Questions & answers about the schedule for pumping out septic tanks:
This article describes frequently-asked questions that help explain when, how & why to pump septic tanks, cesspools, drywells and related systems.
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The home page for this topic is SEPTIC TANK PUMPING SCHEDULE
I had some work done recently and if I sent a picture of the work, can you give me an idea of the quality of work? BTW, I love your site. - Syd
A competent onsite inspection by an expert usually finds additional clues that help accurately diagnose a problem. And certainly from a photograph alone one can't make a full nor accurate evaluation of the condition of a septic system.
That said, I'll be glad to look at your photos and if the initial Q&A is sufficiently modest I will reply pro-bono. Of course as you gave no information about the topic, I can't say in advance how much I can comment on the pictures.
Reader comment - follow up:
I appreciate it. I used the information extensively when I bought this house. It is what clued me into the FPE panel I had and why when walking on the floor above the panel, the lights would sometimes dim (the breaker for the water heater was loose and arcing to the bus bar). I replaced the panel, breakers, etc..
Here are the specifics: Built in ‘84, in TN 4 BR, 2 bath, split foyer. Just my wife and I live here. Previous owners had 5 kids. The washing machine is on a proper grey water disposal system. The dish washer will be added soon.
Here's the story.
What started out 2 Friday's ago with a day off, I called the honey wagon to pump the tank.
I have lived here for nearly 4 years and when I bought the house, the previous owners had the tank “inspected” and were informed that the tank did not need to be pumped. They lived here for 7 years and never had it pumped or checked. Now, the truck shows up and we start digging.
Turns out that its not possible that the people that the previous owners had check the could have.
The amount of dirt disturbed vs what I had to dig was way off. So the truck leaves and I dig a hole that is 5 feet deep by 4ft by 3 ft. By hand.
Fast forward to yesterday, truck comes back and we open the lid. This is when we find out that its approximately 2000 gal precast cement tank with 3ea 2.5x4ft hatches.
Apparently this is rather uncommon around here. Also find that the exit baffle is nearly disintegrated however still in place. There was not an input baffle, in fact, it was a pipe that just poured waste onto the surface. The scum layer was 5 to 8 inches thick. I do not know how thick the sludge was, I had to go to home depot to get some pipe.
Also, the input was right next to the output.
The driver pumped as much as he could (truck filled, he was expecting a 1000 gal tank which is common in this area), he got most the sludge and scum, 2/3 total volume removed.
He recommended that a piece of pipe 2 ft. long be added to the input and to add a 4 in pipe with a tee on it.
His method for installing the tee was to use PVC cement to a 2 ft long pipe, stuff the pipe down the output and secure with expanding polyurethane (great stuff) foam. You can see all of this in the picture. The pipe leaving to the drain field is orangeburg.
Here is what I think I know to be true: The tank was never correctly installed. I should have had the input moved and a tee or baffle installed. I should have asked him to come back to pump the rest of the liquid. I need to replace the orangeburg pipe soon.
So here are my questions: Since the system has been running like this 27 years and not pumped in at least 11 (could be 27 as well), do you think ill get another 10, maybe 20 out of it? Since the tank is rather oversized and its only the two of us, I think its safe to say the system is not taxed that much.
We put a half gallon of spoiled buttermilk down the drain each month.
Thank you again for your assistance and for providing such an informative site with ACCURATE information. Feel free to use my picture of a hall of shame or whatnot.
About your note and photo - just in order of thoughts & your note:
7+4=11 years, probably longer than recommended for pumping the septic tank - see http://www.inspectapedia.com/septic/Septic_Tank_Pumping_Schedule.php
2000 gal precast cement tank with 3ea 2.5x4ft hatches - probably a good tank, certainly decent size; if the liquid/sewage levels were normal then the tank is not cracked, damaged, leaking.
It would have been better to pump the whole tank out completely - we don't know really if the sludge was adequately removed from tank bottom, though it's possible for the pumper to probe and measure the sludge thickness that remained.
It was absolutely correct to add the tee at the inlet - it reduces sewer gas and sewage backflow into the incoming sewer line; I'm not experienced with using expanding foam to secure the tee
if it works both to hold the tee in place AND there is no groundwater leaking INTO the tank at that end, you're in good shape.
