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This article contains our conclusions to the septic tank pumping schedule guideline. We explain why a septic tank needs to be pumped regularly,
how septic tanks are cleaned, how much it costs to pump a septic tank, how to inspect and clean septic tanks safely,
what is septic tank effluent retention time, how to measure septic tank scum and sludge levels, and other septic tank maintenance advice for homeowners.
We point to the role played in septic system life & pumping frequency when a food waste grinder is connected to the system, and when septic treatments or additives are used. We give more information about how often septic tanks should be pumped.
SEPTIC PUMPING CONCLUSIONS - Septic Pumping Conclusions, Garbage Disposers, Septic Tank Additives, Buying a Home with a Septic System
Garbage Disposers and Grinders Effects on Septic Systems
Garbage grinders impose an additional solids load on the system.
Solids must be removed periodically to prevent them
from entering the soil absorption field. If a garbage disposer or food waste grinder is installed in your building you may need to increase the frequency of septic tank pumpout/cleanout.
Review Garbage Grinders and garbage disposal units - effects on septic systems for details.
Septic tank additives
chemical additives are not needed to aid or accelerate decomposition in conventional residential septic systems.
Products such as yeast, "septic helper" or "septic un-clog chemicals" and
the use of additives in septic tanks to reduce the sludge volume or substitute for pumping is not recommended. In
fact, relying on additives rather than conventional tank pumping may result in failure of the septic system.
While there may be special procedures to address soil absorption problems, in general chemicals and additives
are not needed.
Such septic treatments are illegal in some jurisdictions (and throughout Canada)
because they may are not only of marginal effectiveness
but also they may contaminate the local groundwater.
What about adding yeast to the septic tank?
Really? "Yeast" which some of our clients like to toss into their
septic tank is not helpful and may actually speed drain field failure by keeping the septic treatment tank contents
in an agitated state.
The life of a septic system depends on the following factors:
Septic Tank Pumping Frequency: providing you are starting with a functional and reasonably-designed septic
system, the most significant step you can take to extend the septic system life is to have the septic tank
cleaned or "pumped" on schedule.
See TANK PUMPING SCHEDULE for a table that determines how often a particular septic tank needs this service.
How the Septic System is Used: including the wastewater usage level and what materials are flushed
down the septic system drains. Conserving water reduces the load on the absorption field. Avoiding flushing
chemicals or items that don't biodegrade reduces the solid build-up rate in the septic tank.
See "Don't Flush these things into a septic system"
for a list of what's ok and what's not ok to put into septic tanks and building drains.
Soil Conditions & site drainage such as the soil percolation rate and the amount and level of ground water or surface
water that affect the soil absorption area or drain field.
See SEPTIC DRAINFIELD LIFE
Even a septic tank that is properly located & designed will fail if the drainfield or tank are flooded by groundwater or by running toilets or by water softeners stuck in regeneration mode.
See SEPTIC TANK BACK FLOODING
Septic Tank Materials: a steel septic tank rusts away, first losing its baffles (which lead to
drain field clogging) and eventually rusting at its bottom or sides. The rate of rust depends on the
soil conditions and soil acidity and other factors.
A concrete septic tank can have a very long life, in excess
of 40 years, except for cases of poorly-mixed concrete or possibly acidic soils which may reduce that span.
Plastic or fiberglass septic tanks can expect to have a similar life unless they are mechanically damaged.
Life of Special Components such as effluent pumps or septic grinder pumps, septic filters,
septic media, and sand bed filter systems often determines the need for repair of alternate-design
septic systems that use these components.
So provided you've addressed these factors in septic system life, how long can you expect a septic
system to last before costly repairs to the septic tank or septic drain field are required?
Septic systems (tank and absorption system, or onsite wastewater disposal systems) will
not fail immediately if they are not pumped. However, an un-maintained septic tank is no longer protecting the soil
absorption field from solids.
Continued neglect shortens the drain field life and
may result in system failure and even require complete replacement of the soil absorption
field. In some cases, site limitations may make replacement of the absorption field impossible - at least impossible
using a conventional drainfield design. Alternative designs are available to solve these problems.
The septic tank is only one part of an on-site wastewater system. It is designed to remove solids prior to the
effluent entering the soil absorption field, provide for the filtration, digestion of a portion of those solids, and
storage of the remaining solids. Taking care of the septic tank will, however, extend the life of the costly second
half of the onsite wastewater treatment system - the absorption system, leach field, or drainfield.
