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Septic tank needs regular maintenance to function properly. Without it, septic tank problems will occur. Septic backup and foul odors are just two of the problems that can happen without regular septic tank maintenance. Having a septic service regularly pump your tank is vital. If you're too late with the maintenance, the entire neighborhood will stink and you don't want to be that neighbor.
A 4-person household with a 500 gallon tank needs their septic tank pumped once every year. Each household member over four (4) cuts this time down by 3 months. Garbage disposals increase this schedule by about 20%, as well. Septic system additives (that help control bacteria) can help a little bit, but it will not replace pumping out your septic system.
Average Septic Tank Cleaning Cost
Average septic tank cleaning cost is $200 to $300 for a septic tank as large as 1,000 gallons. Prices can go up to $800 for a large, 2,500 gallon tank. There may be an additional $200 to $400 charge if the contractor has to find the septic tank and locate the opening, depending on the amount of labor involved.
There are devices you can install in septic tanks that will report problems such as scum and sludge levels, potential backup problems, etc. They will set off warning lights on a panel inside your house, warning you of potential septic tank problems before they happen. The best way to avoid any problems with your septic system is to visually inspect it every once in a while in order to make sure no buildup is happening. If you do find a problem, the faster you take care of it the cheaper the cost will be to you.
One of the most important elements of any residential property is the septic system. While many homeowners across the country have septic systems, not everyone is aware of what needs to be done to keep the system running properly. Some people are not even sure where the tank is located. This leads to issues within the septic system, possibly resulting in costly repairs.
The best way to keep your septic system healthy (and avoid those pricey repairs) is to perform regular maintenance. Proper septic system maintenance gives your system a lifespan of 25 to 30 years.
How Does the Septic System Work?
A septic system is comprised of a drain field and a tank. The tank takes in wastewater from the bathroom, kitchen, and laundry room, then separates the solid elements of the wastewater. Heavier solids sink down to form the sludge layer, while lighter solids and grease float to the top to form the scum layer. Water pushes through these layers into the drain field.
Over time, the scum and sludge layers are eaten by bacteria, preventing either layer from growing too fast. But the bacteria is not always able to keep up with the amount of wastewater being pushed into the tank, which causes elements to be pushed into the drain field. It is important that your tank is regularly pumped to prevent the scum and sludge layers from getting too high.
Maintaining Your Septic System
The best way to keep your septic system running properly is to have a professional inspect the system at least once a year. A professional is able to service your system and provide the care it needs, ensuring that everything runs smoothly. However, there are still things you can do to keep your septic system in tip-top shape.
- Use high-efficiency appliances: The more water you use or waste, the more water goes through your septic system, which may cause issues. High-efficiency appliances reduce water waste and leave your system less vulnerable to drain field flooding.
- Limit what goes in the system: Everything you pour down the drain or flush down the toilet goes through your septic system. Things such as grease and oil can clog your system, whether they're drained, flushed, or run through the garbage disposal. As a rule of thumb, you should avoid flushing anything that isn't toilet paper, pouring chemical drain openers down the drain, and putting coffee grounds or fats through your garbage disposal.
- Maintain your drain field: It is actually quite simple to keep your drain field maintained. Keep plants away from the drain field, as growing roots have a habit of bumping into and interfering with septic systems. It is also recommended that you avoid parking over the drain field.
- Pump your tank regularly: The recommended, standard timeframe to pump out your septic tank is every two to four years. This ensures that any solid materials have properly broken down and won't clog the drain field. Consistent and proper pumping increases the lifespan of your system and helps to prevent system failure.
- Keep excess water away: You need to keep your drain field clear of just about any possible excess or obstructions. Additional drainage systems for things such as rainwater often cause excess water buildup near your drain field, which slows down the treatment process.
- Save all records and reports: Every inspection of your septic system should include detailed reports on any existing or potential issues, as well as scum and sludge levels. Hold onto these reports so that any future repairs can be completed with ease.
How Much Does it Cost to Maintain Your Septic System?
The main cost to maintain your septic system is pumping it, which you should do every two to three years on average, but follow your provider's recommended schedule. You may also need to replace parts, such as the filter.
- Pumping a small septic tank (up to 750 gallons) costs between $75 and $150
- Pumping a medium septic tank (up to 1,500 gallons) costs between $200 and $400
- Pumping a large septic tank (up to 2,500 gallons) costs between $500 and $750
- Replacing the filter costs between $200 and $300
- Replacing PVC pipes and fittings averages between $50 and $200
- A new submersible pump averages between $300 and $500
- If you have to replace the entire system, expect to pay at least $3,000 and up to $20,000, depending on size and conditions
Appliances and Your Septic System
The appliances that you use every day directly impact on your septic system. When used improperly, they may damage your system or lead to decreased efficiency and costly repairs. Appliances with a direct effect on your septic system include:
- Garbage disposals: If you have a standalone septic system, it is recommended that you do not use your garbage disposal at all. Using the disposal increases the amount of solids that go through your system, building up the scum and sludge layers in your septic tank.
- Hot tubs: Draining all the water from a hot tub at once is a quick way to damage your septic system. Instead, the water should be cooled and drained into areas of your property far from the septic tank and drain field.
