How Often And Why Do I Need To Have My Septic System Cleaned And Inspected?

By May 22, 2018

When a residential home or building is not connected to the municipal sewer system, then there will be a septic system on the property to handle the liquid and solid waste. Municipal sewer systems are maintained by the local town/city. Septic system maintenance is the responsibility of the property owner. Septic systems are very expensive to repair and/or replace when they have not been correctly maintained by the property owners!

What are the main parts of a septic system?

The main components of a septic system consist of the drainage pipes, holding tank, distribution box, and leaching fields or seepage pits.

  1. The Drainage Pipes are usually visible in the lower level of the house for the home interior plumbing system. These pipes are pitched downward slightly so that gravity will drain the liquid and solid waste into the septic system holding tank. On the exterior of the home, there are underground drainage pipes in the yard with perforated holes that drain the liquid waste into the soil.
  2. The Holding Tank is an underground tank that functions as a storage tank for the sewage solid waste. It will have a removable lid so the tank can be pumped out periodically. The lid will usually be located one foot below the soil. The septic contractor will dig up the soil to open the holding tank lid.
  3. The Distribution Box connects the effluent drainage pipes to a network of perforated drainage pipes buried underground in the yard. The distribution box, or d-box as it’s called, regulates the dispersion of the liquid waste into the soil.
  4. The Leaching Fields or Seepage Pits are used to drain the liquid waste down into the earth. The leaching fields or seepage pits are connected to the holding tank by drainage pipes. Leaching fields are found in newer construction or rehabilitated old septic systems. In many towns, seepage pits and cesspools are no longer permitted because they are not as sanitary as leaching fields.

When and why do I need to have my septic system cleaned and inspected?

Septic system tanks must be pumped cleaned and internally inspected by a reputable septic contractor every 1-3 years. It is important to note that when a septic system is pumped clean and inspected during normal cleaning maintenance, usually only the holding tank is inspected. It is recommended that a full inspection be done by the septic contractor to also check the condition of the septic drainage lines, distribution box and leaching fields – and not just the septic holding tank! It is recommended to inspect older septic systems every 3 years, and younger septic systems every 5 years.

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There are no set timelines nationwide on how often a septic system must be cleaned by pumping out the solid waste. This is because septic maintenance schedules vary based on a number of factors, such as:

  1. How much liquid and solid waste enters the septic system.
  • How many people live in the home.
  • If you use your home for large gatherings of people on a regular basis.
  • If you frequently use a garbage disposal.
  • The use of water softeners and laundry machines add excess detergents, chemicals and minerals into the wastewater which negatively affects the natural bacteria inside a septic holding tank.
  1. The size and type (construction materials and design) of the septic system.
  2. The past maintenance and repair history of the septic system.
  3. The geographical location of your property. A septic tank in northern climates needs to have the solid waste removed more often. The reason for this is because colder temperatures can inhibit the bacterial action inside the septic system holding tank. This reduces the natural decomposition of the sewage solid waste inside the tank.
  4. The Percolation Rate of the soil for the leaching fields or seepage pits. The percolation rate is used to determine the Soil Absorption Rate (SAR), which is the volume of water that will soak into the soil. Every jurisdiction has its own laws and building codes for these calculations.

If a septic system has a filter, typically located in the outlet baffle pipe, it will need to be cleaned periodically. Septic tank Effluent Filters will filter solid waste down to 1/16 of an inch which will increase the lifespan of your septic system. Effluent Filters are designed to extend the life of your drainage fields by preventing solids from leaving the septic tank. These filters should be changed every 3-6 months.

What damage is done by not cleaning my septic system often?

The reason it is so important to pump clean and internally inspect a septic system at least every 1-3 years, is to prevent solid waste from clogging the drainage pipes and soil. If a septic system is neglected, the solid waste that’s in the holding tank will begin to build up. Eventually, the solid waste will rise in the septic holding tank, then it will be carried with the liquid waste out of the tank baffle pipes and into the drainage lines. As a result, instead of just liquid waste entering the leaching fields, the solid waste will also begin to enter the fields. As the solid and liquid waste move through the perforated holes in the drainage lines, it will begin to drain into the air pockets or voids of the soil. The solid waste will eventually clog the air pockets and voids of the soil until there’s nowhere for the liquid waste to go but upwards! From this point on, the septic system is a “failed” system because the liquid and solid waste will begin to rise since it cannot travel downward into the soil. Puddles and sewer odors will begin to develop on the lawn over the leaching fields. When a septic system has failed, it may have to be rebuilt or moved to repair it. This is a major expense!

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About the Author

Guy Cozzi
Guy Cozzi

Guy Cozzi of Nemmar Consulting is a top-rated author of real estate books, dvds and websites. He has decades of experience as a licensed appraiser, home inspector, consultant, and real estate investor. He has been quoted as a real estate expert by the New York Times and many other publications. Guy has been a guest speaker on real estate investment TV shows and has taught thousands of people how to do home inspections, real estate appraisals, house renovations, and real estate investing. He has also advised many banks and mortgage lenders.


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