More details about the life expectancy of a septic system can be read at
If you have just moved into a home with a septic system
If you've just moved into a home with a septic tank you may not know the size of the septic tank, its maintenance
history, or even where the septic tank is. In this case, you should have the
tank pumped and inspected. The company pumping the tank will tell you its size, age, and condition.
Below at in the form of individual detailed articles are the Steps in Septic Tank Cleaning Procedure in the order that they should be performed
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Arlene Puentes, a licensed home inspector, educator, and building failures researcher in Kingston, NY. 11/29/06
Septic Tank/Soil-Absorption Systems: How to Operate & Maintain [ copy on file as /septic/Septic_Operation_USDA.pdf ] - , Equipment Tips, U.S. Department of Agriculture, 8271 1302, 7100 Engineering, 2300 Recreation, September 1982, web search 08/28/2010, original source: http://www.fs.fed.us/t-d/pubs/pdfimage/82711302.pdf.
Pennsylvania State Fact Sheets relating to domestic wastewater treatment systems include
Pennsylvania State Wastewater Treatment Fact Sheet SW-161, Septic System Failure: Diagnosis and Treatment
Pennsylvania State Wastewater Treatment Fact Sheet SW-162, The Soil Media and the Percolation Test
Pennsylvania State Wastewater Treatment Fact Sheet SW-l64, Mound Systems for Wastewater Treatment
Pennsylvania State Wastewater Treatment Fact Sheet SW-165, Septic Tank-Soil Absorption Systems
Document Sources used for this web page include but are not limited to: Agricultural Fact Sheet #SW-161 "Septic Tank Pumping," by Paul D. Robillard and
Kelli S. Martin. Penn State College of Agriculture - Cooperative Extension, edited and annotated by
Dan Friedman (Thanks: to Bob Mackey for proofreading the original source material.)
Books & Articles on Building & Environmental Inspection, Testing, Diagnosis, & Repair
The Home Reference Book - the Encyclopedia of Homes, Carson Dunlop & Associates, Toronto, Ontario, 25th Ed., 2012, is a bound volume of more than 450 illustrated pages that assist home inspectors and home owners in the inspection and detection of problems on buildings. The text is intended as a reference guide to help building owners operate and maintain their home effectively. Field inspection worksheets are included at the back of the volume. Special Offer: For a 10% discount on any number of copies of the Home Reference Book purchased as a single order. Enter INSPECTAHRB in the order payment page "Promo/Redemption" space. InspectAPedia.com editor Daniel Friedman is a contributing author.
Or choose the The Home Reference eBook for PCs, Macs, Kindle, iPad, iPhone, or Android Smart Phones. Special Offer: For a 5% discount on any number of copies of the Home Reference eBook purchased as a single order. Enter INSPECTAEHRB in the order payment page "Promo/Redemption" space.
Advanced Onsite Wastewater Systems Technologies, Anish R. Jantrania, Mark A. Gross. Anish Jantrania, Ph.D., P.E., M.B.A., is a Consulting Engineer, in Mechanicsville VA, 804-550-0389 (2006). Outstanding technical reference especially on alternative septic system design alternatives. Written for designers and engineers, this book is not at all easy going for homeowners but is a text I recommend for professionals--DF.
Builder's Guide to Wells and Septic Systems, Woodson, R. Dodge: $ 24.95; MCGRAW HILL B; TP;
Quoting from Amazon's description: For the homebuilder, one mistake in estimating or installing wells and septic systems can cost thousands of dollars. This comprehensive guide filled with case studies can prevent that. Master plumber R. Dodge Woodson packs this reader-friendly guide with guidance and information, including details on new techniques and materials that can economize and expedite jobs and advice on how to avoid mistakes in both estimating and construction. Chapters cover virtually every aspect of wells and septic systems, including on-site evaluations; site limitations; bidding; soil studies, septic designs, and code-related issues; drilled and dug wells, gravel and pipe, chamber-type, and gravity septic systems; pump stations; common problems with well installation; and remedies for poor septic situations. Woodson also discusses ways to increase profits by avoiding cost overruns.
