Septic FAQ

Frequently Asked Questions about Septic Systems, Septic Maintainence, Septic Inspections

Cesspool (2)

What is a cesspool or seepage pit?

Many older homes with systems installed prior to 1970 may have these systems presently in use.  Cesspools are constructed of open-jointed walls (concrete block or stone) and open bottoms.  The solids in the wastewater settle in the bottom of the cesspool, while the effluent seeps through the jointed walls and bottom.  If the cesspool is not properly cared for, the sidewalls and bottom tend to plug up with solids.  This may result in sewage backing up into the house or being discharge to the ground surface.  Seepage pits are simply cesspools proceeded by a septic tank. 

How often should I have my septic tank or cesspool cleaned and inspected?

Septic Tanks:

If there are 4 or More Residents the System should be Cleaned/Pumped and Inspected on a Yearly Basis.

If there are 3 or Less Residents the System should be Cleaned/Pumped and Inspected every Two Years.

Other:

If you have a Garbage Disposal, Filter, Cesspool or Seepage Pit the System should be Cleaned/Pumped and Inspected on a Yearly Basis. Having your System Serviced on this Schedule Will Make Your System Last Longer.

Drain Field (2)

When is a drain field considered to be over full?

 When the water in the drain field is above the top of the stone.

Should soil fracturing ever be recommended to correct an over full drain field?

 As of July 2006 DEP no longer allows soil fracturing.

Drip Irrigation Systems (1)

What are the advantages and disadvantages of a drip irrigation system?

There are many advantages.  The greatest advantage is aesthetics.  Drip irrigation systems are installed just below grade so there is no mound in the yard detracting from the view.  Another advantage is the flexibility.  Often you can avoid cutting down that favorite tree that you've grown to admire.  It's also a great way to irrigate your lawn by recycling the water you've already used for other purposes.The disadvantage is the relatively short amount of time they have been in use.  They contain many moving parts and its difficult to predict how expensive they will become to maintain as they age.

Septic Inspection (11)

Under what circumstances should a hydraulic load test be performed in addition to a standard septic inspection?

A hydraulic load test should be performed if:

  1. The home has been vacant for more than 7 days or
  2. If the number of people moving in is greater than the number of people moving out of the home.

*A hydraulic load test is a 2-day test to determine the absorption capacity of the absorption system.

When will it be required that a septic tank has to be cleaned in order to pass a septic inspection?

When the thickness of the floatable solids and the depth of the settled solids are equal to or  greater than 20% of the total depth of the tank.

Does a septic tank have to have a cleanout pipe in order to pass a septic inspection?

In order to pass a septic inspection, the system must meet all the regulations that were in affect when the septic system was installed.  All tanks installed after 1983 are required to have main access risers no deeper than 12 inches below grade.  Therefore, if the system was installed prior to 1983 a riser will be recommended, but not required.  After 1983 all tanks are required to have main access pipes if the septic tank is more than 12 inches deep.

Can a cesspool pass a septic inspection?

It is possible that cesspools can pass septic inspections.  The problem is that cesspools have not been installed since 1969 and therefore they are at least 34 years old.  Most septic system have a life expectancy of 20 – 25 years.  We have, however, seen 50-year-old systems that are still working fine.

If a homeowner has never had their septic system pumped, can we assume everything is fine?

No.  Just the opposite is true.  A septic tank that has never been cleaned is like a car that has never had its oil changed.  A septic system will fail   prematurely if it is not properly maintained.

Can a septic system pass an inspection if the washing machine water has been removed from the system?

No.  The washing machine water will have to be put back into the septic system.  However the septic system will have to pass a hydraulic load test first.

What factors are important when inspecting a septic tank?

 

These factors are important when inspecting a septic tank:

  • The structural integrity of the tank.
  • The liquid level of the septic tank.
  • The amount of accumulated solids in the septic tank.
  • The condition of the baffles.
  • The inlet inspection port, as well as the main access clean out pipe.

How often should I have my septic tank or cesspool cleaned and inspected?

Septic Tanks:

If there are 4 or More Residents the System should be Cleaned/Pumped and Inspected on a Yearly Basis.

If there are 3 or Less Residents the System should be Cleaned/Pumped and Inspected every Two Years.

