Septic update

jane__nyApril 12, 2009

I posted a while ago about my concerns regarding my septic system. My house was built in 1960 and although I haven't had problems with the septic, I hadn't had it pumped since 02. There was always a problem locating the cover and the company I had used for years went out of business. I'm planning to sell my house.

I called another company who came last week. The man worked for an hour digging and poking and couldn't find it. I had the original map from the Town.

He said they could flush a sensor down a toilet to locate the tank but that costs $200.00. Price doesn't include the pumping, which costs $300.00.

Because this was suggested by a number of people, I wonder if that price sounds excessive. I just don't understand why my tank is so deep that no one can find it.


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We had the same problem. They flushed the radio thing down but still couldn't find it. In our case, the tank was not where everyone thought it was. It was in the backyard, not the front. I think we paid $35 for the radio thing. Not $200.
Seems high.

    Bookmark   April 12, 2009 at 8:40AM
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I wonder if it would hurt to flush a small metal or magnetic object down the toilet and use a metal detector (or magnet) to try and find it?!

Here is a site (in NY) that might be helpful.

How to Find The Septic Tank - step by step how to locate septic tanks for inspection or septic tank pumping-SepticAPedia

Safety Warnings for People Looking for the Septic Tank

Septic System Warnings: Here are a few conditions that may be confusing or dangerous and which you should keep in mind:

* Beware of old, collapsing septic systems: falling into a cesspool or septic tank is likely to be fatal. Watch out for evidence of subsidence or sinking soil, rusted-through steel septic tank covers, home-made wooden or flimsy tank covers, or home made cesspools and drywells which risk collapse. Dig or probe with great care and do not work alone. More guidance about safety when working on or around septic systems can be read at Septic & Cesspool Safety Procedures. [Thanks to Donica Ben for reminding us that there are other potential hazards such as striking a buried electrical wire.

* Multiple main drains?: At a large property or a property with plumbing fixtures at widely separated portions of a building, the builder may have constructed more than one septic system, or waste lines could leave the building from more than one location even if they go to the same septic system. This would be uncommon in a modern home. But at a property which has been expanded, say to add an apartment at a far end from where all of the other building plumbing exists, this is a possibility to keep in mind. Consider the age of the building, the complexity of its layout, and the history of additions of baths or kitchens at widely separated areas as a clue suggesting that more than one septic system or waste line may be present.

* Separate drywells?: On properties which have septic drain fields (absorption systems) of limited capacity to absorb wastewater, or for reasons of simple convenience in running drain lines, the building gray water from laundry or even sinks and showers may be connected to a separate drywell which is not part of the main septic system. In the photo above showing a washing machine in the foreground and the main house waste line in the basement left corner in the background, you might wonder if the washer is connected to a separate drywell. The washing machine in the photo is obviously below the level at which the main drain leaves the house in the distance. What simplifies finding the septic tank in the case of this photo is that there is only one large diameter waste drain leaving the house.

* Main drains are bigger: The main house drain lines will be comparatively large in diameter, a minimum of 4" (obsolete) and possibly 6" in diameter. Individual sink or shower drains may be 1.5" or 2" in diameter. So if you can see exposed plumbing, just find the area below a building toilet and follow that drain. Toilets must be connected to a septic system, even if other building fixtures connect to a separate drywell. Right now we're looking for the septic tank, not a drywell."

A link that might be useful:

    Bookmark   April 12, 2009 at 9:36AM
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Jane, has your grass started coming up yet or is it still too cold up there? That was always the easy way to find it as the grass would be greener around it.

Do you have a basement or crawl?
Is there a way to find the out pipe then poke on the outside?
This all depends on how deep it is of course.

With my old house it was in the front yard, well was in the back.

Do you know where your well is?

    Bookmark   April 12, 2009 at 10:06AM
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Thanks all, I know the basic area where it is but it is buried deep and in my area there is so much rock. I've had it pumped many times over the 35 yrs we live here, but we enlarged our deck and changed some landscaping over the years. I can see the drain leaving the house, but from there it curves, thus the problem finding it. I thought we had a chimney built years ago to make finding it easier. Possible the soil built up over it.

My house is on the side of a hill. The land drops quickly where the tank is. The fields are down below, quite a distance from the tank.

Yes, the grass is greening up, but that's the fields, not the tank.

I think I'll make some calls for other estimates.


