when to pump septic system tank?

TJG911May 30, 2009

how often do you have to pump out a septic tank? i built this house and took occupancy in march 1999. just me and the wife until feb 2002. since feb 2002 it's just me here. so i don't put much of a load on the system. i have never had the system inspected or pumped.

how is the tank pumped out? i assume they have to drive into the back yard where the tank is buried, then dig with a backhoe(?) or do they use a shovel. maybe the tank is close to the surface? do they have to take off the top or is there a hole they uncap and stick in a hose?

i can't talk to my friend who built my house and subcontracted the septic and drains to a very good excavator, not cheap but very good was graham's comment. i knew graham for 35 years, he died 4 years ago so i can't discuss this with him. he was an honest guy and a good friend so i know he did not cut corners. if he told me something it was as good as gold. unfortunately i can't remember for sure but at his house with just him and his wife i thought he said they did their system after 10 or 15 years and i am pretty sure he told me i'd not have to worry for at least 15 years. maybe he had a larger than normal tank put in? i don't know the size of the tank or if there is 1 or 2, seems the town required something that was more expensive... i may have 2 tanks but assuming i have just 1 how do i know when to do this?


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The short standard answer would be 3 to 5 years between pumpings for the average sized family which obviously you are not and youre aleady at 10 years. The usual signs of your septic system in need of pumping is slow flowing drains or a soft soggy spot in your yard over the tank where it is backing up.
Drain trucks have long hoses that usually can reach your tank without driving across your yard and the tank is accessed by way of a lid on top of the tank and usually shovel deep. Hopefully no backhoe needed. Below is a link to a blog I wrote recently about septic systems which may also help you understand how they work.

Here is a link that might be useful: Care and feeding of the family septic tank

    Bookmark   May 31, 2009 at 5:10AM
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You shouldn't need a backhoe. There are lids in the top of the tank. Should be able to find them with a shovel.

    Bookmark   May 31, 2009 at 7:08PM
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do you know how large of a tank you have?

I just had mine pumped so I can tell you with 2 people living in a house for almost 1.5 years, the 1250 gallon tank had about 8 inches os sludge at the bottom which i was told by the septic guy as normal. He said that we could have gone at least 3 years before pumping was needed - maybe longer. This was our first pumping - i wanted to be safe and get a baseline. I will probably pump every 3 years from now on.

The pump truck is a tanker that has a long hose attached. They stick the hose into the septic tank and suck out the contents. Around here they charge between $200 and $300 to pump a 1250 gallon tank.

There should be a manhole like cover somewhere in your yard covering the septic tank. You should not have to dig up anything.

    Bookmark   June 2, 2009 at 2:19PM
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my tank is 1250 gal. i now have a map of the system. 10 years 2 months never pumped.

for the 1st 3 years my wife was here but for the past 7 it is just me.

i'm going to have it done in late october.


    Bookmark   June 2, 2009 at 7:36PM
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We have an A-B switch for the drainfield which is changed every 4th of July. I'm going to see how many years we can go without pumping.

    Bookmark   June 3, 2009 at 1:29AM
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You will be doing yourself a favor long term if you pump it. In my city its is required every 3 years. Your drainfield will last much longer if you pump it regularly. If you have water coming up out of the drainfield, thats a big problem. The city also requires the manholes to be raised to the surface. They must pump out of the manholes NOT the small inspection pipes that are near the surface. I raised my manholes last year. BIG job for me, they were down 4 feet (Minnesota), I dug one and i hired a machine to dig the other. Cost me about $600 to do the job

    Bookmark   June 3, 2009 at 1:51PM
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If you wait until the tank get too full the solids and sludge will get into the drain field. It is too late then and you will need a new field. Pump before you ruin your field.

    Bookmark   June 3, 2009 at 7:10PM
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I have 2 fields, that's what the switch is for.

    Bookmark   June 3, 2009 at 7:49PM
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here's the reply i got from an email to Connecticut Onsite Wastewater Recycling Association (COWRA). note - i have 3 bedrooms but there is just me living here and the tank is 1250 gal. i don't use bleach, never put oil down the drain or grease (i don't eat meat) and i use very little water the average person uses at least twice what i use per day maybe 4 times. perhaps every 8 years is better than 10 i sure don't want to have to mess with the leach fields.

Hi Tom,
Our website is under construction and soon we will have more information for home owners regarding their septic systems.
Your 1250 gal tank was designed for a 4 bedroom household with 6 to 8 people living in that residence. The formula for pumping a system is based on how may people are likely to live in a particular home. Chances are you would be quite safe pumping your tank every 10 to 12 years. However, there are new regulations that Health District are implementing that will force home owners to pump their tanks every 5 years. I would guess that many districts would make an acceptation in a case like yours. Health Districts are implementing these regulation to protect adjacent property owners, wells and streams. I do not know if the town of Harwinton has this type of regulation in place yet. The things that compromise a septic system are bleach oil, toxins and excessive water flushed into the system. Also the amount of paper a household flushes down their toilets. Stay away from softer toilet paper like Charmin as is blocks the filters/baffles and sticks to the sides of the tank. It is important to know if you have baffles or filters in your tank as this also establishes your need to pump your tank. The most important thing you should know is that pumping a tank more frequently then needed will prolong the life of your entire septic system.
I hope this information is helpful.