Country Plumbing: Living with a Septic System, Hartigan, Gerry: $ 9.95; ALAN C HOOD & TP;
Quoting an Amazon reviewer's comment, with which we agree--DF:This book is informative as far as it goes and might be most useful for someone with an older system. But it was written in the early 1980s. A lot has changed since then. In particular, the book doesn't cover any of the newer systems that are used more and more nowadays in some parts of the country -- sand mounds, aeration systems, lagoons, etc.
Design Manuals for Septic Systems
US EPA Onsite Wastewater Treatment Systems Manual [online copy, free] Top Reference: US EPA's Design Manual for Onsite Wastewater Treatment and Disposal, 1980, available from the US EPA, the US GPO Superintendent of Documents (Pueblo CO), and from the National Small Flows Clearinghouse. Original source http://www.epa.gov/ORD/NRMRL/Pubs/625R00008/625R00008.htm Onsite wastewater treatment and disposal systems,
Richard J Otis, published by the US EPA. Although it's more than 20 years old, this book remains a useful reference for septic system designers.
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Office of Water Program Operations; Office of Research and Development, Municipal Environmental Research Laboratory; (1980)
"International Private Sewage Disposal Code," 1995, BOCA-708-799-2300, ICBO-310-699-0541, SBCCI 205-591-1853, available from those code associations.
"Manual of Policy, Procedures, and Guidelines for Onsite Sewage Systems," Ontario Reg. 374/81, Part VII of the Environmental
Protection Act (Canada), ISBN 0-7743-7303-2, Ministry of the Environment,135 St. Clair Ave. West, Toronto Ontario M4V 1P5 Canada $24. CDN.
Manual of Septic Tank Practice, US Public Health Service's 1959.
Onsite Wastewater Disposal Books
Onsite Wastewater Disposal, R. J. Perkins;
Quoting from Amazon: This practical book, co-published with the National Environmental Health Association,
describes the step-by-step procedures needed to avoid common pitfalls in septic system technology.
Valuable in matching the septic system to the site-specific conditions, this useful book will help you install a reliable system in
both suitable and difficult environments. Septic tank installers, planners, state and local regulators, civil and sanitary engineers,
consulting engineers, architects, homeowners, academics, and land developers will find this publication valuable.
Onsite Wastewater Treatment Systems, Bennette D. Burks, Mary Margaret Minnis, Hogarth House 1994 - one of the best septic system books around, suffering a bit from small fonts and a weak index. While it contains some material more technical than needed by homeowners, Burks/Minnis book on onsite wastewater treatment systems a very useful reference for both property owners and septic system designers.
Septic Tank/Soil-Absorption Systems: How to Operate & Maintain [ copy on file as /septic/Septic_Operation_USDA.pdf ] - , Equipment Tips, U.S. Department of Agriculture, 8271 1302, 7100 Engineering, 2300 Recreation, September 1982, web search 08/28/2010, original source: http://www.fs.fed.us/t-d/pubs/pdfimage/82711302.pdf
Grass is Always Greener Over the Septic Tank, Bombeck, Erma: $ 5.99; FAWCETT; MM;
This septic system classic whose title helps avoid intimidating readers new to septic systems, is available new or used at very low prices.
It's more entertainment than a serious "how to" book on septic systems design, maintenance, or repair. Not recommended -- DF.
US EPA Onsite Wastewater Treatment Systems Manual Top Reference: US EPA's Design Manual for Onsite Wastewater Treatment and Disposal, 1980, available from the US EPA, the US GPO Superintendent of Documents (Pueblo CO), and from the National Small Flows Clearinghouse. Original source http://www.epa.gov/ORD/NRMRL/Pubs/625R00008/625R00008.htm
Water Wells and Septic Systems Handbook, R. Dodge Woodson. This book is in the upper price range, but is worth the cost for serious septic installers and designers.
Quoting Amazon: Each year, thousands upon thousands of Americans install water wells and septic systems on their properties. But with a maze of codes governing their use along with a host of design requirements that ensure their functionality where can someone turn for comprehensive, one-stop guidance? Enter the Water Wells and Septic Systems Handbook from McGraw-Hill.
Written in language any property owner can understand yet detailed enough for professionals and technical students this easy-to-use volume delivers the latest techniques and code requirements for designing, building, rehabilitating, and maintaining private water wells and septic systems. Bolstered by a wealth of informative charts, tables, and illustrations, this book delivers:
* Current construction, maintenance, and repair methods
* New International Private Sewage Disposal Code