    Bookmark   April 12, 2009 at 7:59PM
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Was your septic tank put in with permits? We had to have a large leach field and in our case, the tank was quite close to the house. Even though the company went out of business, is there anyone around who might have worked in the area. If you needed permits you might check with the building dept. They also might give you ideas how to find the tank

    Bookmark   April 12, 2009 at 9:56PM
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Our tank was easy to find even in the winter - it was the big green square in a field of snow. :)

    Bookmark   April 13, 2009 at 8:40AM
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Maybe your municipal/building department has a site plan on file from when the septic was originally built.

Our house was built in 1970, and the file at the permit office contained all sorts of construction documents, including a site plan for the septic installation.

    Bookmark   April 13, 2009 at 3:25PM
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We have the original map, yet it is not accurate, unless it is so deep down they are not digging deep enough. It has always been a hassle to find. I suppose if we had it cleaned every year, we'd always find it.

We have had it pumped every 5-8 years and it seems to get lost over the years.

    Bookmark   April 14, 2009 at 12:58AM
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Jane, I would start with the map, then dig down. It will save all that money if you do find it.

    Bookmark   April 14, 2009 at 10:51AM
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I'm not sure if this would work, but it might be worth a try. Check out the photos on Google Earth and see if you can get tell from there. They seem to get updated every few years. I'm not sure if you can still pull up the old ones, but you may be able pick out the old dig place or at least find the winter green spot.

Good luck!

    Bookmark   April 14, 2009 at 1:58PM
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Hey all. The grass is all ways greener over the septic FIELD.
The snow over the septic tank will melt first, leaving a bare rectangle.
That's how ours is. DH dug a hole over the septic tank and placed a brick in it. You can mow right over it, but it makes it easy to find the tank cover.
Kathy G in MI

    Bookmark   April 14, 2009 at 11:37PM
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My septic layout must be unusual because the fields are far away from the tank. The tank is about 10-15ft from the house and the fields are at least 100+ ft from the tank. The tank is on the top of a large hill and the fields are down below on the level lawn.

This is the only photo I could find which, sort of shows the distance. The septic field begins directly to the left of the star magnolia and runs all the way down on the left the whole width of that side yard. The photo is being shot at approx. where the tank is located. You can't really tell how steep the slope is down to the field.

    Bookmark   April 15, 2009 at 1:02AM
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Beautiful picture. It would make a nice card.
btw, saw the pics you posted of the rose & magnolia.. beautiful! I bet it's going to be hard selling...

    Bookmark   April 15, 2009 at 2:41PM
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The cover on the tank often has a rebar handle. That helps them use a metal detector to find the cover.

    Bookmark   April 15, 2009 at 6:20PM
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The guy came this morning and I was not happy. He kept poking his stick all over the place, down by the fields (see pic). I told him the tank is up near the house and pointed to the spot. He said he likes to trace the pipe from the field.

I was afraid he'd break a pipe with all his poking. Long and short, he finally flushed the sensor and I ran around the house flushing toilets while he walked with his beeper.

He found it - right where I pointed to - dug it out to expose the cover and handed me a bill for $308.00 and told me to schedule the pumping. I paid the bill and told them to come Monday morning. The cost to pump it is another $300.00.

The problem was they didn't dig deep enough. The tank was where I remembered, but is about 3ft down. I feel like I was ripped off...

After calming down, I decided to fire them and called another place to pump it out. I'm waiting for them to call back with a price.


    Bookmark   April 15, 2009 at 10:43PM
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When you cover it over again mark it.

    Bookmark   April 16, 2009 at 7:52AM
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I'm sorry Jane. I'd feel taken too. Thankfully, it wasn't $3,000. When we had a septic, I recall having a large bill for something.

Since you have the plans, it might be a good idea to mark whatever you can on them so that the new owner doesn't go through that.

Did he offer any ideas on why it was so low?

    Bookmark   April 16, 2009 at 5:14PM
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The tank is low because its on the edge of a steep slope. Years ago I had a 'chimney' built to bring the opening up higher. But even that is a few feet down.

I have always put rocks on top but over the years they got moved. But I was very close to where I remembered.

I just hope that guy didn't break any pipes with all his banging. I have another company coming in the morning. I'll keep my fingers crossed all is okay.

Thanks roselvr. I love the property. Hardest part of moving.


    Bookmark   April 16, 2009 at 10:34PM
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Now that you know where the opening of your tank is, go right out and get a brick or an inexpensive stepping stone to put "flush" into the ground on the spot. Don't rely on your memory!
Kathy G in MI

    Bookmark   April 16, 2009 at 10:39PM
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You'd do the next person to own the house a favor if you'd take a picture of the tank with the house in the background for reference. You might even measure the distance from the house. Add the picture and the measurements to the paperwrk you leave for the next owner.

    Bookmark   April 17, 2009 at 12:26AM
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