YOU SHOULD open the OUTLET end of the tank and be sure that there is an outlet tee in place - this is critical to avoid sending solids into (and ruining) the drainfield
Orangeburg pipe: old, very old, questionable condition; I'd like to see any photos if you dig up any of that material.
If you find there was no outlet tee, combined with infrequent pumping and orangeburg pipe, you will want to be saving/planning for drainfield repair/replacement.
I can't for sure predict how much life remains - a lot depends on level of usage, soil conditions. I've mentioned the tee - a predictor of field failure if it was missing.
Buttermilk is not a useful septic system treatment, though it won't hurt anything. You don't need to treat the system and in fact some treatments are harmful, even illegal. See http://www.inspectapedia.com/septic/Septic_Tank_Treatments.php
I think I may have been misleading. The input from the house is the 3 inch pipe towards the top of the picture (under the shovel).
It originally was just a 3in 90 that poured onto the top of the surface. The outlet is the field is the 4in tee.
The input is now under the scum layer and does not have a tee. My picture shows what should be the output, however, when installed it appears that the contractor put the input on that side as well.
(Apr 23, 2014) Anonymous said:
if you have a trailer park and on weekends the pumps are pumping all day long what can you do so that the pumps don't run so continuously through out the weekend .
Anon, I don't know the design for the septic system you describe but it sounds odd to me for a pump to be running continuously. Perhaps the pump control has failed, or there is no pump, or the float broke so someone just leaves the pump on (burning it or them up ahead of time).
Or perhaps the inflow exceeds the pump capacity, or an outlet line is blocked.
Or perhaps there is surface water running into the septic system.
If none of those worries turn out to be the case then it sounds as if one would need a larger pumping chamber and/or higher capacity pumps, or both, so that the pumps could cycle less frequently.
(July 7, 2014) Joe said:
When toilet bubble after flushing,is this a sign to get septic pumped
No not exactly. Or at least not necessarily: A bubbling toilet means that the drain is partly blocked or clogged - which could be due to a backing up septic tank.
Pumping the tank gives you a few days to a couple of weeks of "relief" until the tank is filled again. That's all. Pumping a septic tank will NEVER fix a clogged or failed drainfield nor a clogged outlet pipe if that's the problem.
A more complete explanation is given at
(Aug 17, 2014) Oona said:
My toilets are not flushing and my laundry tub in the basement is backing up(which happened previously when the tank needed pumped) but it was pumped in April 2013. I had a faucet leaking for about 6 months and was reading that that may cause it to fill up quicker. Could this be the case? Since April 2013 it has just been me living here. I'm 99% sure that they told me it's a 1000 gal. tank. x
Oona what you describe sounds like either a sewer line blockage or a failed septic drainfield. A leaky faucet adds to the liquid load of a drainfield and might, if a LOT of water was entering the field, also have shortened its life, but I'd be looking for a blockage first, and a clogged, drainfield second.
Pumping a septic tank does not fix a clogged drain nor a failed drainfield.
(Sept 4, 2014) connie email@example.com said:
I just had my septic tank pumped after living in new home for 10 yrs. After having it pumped, I
am now reading about septic tanks. Should have done this first. I have a 1500 gal. tank,(has 2 lids)
live alone, with occasional family guests on holidays. Only the inlet side was uncovered and pumped (took some time to locate) since this was the first time septic was ever pumped.
Man did not mention that other compartment should also be pumped as stated online. I also do not remember seeing a filter in the inlet side when he removed cover. His only comments were that it was normal.
My question is:
Should I have the out compartment checked, and should I have a filter installed, and can I wait 5 yrs. before I have this done again?
I haven't had any problems, never put grease down drain, and try
to use detergent and paper that is recommended for septic. Would appreciate your help. Thanks much.
If the sludge and scum layers were not so full that the tech was worried about having pushed solids to the second compartment you're probably OK. Next time open and check both compartments.
A septic filter will extend drainfield life but will also require periodic removal and cleaning lest you otherwise find the tank outlet clogging and worse, see a sewage backup. If you're willing to do the maintenance it's a great improvement.
