It is not unusual for me to receive calls asking if I pump septic tanks. My response is no, but why are you asking? The answer is frequently sewage is backing up in my bathtub or my toilet will not flush, so my septic tank must be full. That is really not enough information for anyone to determine if your septic tank needs service. I will explain.
How the system works
First let’s review what components make up a septic system and how it works. There are variations in configurations, but for this purpose think of a septic tank as a concrete box about 4′ wide, 10′ long and 4′ deep. On opposite ends there are about 4” diameter openings about 6” from the top of the tank with the outlet level opening being just below the inlet.
Your tank is empty when it is new or just after being pumped. With normal use, in 2 or 3 weeks your tank is likely full of liquid with very little solid matter or sludge in the bottom. As solids and liquids enter the tank the liquid level in the tank rises and gravity causes liquid to exit the tank through the outlet. Bacteria breaks down the solids into liquid over time. Connected to the outlet is a field system that is essentially piping which is perforated lying in a bed of gravel. The liquid is absorbed into the ground and evaporated by the sun. When the sewage consists of only human waste and toilet paper, the system is practically perpetual.
What can go wrong ?
If the solids in the tank accumulate high enough to block the outlet, no liquid can leave the tank. Therefore solids and liquid will no longer be able to enter the tank and the system will stall causing sewage backup. The baffles are to direct the solids down and also to prevent them from floating into the outlet.
Who do I need to call?
WT Smith’s Service Sewer and Drain Rooter clears clogs in pipes from the devices in the house to the inlet side of the septic tank. To definitively determine whether a backup is due to a blockage in the pipe before the septic tank or liquid not leaving the tank you must be able to see the inlet and/or the outlet. Without a pump port providing that view you must uncover the tank. Remove the lids to expose the inlet and/or outlet to see if the liquid level is over one or both. If both the inlet and outlet are exposed then the issue is in the pipe before the tank. That is where I can help!
In making a decision as to whether to call me or someone to open and pump the tank you need to consider all the clues available to you. A problem out of the blue where nothing is moving would be consistent with a blockage before the tank. If there has been a lengthy period of heavy rain and you have standing water in your yard, it could be that the “field” of the field system is flooded so the water in the tank has nowhere to go and I’m not going to be able to help you. Pumping would only help until the tank filled again. If you have lived in your home for 20 years and never had an issue before, you might consider opening the tank. My service might be quicker, less disruptive and that could be a relevant consideration. If you had the tank pumped 2 years ago it would be more likely a blockage with which I can help you!
If you call me, I can rooter the sewer line and in the majority of the cases restore your service, but I don’t have a crystal ball and it is the same amount of work whether I am successful or not. I will always try to be fair and give you value for your money but I can’t guarantee success.
Does my septic tank need to be pumped?
The scum layer may look solid but is more the consistency of foam. Use a 2×4 and stand it resting on the bottom of the tank and try to stir. If it feels like you are stirring mud, it is in the sludge or solids layer. Raise the 2×4 a foot and try again. If it feels like you are stirring water then you know the level of sludge is less than a foot deep. With this method you can see how close to the outlet the sludge is. If it is over half the depth of the tank, you likely want to have it pumped.
If you have a green plastic disk with screw holes around the parameter about the diameter of a 55 gallon drum and a control box within sight of that disk you likely have a pump system. Typically the disk is a cover of a reservoir that the water from the outlet of the septic tank drains into. These are used if geological conditions or space limitations prevent a gravity field system to distribute the septic liquid directly from the septic tank. There is a pump and controls that sense when water accumulates in the reservoir and pumps it to a sewer collection or a field system in a more suitable location. The control box has an alarm telling you that the reservoir has too much water in it so the pump is likely not working. If this type system fails, it will cause a backup just like a blocked outlet of your septic tank. In this area you likely need to contact Barger and Sons, the company that installs and maintains the majority of these systems.
I hope this information has helped but if you have questions please call and I be glad to discuss your specific issues.