Posted on by

Septic System FAQs

Q: How often do I need to pump the tank?

A: To prevent buildup, sludge and floating scum need to be removed through periodic pumping of the septic tank. Regular inspections and pumping as necessary (generally every 3 to 5 years) are the best and cheapest way to keep your septic system in good working order.

Q: How do I maintain my septic system?

A: You should have your septic system inspected at least every 3 years by a professional and your tank pumped as recommended by the inspector (generally every 3 to 5 years). Systems with electrical float switches, pumps, or mechanical components need to be inspected more often. Your service provider should inspect for leaks and look at the scum and sludge layers in your septic tank. If the bottom of the scum layer is within 6 inches of the bottom of the outlet tee or the top of the sludge layer is within 12 inches of the outlet tee, your tank needs to be pumped. Remember to note the sludge and scum levels determined by your service provider in your operation and maintenance records.

Q: What can make my system fail?

A: If the amount of wastewater entering the system is more than the system can handle, the wastewater backs up into the house or yard and creates a health hazard. You can suspect a system failure not only when a foul odor is emitted but also when partially treated wastewater flows up to the ground surface. By the time you can smell or see a problem, however, the damage might already be done. When you have your system inspected and pumped as needed, you reduce the chance of system failure. A system installed in unsuitable soils can also fail. Other failure risks include tanks that are inaccessible for maintenance, drainfields that are paved or parked on, and tree roots.

Q:How do I know when my septic system has failed?

A: The most obvious septic system failures are easy to spot. Check for pooling water or muddy soil around your septic system or in your basement. Notice whether your toilet or sink backs up when you flush or do laundry. You might also notice strips of bright green grass over the drainfield.

Q: How can I make it last longer?

A: Use water efficiently to avoid overloading the septic system. Be sure to repair leaky faucets or toilets. Use high-efficiency fixtures. Use commercial bathroom cleaners and laundry detergents in moderation. Many people prefer to clean their toilets, sinks, showers, and tubs with a mild detergent or baking soda.

Q: How do I find my septic system?

A: Septic systems should be on record at your local governing agency. You can spot drain fields and your tank by discolorations in your grass.

Q: Can I drive over the drainfield?

A: Don’t drive or park vehicles on any part of your septic system. Doing so can compact the soil in your drainfield or damage the pipes, tank, or other septic system components.

Q: What can I plant over the drainfield?

A: Plant only grass over and near your septic system. Roots from nearby trees or shrubs might clog and damage the drainfield. Do not plant trees over or near your drainfield. The roots will follow the water and clog your drainfield.

The information contained in this document has been obtained from the EPA’s A HomeOwners Guide to Septic Systems.