(Sept 5, 2014) Terri G said:
I replaced the septic tank and seepage pit March 2013, 1000 gallon, 5x26 seepage pit..... 2 adults 1 child occupancy.... plumbing started back up today? According to charts I've seen it shouldn't need to be pumped for almost 2 years.... Could there be a problem with the installation?
A seepage pit is not a septic tank. If you are combining tank and "seepage pit" that's called a cesspool. Search InspectApedia for "Cesspools" to read about that system and its properties and maintenance.
(Oct 16, 2014) Janet said:
We have a cottage in Canada that is used for 6 weeks in the summer by 8 people and 4 weeks in the fall and 4 weeks in the winter by 2 people .
How often should we get out septic tank pumped out? We live in the Uk and have no prior experience with septic beds. We are very careful with not using bleach and only using biodegradable cleaning products.
Janet, if the tank has never been pumped out I'd have that done to assess its condition. The pumping frequency you ask about could be calculated from the tables in the article above once we know the tank size. Without size data... Who knows?
Janet please see SEPTIC TANK PUMPING SCHEDULE
(Oct 25, 2014) Taz said:
SHOULD A TANK BE CONMPLETELY FLUSHED OUT WHEN PUMPED OUT, OR SHLOULD SOME WASTE BE LEFT IN TANK /
Best practice is to empty the tank. If a worker leaves an inch that ought not be significant.
(Oct 31, 2014) Anonymous said:
Any reason for a leech to be in the house? Is that mean the system has failed Justinian1954 live on lake in texas.use to be a bed and breakfast. When we bought the owner said she pinned in 1994. She just but yeast in it since.the gray matter line is house filling up with huge trash cans of worms and ouder inside
I don't know what "pinned in 1994" means. Yeast in septic tanks is useless and can be destructive, agitating the seawage and pushing solids into the drainfield, clogging it.
Your description of in-house components is unclear but sounds unsanitary and in most jurisdictions a violation of health code.
(Nov 24, 2014) Nick said:
Hi, I was expecting the company that pumped my tank to call me and have me come home while they pumped it and kind of give me a report on the status of my tank. My wife and I moved into our house 2 years ago and have never had septic tanks before. Is it bad manner to call the company and ask for a status? They just left a bill in the door with the amount due. Thanks!
I can't blame the septic pumper for not wanting to lose money waiting around for someone to come home. But indeed it's too bad you didn't get to see just what was done, including that the tank was fully pumped, inspected and found undamaged, etc. there is a lot about septic tank and field condition that an experienced pumper can discover during this job.
Most of those fellows do not give a written report but are glad to tell you if they saw any signs of trouble or if the tank is damaged or cover unsafe, etc. give the company a call and ask what they can and will tell you about what was done and observed.
Bonobos Marcos said
My grandparents had a septic tank growing up. I don't think they knew how often to have it pumped because one day it started overflowing into there yard. If they weren't in a rush to pump it before, they were then. It took about a day to clean up the mess and have everything back to normal.
Daniel Cole said:
What a wonderful article to come across. I was just thinking the other day about septic tanks and how often they should be pumped. I will definitely use the information in this article and keep it in mind when it becomes time to get my septic tank pumped.
Pumping when the system has backed up may give a day or three of relief but does not fix anything.
(Jan 15, 2015) Jack said:
Question on your chart on how often to clean septic. I have '2' 500 gallon tanks so do I use the '1000' gallon listing or just the 500 gallon. The man who cleaned today said that the first tank is to collect solids which then flow to second tank which breaks it down further before releasing it as water.
Good question, Jack.
I would expect most septic designers to treat the system like a single 1000 gallon two compartment tank.,but look with care at the sludge and scum levels when the tank is pumped as I suspect you'll find the levels are high, requiring more frequent pumping than the 1000 g table would suggest.
If we knew more about your design I could vibe more confident. In particular, if virtually no solids flow into the second tank we need to pump the first one more often.
(Feb 17, 2015) Lauren said:
Hello, I recently purchased my home 1 year (Last Feb 2014) My fiancé and I are the only two who reside in the home. The home was built in 1989 and for the last 7 years only had 1 old lady living there alone. He husband died 7 years ago. When asked if she had the septic tank emptied prior to us purchasing the home she said she had it done 2 years ago.
