the service more often than is needed wastes money but doesn’t provide any additional benefits.
Furthermore, your septic system must maintain a good level of bacteria to work.
It operates much like the human body’s digestive system.
The tank utilizes anaerobic digestion to naturally break down the waste for the natural level of filtration.
Pumping at the right levels is necessary because it reduces the biomass levels.
However, it can take a few weeks (normally between 1-3) for the septic system to return to healthy bacteria levels again.
The bacteria that enter your tank each time the toilet is flushed with organic waste material breaks down the waste material into the sludge effluent.
If you pump your septic tank too often, the bacteria will have no place to go but into the drain field.
This can cause clogs and failures in the future.
Unless your septic tank’s sludge and scum levels reach certain thresholds, we recommend leaving it alone.
This will allow the bacteria to balance itself out and keep your system running smoothly.
4. How do you find out if your septic tank is full?
There are a few steps to take if you’re concerned your septic tank is full.
Locate and carefully remove the septic tank lid.
Use extreme caution so the heavy lid doesn’t crack or break.
Never leave the open tank unattended as it can be dangerous for a human or pet to fall in.
Look at the scum trap at the top to assess how thick the scum layer is.
Pump your septic tank when the scum level reaches 6 inches thick
Measure the level of sludge at the bottom of the tank.
Do this with a sludge level measuring stick.
Make sure you keep the measuring stick upright.
Hire an inspection service to measure on your behalf and determine the exact maintenance schedule for your home.
5. What do you do when you have a service provider coming?
If you’re looking to have a septic system service provider come and examine your tank for the first time, you may not know what to expect.
Here’s some information that can be helpful to you.
Your provider will look for leaks and examine the scum and sludge layers in your septic tank.
You should keep any maintenance records regarding work performed on your septic system on hand.
You should determine if your septic tank needs to be pumped by looking at the scum and sludge layers.
To do this, look at the T-shaped outlet in your septic tank.
This outlet prevents sludge and scum from leaving the tank and traveling to the drain field.
Your tank needs to be pumped if the bottom of the scum layers is within 6 inches of the bottom outlet or if the top of the sludge layer is within1 2 inches of the outlet
You must keep track of when to pump out your tank by writing down the sludge and scum levels found by the septic professional.
Your provider should also note the repairs completed as well as the tank’s condition in a service report.
If they recommend additional action, then you may need to hire another repair person.
You should use the NOWRA’s (National Onsite Wastewater Recycling Association) septic locator that makes it easy to find service professionals in your area.
6. How do you use water efficiently when you have a septic tank?
In a typical single-family home, the average indoor water use is 82 gallons per individual per day.
Most people can’t even conceive of this amount, but it shows how much water we use without realizing it.
What’s even more important to realize is how easy it is to waste water with a single leak or running toilet.
Either of these can cause the number to jump from 70 gallons to 200.
If you’re a septic system household, part of the maintenance (besides pumping) is considering just how much will end up in your tank to begin with.
When you conserve water, less water enters the septic system overall, and it reduces the risk of failure.
So, as a household, you should be aiming to maximize water-saving and water efficiency.
Here are some of the best ways to do it.
Did you know that toilets account for 25 to 30 percent of household water use?
Older homes often have toilets with 3.5 to 5-gallon reservoirs.
On the other hand, new, high-efficiency toilets use 1.6 gallons of water or less per flush.
If you want to reduce the amount of water being used in your household, then replacing your existing toilets with a high-efficiency model is an easy way to reduce the amount of household water entering your septic system.
Faucet aerators and high-efficiency showerheads
Certain devices like faucet aerators, high-efficiency showerheads, and shower flow restrictors help to reduce water use and the volume of water entering your septic system.
Installing these devices can help you to cut back on water use without having to change any of your daily activities.
When using a washing machine, always select the proper load size.
When you wash small loads on your machine’s large-load cycle, it wastes water and energy.
We recommend either selecting the correct load size or only running full loads of laundry.
Additionally, try to spread washing machine use out throughout the week.
Most people have a “laundry day” which saves them time, but it can harm your septic system because it doesn’t allow your tank enough time to treat waste.
Additionally, it could flood your drain field.
Finally, look for a washing machine that has the ‘Energy Star’ designation.
These machines use 35 percent less energy and 50 percent less water.
These appliances provide significant energy and water savings.
7. How should you properly dispose of waste with a septic system?
Everything that goes down your drains ends up in your septic system.
Flush your toilet?
Grind your garbage disposal?
Pour down the sink, shower, or bath?
If you flush things that aren’t supposed to be flushed, it’ll impact how well your system works.
You must remember that toilets aren’t trash cans and pouring toxins down your drain can kill the living organisms in your septic tank that digest and treat household waste.
When it comes to your toilet, don’t flush anything besides human waste and toilet paper.
And especially, never flush the following:
Cooking grease or oil
Non-flushable wipes (i.e., baby wipes or wet wipes)
Feminine hygiene products
Household chemicals (i.e., gasoline, oil, pesticides, antifreeze, and paint or paint thinners)
When it comes to your sink, there are certain actions you should avoid for the best results.
Here’s what you should keep in mind:
Don’t use chemical drain openers and opt for boiling water or a drain snake instead.
Don’t pour cooking oil or grease down the drain.
Don’t pour oil-based paints, solvents, or large volumes of toxic cleaners down the drain (even latex paint waste).
Eliminate (or limit) the use of a garbage disposal as this will significantly reduce the amount of fats, grease, and solids that enter your septic tank and ultimately clog its drain field.
8. How do you maintain your drain field?
The drain field is an important part of your septic system.
It’s the portion that removes contaminants from the liquid that emerges from your septic tank.
However, it should be maintained in a specific way for the best results.
Here’s what you should know.
Never park on your drain field.
Always plant trees an appropriate distance from your drain field to keep roots from growing into your septic system.
If you’re unsure of the proper distance, consult a septic service professional; they can advise you on the proper distance based on your septic tank and landscaping.
Keep roof drains, sump pumps, and other rainwater drainage systems away from your drain field area; when there is excess water in the region, it stops or slows down the wastewater treatment process.
There you go!
That’s everything you need to know about when to pump a septic tank.
The timing of this process depends on four different factors: household size, total wastewater generated, septic tank size, and volume of solids in wastewater.
If you take all these into consideration, you can maintain your system properly.
It’s also important to maintain your system daily by only putting approved items into the tank to begin with, and conserving water as much as possible.
Otherwise, you can greatly impact your tank’s ability to do its job.
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