- Washing machines: As stated above, the more water you use, the more water that goes through the septic system. If you overload the septic system, the odds of it failing increase drastically. Because of this, it is recommended that you use high-efficiency washing machines and cut down on the number of loads you do in a day to prevent too much water from going through the system.
Signs That It's Time to Pump
Some professionals pump the septic tank when it is called for, as a part of their routine maintenance and service checks. However, your septic may need to be pumped before your regularly scheduled maintenance. That's why it's important to know the signs to look for that it's time to pump your septic.
- Landscaping signs: If the grass or plants around your tank appears healthier than the rest of the yard, you may have a leak or a tank that needs pumping.
- Slow drain: If water drains slowly inside the house (toilet, washing machine, sinks), it's a good idea to have your tank checked before that sluggish draining becomes a backup.
- Wastewater backup: Backups may occur anywhere you have a drain, including bathtubs, sinks, and toilets. Never attempt to clean wastewater, as it can be extremely dangerous to your health.
- Standing water: You may notice standing water in your yard, particularly around the septic tank.
- Odors: If you smell any foul odors in your yard, it's probably time to call in the pros.
There are also signs that your septic tank has reached emergency, need-to-pump-it-now status. If you notice any of these, call your septic company as soon as possible.
Why You Should Pump Your Septic
There are a variety of reasons to pump your septic system, starting with the fact that it's far healthier to keep it maintained. A septic tank that is not regularly pumped can overflow, possibly contaminating your water and causing major health hazards.
In addition to being good for your health, pumping your septic tank is good for your wallet. A system that does not receive regular and proper pumping is bound to break down. And when a system breaks down, it must be reinstalled, which comes with a much heftier price tag than just paying someone to service it. This type of preventive maintenance is a small expense that saves you from a much larger one.
Pumping your septic tank also prevents backup and odors. Those are both signs that it's time to pump the system as well, but it really is better to avoid them entirely. Wastewater backup can lead to damage, costly repairs, health issues, and is all around something you want to avoid. The same goes for bad odors; they may not cause damage, but no one wants to hold a gathering or even just hang out around the house when septic odors permeate the air.
Talk to your septic company about the best schedule. Much depends on the size of your household, your tank, and the type of waste you send into your septic system. The average timeframe is every two to four years. Again, much depends on your particular circumstances.
What Causes Septic Overflow?
Septic overflow can be caused by multiple things. Some of the most common causes include:
- Bacterial deficiency: The waste in a septic tank is broken down by bacteria, allowing water and other liquid waste to pass through to the drain field. But if your bacteria levels are low, the solids won't break down and your system fills up quickly, causing overflow. Try to avoid putting bleach, chemical cleaners, and other disinfectants down your waste piping to keep from killing the bacteria.
- Clogs and design flaws: Wastewater passes through a series of pipes before entering the tank and then another series of pipes into the drain field. If these pipes become clogged, nothing can pass through properly, leading to overflow. Plants near the drain field can also cause issues, as the roots may disrupt the piping. Improper design is also a major cause of overflow, because if the drainage pipes do not have the proper slope, nothing moves through properly. In this case, the pipes need to be replaced.
- Heavy rains: It is not uncommon to experience septic issues after heavy rain or major storms. This excess water often floods the ground around the drain field, making it impossible for wastewater to exit your septic system. A flooded drain field causes the water to travel backward through your system, into the drains of your home.
- Inadequate maintenance: It is incredibly important that your septic system receives adequate and proper maintenance, a big part of which is pumping the septic tank. If the tank is not pumped when it should be (two to four years is the average), overflow is bound to happen.
Septic overflow is something you want to avoid entirely. Beyond bringing intense odors, it often causes major damage to the septic system as a whole and leads to costly repairs. But when overflow does occur, there are things you can do to fix it.
- Avoid pumping the tank: Pumping your septic tank is definitely a way to fix overflow if the problem is in the tank. However, it should never be your go-to solution. If the drain field is flooded, the weight of the solid waste in the tank is what keeps it in place. Emptying the tank may cause it to move toward the surface, which leads to damaged or dislodged pipes. If that happens, now you have a whole new problem to worry about.
- Inspect the tank: When flooding or overflow occurs, tank inspection is important. This does not necessarily mean that it needs to be pumped, but any time septic overflow happens it's a good idea to check the tank. This should be done by a professional after the ground dries. If there is any damage to the tank, you can handle the problem faster.
- Watch your water use: If the drain field is flooded, there is a high possibility that the water is going to flow back into the septic tank and cause overflow. Because of this, it is recommended that you limit your water use. Keep time spent in the shower down and avoid running your dishwasher or washing machine until the flooding has been resolved.
Maintenance Is Key to a Healthy Septic System
Regular maintenance is the best way to ensure that no problems occur with your septic tank. A professional service checks the system on a regular basis and performs routine maintenance, but you can do your own system checks as well. Keep an eye out for leaks and strange pools of water, as those are indicators there is an issue with your system. You can also check the levels of sludge that have built up in your septic tank by removing the lid. Remember that even the most basic of routine inspections often provides insight.
Septic tanks have no trouble handling the waste generated by a home, but that does not mean they don't experience problems. Make sure to use septic-safe cleaners and paper products. Don't overload your system with other contaminants either; buildup and other issues can cause problems more quickly than you think. Performing regular inspections on your tank in addition to professional servicing is a great way to make sure the system keeps running smoothly.