Well this past august (6 months after purchase) we had a major back up into the home. My main bathroom shower and toilet backed up and overflowed. No other drains seemed to be affected at that time. I called Roto-Rooter and they came to pump the septic. The septic tank is a 1,000 gallon tank and was full all the way to top when they took the lid off.
He advised me that since he did not know how long it had been full like that, that my drainfield could be damaged and to keep an eye on it. He showed me where I could removed a lid to a pipe to aerate it if it backs up again.
Fast forward to a week before Christmas, the same thing happened. I went to the cap where he showed me and took it off, leaving it off the let air in.
This pipe was completely full of water. After approximately 5 hours of leaving the cap off and checking it every 30 min. The water went back down. At that time we began to use our water sparingly making sure not to do much at once like to many showers and laundry at the same time.
Then on Super Bowl Sunday, it happened again. This time when I went to take the cap off in the front yard it was full of water just like before; however, it was strictly laundry water. No smell or anything.
I have walked over the drainfield area and found no wet soggy areas nor have we noticed any foul smells since we had the septic pumped in august. I know without looking you can't properly diagnose my situation; however, does this sound like a drainfield issue and/or septic tank problem?
Any help you can give me would be so much appreciated.
Pumping the septic tank regularly can extend drainfield life but it can never fix a failed drainfield. From your description I suspect either a failed drainfield or a partly blocked sewer linr.
A failed soakbed does not always show up as wet spots or smells.
31 March 2015 Don Stephens said:
I have two tanks; one regular (1000 gallons) and one for the laundry. Two people have lived in the house for 20 years; ages 78 & 74. I have the regular tank pumped every 4 years, but have never had the laundry tank pumped. Is it necessary to pump the laundry tank?
Is your laundry "tank" a drywell or does wastewater flow out of it into a drainfield? If the latter, it would be prudent to have it cleaned. If the tank is really a drywell then you won't gain much by pumping as the clogging that occurs is in the soil surrounding the drywell bottom and sides
If you're unclear on this search InspectApedia for DRYWELL DESIGN & USES to see the difference between a drywell and a septic tank and a cesspool
Also take a look at GREYWATER SYSTEMS.
(Apr 20, 2015) Vern said:
How does the use of Metamucil (psyllium) impact the frequency of pumping required?
Vern if you mean human consumption of Metamucil (psyllium) and thus its appearance in feces and thus sewage, I seriously doubt that there is any measurable impact whatsoever. It's a harmless biological material that adds a bit of bulk to stools - not enough to explain a septic system failiure. Pump the tank on schedule and you'll be OK. So will the tank.
(July 8, 2015) Bill said:
I have a 1000 gal tank and just had it pumped out. The crust was between 3" & 5" and the sludge was 10" t0 12". This was in a 2 year period (within a couple days). What is the recommend crust and sludge thickness to allow before having it pumped?
Bill in the article links above please see LEVELS OF SEWAGE for a more detailed reply than I can type off the cuff
(Sept 21, 2015) Bill said:
I have a camp with a 1250 gal. tank. It is seasonal, only used in the summer. We have shower, toilet and sink that empties in the septic. What schedule should I use to pump?
Bill you can take any point in the septic pumping schedule table and then increase the length of the interval between septic tank pumpouts by making this reasonable-guess:
1. Choose the number of building occupants to find the proper line in the pumping shcedule. Also choose the table entry for the size of your septic tank in gallons.
2. Choose the number of months during a year that the building is occupied
3. Calculate the new pumping schedule by dividing the number in the table on this page by the fraction of the year that the building is occupied.
Household size = 4
Tank size = 1250 gallons
Table pumping frequency: every 3.4 years (Keep in mind it would be ridiculous to think that we can know precisely the conditions in an individual septic tank - these are general guidelines)
3.4 x 12 = 40 months between tank pumpings
Months your Camp is occupied = 4
Months in a year = 12
Portion of the year your camp is occupied = 6/12 = ..5 or 50%
Pumpout Schedule from Table / Portion of Year Occupied = 40 / .5 = 80 months
(Dec 4, 2015) Danielle said:
How often does a septic tank need pumped ?
either you follow the general guidelines in the table above or someone has to open the tank and measure sludge and scum layer thickness to get objective data.,
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