Approximately 64% of homes in the United States have septic systems. How often to pump a septic tank is the #1 question of all septic system homeowners. There are some homeowners that have never pumped their system and they believe that it never needs to be pumped. Other owners have had their systems back up after just a few years and swear by pumping the tank every year. State regulators have decided to recommend that a system be pumped every 2 or 3 years to be on the safe side.
How Do Septic Systems Work?
The typical American eats about 1 pound of food per day. However the human body only uses a small amount of the nutrients taken in for fuel, the remaining amount is turned into waste. On average the anaerobic bacteria in a septic tank will lower this waste amount by 60% to 70%. This still means that each person in a household will add 146 pounds of solid waste to the septic tank each year. This accounts for the sludge layer at the bottom of the tank. The EPA recommends that the sludge layer not exceed 15% of the total tank volume. This means that it will take just 1 adult about 5 years to fill a septic tank to the recommended pumping level. Using this math, the typical American 4 person family will fill a tank to the recommended pumping level in one and a half years. Once you figure in the time that family members are away from the home due to work and school you come up with a conservative pumping time of every 2 to 3 years.
A septic tank is a large, usually concrete structure that is at least 10 feet away from the house. This structure is designed with either one or two chambers. All tanks installed for new construction are required by the EPA to have two chambers. The basic premise of a septic tank is to let all the toilet paper and other solid materials that are lighter than water to float to the top of the tank. This is called the solid layer. All of the human waste is heavier than water and therefore designed to sink to the bottom of the chamber. This is called the sludge layer. The average homeowner's water will stay in his or her septic tank for approximately 2 to 4 days before being released into the drainage field. In this time the good bacteria will be given time to biodegrade about 60 percent of solid waste. However this is a time consuming process due to the temperature of the septic tank. This process is considerably faster in the summer when temperatures are high and the good bacteria can thrive and help biodegrade a significantly larger amount of waste. After leaving the tank to flow into the drainfield, the waste water will again be filtered as it slowly leaks into the soil. As long as the sludge and the solid layer do not make up more than 30% of the tank volume combined, the septic system will work properly. However, once these levels become too large they will allow solid pieces to flow into a person’s drain field. This can create an extremely large and costly problem for the homeowner. Some septic systems come standard with a filter on the outlet side in order to catch any remaining solids before they make it into the drain field. This filter helps keep the drain field safe from solid matter, but also causes the septic tank to back up more frequently. This is the main reason that it is important to have your septic tank pumped on a regular basis and prevent any back up into the home. A 2 chamber septic tank is more efficient than a single chamber at storing solids in the appropriate location and protecting the drain field. While about 60% of the sludge in the tank will decompose the same cannot be said for the solid amount. Only a very small Portion of toilet paper and other flushed items are biodegradable. No matter what you have been told no other biological assisting powders or chemicals are needed to help the decomposition process.
Septic Tanks contain gasses as well as solid waste material. Many of these gases are lethal to the human body. Make sure that you never enter a septic tank without the proper safety equipment. As sludge and scum continue to collect in the tank the waste removal process becomes less effective. As we have discussed once the sludge and scum layer become to high organic particles will attempt to leave the septic tank and go into the drain field. This is very possible with older septic systems that do not have a filter on the outlet side. In order to prevent this regulators recommend pumping the tank every 2 or 3 years.
How Often to pump your tank?
As we discussed, opinions vary on how frequently a septic tank needs to be pumped. The tank and system are designed to be pumped every 2 to 3 years. However, some people still believe that a properly working septic tank never needs to be pumped. These homeowner are mistaken and are begging for a disaster. If a septic back up occurs it can can cause tens of thousands of dollars in damage to a home that could have easily have been prevented by pumping the tank on a regular basis. Also if a system is not pumped and allows small solid particles to enter the drain field a homeowner can find themselves receiving a bill anywhere from $4,000 to $17,000 to replace their drain field. It is much cheaper to spend a few hundred dollars pumping their tank every few years.
There are also several factors that affect how frequently a septic tank should be pumped. The number of people living in a household is the number one factor. The more people using a septic system, the more frequently it will need to be pumped. If there are only 2 people living in a home then it will not need to be pumped as much as a home with 5 family members. Children are also an extremely important factor in when to pump your tank. Many parents use flushable wipes when they have young children that manage to make it into the septic tank. No matter what it says on a pack of children’s wipes, there is no such things as a septic safe wipe that is ok to flush.
Another important factor to remember with. Septic systems is that when they are initially installed the soil is pure and can absorb a good amount of liquids. As the system is used over the years it can become less and less effective. If a tank is not pumped regularly and and solid particles move into the drain field they will begin to clog the soil. Once the soil becomes completely clogged the homeowner will again find themselves needing to install a new drain field.
Maintain a Septic Log
It is important to keep an accurate log on when your septic tank is pumped. Homeowners typically believe that they will remember when their tank was pumped last. However, remembering maintenance dates for a septic tank years later is not as easy as you may think. It is easiest if you schedule your septic maintenance the same time of year. Some homeowners pump their tank ever January or every December. This makes maintenance easier to remember.
Every Septic System is different. No 2 land lots are the same due to topography, location, and soil. There is no guarantee on how long any homeowner can go without pumping their tank. However, any one who tells you that you it is not necessary to pump a septic tank is incorrect. Correct and proper maintenance is extremely important to a septic system. It will keep your system working properly and add to the lifespan of your system.