    Bookmark   June 4, 2009 at 4:23PM
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Yes, a dual-field leach field is a nice design, but it isn't intended to substitute for pumping a septic tank. Pumping is cheap, adding a leach field is expensive and disruptive. The idea is that you pump your septic tank every 3-5 years, and switch leach fields regularly to let the one you've been using rest, or you switch when you have serious problems with one leach field. Once you get solids out into a leach field by not pumping often enough, that field is hosed for a while. And there are other reasons for needing to switch leach fields...like excessive rain causing saturation, etc.

You don't want to be in the position where you have gotten solids in one leach field due to lack of pumping, then switch and the one that you're using now gets saturated...what happens then? You do want to be in a situation where you have a good leach field that's resting, in case of problems when the one that you're currently using.

Not pumping a septic tank periodically is just penny-wise pound foolish, in my opinion. But not my problem at the moment. While I've spent about 15-years in houses with septic systems, I'm currently on a city sewer. More expensive than a well cared for septic system, but functional.


    Bookmark   June 8, 2009 at 6:12PM
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maybe you are OK - but unless you pump it you just won't know. The cost to pump is a few hundred dollars max - the cost for a new septic system is many thousands.

I suggest having it pumped now and asking the pumper to measure the sludge level at the bottom of the tank. Once you know how much sludge has accumulated over the years you have a baseline and can judge when the next pumping should be done.

I had 8 inches of sludge after 1.5 years with 2 people on a 1250 gallon tank. My pumper said that this was normal and that I could have gone at least 3 years at that rate before pumping would be recommended. No my next pumping will be 3 years from now.

    Bookmark   June 9, 2009 at 12:29PM
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thanks for all the replies. i decided to have it pumped now vs october. they are coming tomorrow afternoon. i'll post what they say about much how my 10 years of use has filled the tank. the cost is $275 plus $25 if they have to dig more than 6".


    Bookmark   June 9, 2009 at 4:48PM
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Intresting thread,

I know things are diff in diff areas, in texas it's recommended you pump the system every 4-5 years. Ofcourse number of people and usage plays a big roll.

They guy thats got two fields with a d box/valve and is going to see how long he goes just cracks me up, you go buddy, it's only gonna cost you thousands in the long run.

Something to remember, you don't want to time your pumping based on slow drain. Whats happened is you have not waited to long and some solids have entered your drain lines more than likely.

I would love to get some more information on these state/counties requiring pumping at certain times. This I have never heard of and can't figure out how this could be a law or enforced. If I could get the state or county from you guys I would love to call them and research this.

    Bookmark   June 12, 2009 at 6:37PM
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You shouldn't dig anything. There should be a lid where you can drain out. It normally takes years before we drain out our septic tank. It depends on how many in the house are you using it for.

Here is a link that might be useful: charlotte septic tank pumping

    Bookmark   August 9, 2011 at 4:00PM
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I usually have mine done in the summer because I live in the North East. But it depends on where you live, the size of your tank and how many people are living in the house. For cost I use septicshark.com to look up septic tank pumping costs in my area.

Here is a link that might be useful: Septic Tank Pumping Costs by State

    Bookmark   August 8, 2012 at 2:35PM
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"They guy thats got two fields with a d box/valve and is going to see how long he goes just cracks me up, you go buddy, it's only gonna cost you thousands in the long run. "

once you have wrecked on of the fields it is just that, not suitable for use every again (unless you want to try and dig it out and replace it).

Once solids pass into the field (or waste that did not sit in the tank long enough) the field is wrecked.
It will NOT recover.

    Bookmark   August 8, 2012 at 4:37PM
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I'm a county environmental health specialist in north carolina. I permit, design, inspect, and enforce septic rules. A general rule of thumb is every 3-5 years. Our state rules are more specific in that when a third of the tanks volume is solids it needs to be pumped. And to the guy with dual fields, have fun replacing not one but two fields for not regularly pumping your tank.

    Bookmark   August 10, 2012 at 11:22AM
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I pump every four years...during a presidential election year, regardless of who's in office. It's kind of symbolic, but it does serve as a good reminder. Which reminds me, I need to schedule my next pump.

    Bookmark   August 17, 2012 at 2:11PM
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Follow the advice given by (COWRA). Also, I'd suggest going ahead and having an access riser installed so it'll be easier the next time. You can buy one and install it yourself after the pumping is finished if you want to save a little money. Oh yeah, he's going to have to dig more than 6", you can bank on that.

    Bookmark   February 12, 2015 at 11:27AM
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