Other:

If you have a Garbage Disposal, Filter, Cesspool or Seepage Pit the System should be Cleaned/Pumped and Inspected on a Yearly Basis. Having your System Serviced on this Schedule Will Make Your System Last Longer.

Should the septic tank be pumped before an inspection?

No!  If the tank is pumped before the inspection, we will not be able to properly evaluate the system, costing your client time and/or additional money. 

Will you do an inspection or hydraulic load test when it is raining?

We would prefer it not be raining. If it is a heavy rain event we have to wait 48 hours before we can do a credible inspection.

Septic Maintenance (4)

Are there any additives I should be putting into my septic system?

No.  Neither your township, the PA-DEP, nor the EPA recommend putting additives into your septic system.

Is there anything else I can do to prolong the life of my septic system?

Yes. Install an effluent filter on the outlet baffle of your septic tank.  A quality filter will increase the efficiency of your septic tank by 40%. Septic tank effluent filters provide a relatively inexpensive means of preventing solids discharge. They are usually installed at the outlet of the septic tank, collecting solids that may be discharged from the tank. Generally this filter needs to be cleaned once a year.  Sometimes it needs to be cleaned more often.  It's easy to clean.  You can do it yourself or we can clean it for you.

Is it safe to use any type of laundry detergent?

It is safe to use any kind of detergent in your septic system.

Is it necessary to use only 1-ply toilet paper in a septic system?

Usually when you use 1-ply toilet paper you use twice as much. Therefore, you can use 2-ply toilet paper.

Septic Pumping (5)

How often should I have my septic tank or cesspool cleaned and inspected?

Septic Tanks:

If there are 4 or More Residents the System should be Cleaned/Pumped and Inspected on a Yearly Basis.

If there are 3 or Less Residents the System should be Cleaned/Pumped and Inspected every Two Years.

Other:

If you have a Garbage Disposal, Filter, Cesspool or Seepage Pit the System should be Cleaned/Pumped and Inspected on a Yearly Basis. Having your System Serviced on this Schedule Will Make Your System Last Longer.

If a homeowner has never had their septic system pumped, can we assume everything is fine?

No.  Just the opposite is true.  A septic tank that has never been cleaned is like a car that has never had its oil changed.  A septic system will fail   prematurely if it is not properly maintained.

Should the septic tank be pumped before an inspection?

No!  If the tank is pumped before the inspection, we will not be able to properly evaluate the system, costing your client time and/or additional money. 

What are excessive solids?

Your Septic System has excessive solids as a result of not cleaning on a proper maintenance schedule.  The Septic Tank acts as a filter for your absorption area and needs to be cleaned to remove solids.  Solids that build up in the tank can pass into the absorption area if they are not removed from the Septic Tank on a continuous maintenance plan.

Do excessive solids cause harm to my Septic System?

YesWhen solids leave your Septic Tank they will create a bio-mate which does not allow the effluent/wastewater to drain thru the absorption system.  Excessive solids in the Septic Tank can also mean that solids build up in the outlet line and laterals in the absorption area which does not allow the effluent/wastewater to drain properly. This is why we remove all the solids and recommend a maintenance schedule that will help your Septic System last longer.

Septic System Installation or Replacement (1)

If I’m adding bedrooms to my house, do I need to replace my septic system?

Yes, in most cases, you will need to apply for, test, design for, and install a new absorption system. Your best bet is to contact your local sewage enforcement officer to clarify what they require. We’d be happy to help you with whatever they say your next steps are.

Septic Systems (10)

What is an on-lot sewage system?

On-lot sewage systems are composed of two primary parts: (1) septic tanks or an aerobic tank, and (2) an absorption area.  The septic tanks separate solids from the wastewater.  The heavy solids settle at the bottom of the tank and the lighter solids float on top of the wastewater.  The aerobic tank acting in place of the septic tanks utilizes air pumped into the tank in addition to the settling action of the septic tank.  The absorption area then utilizes the ability of the soil to filter and treat the remaining effluent before it reaches the water table.  By separating the solids, the septic tanks and/or aerobic tank protect the absorption area from becoming clogged.  Proper maintenance of the septic tank and/or the aerobic tank will prevent more costly problems with the absorption area.  

What is a cesspool or seepage pit?

Many older homes with systems installed prior to 1970 may have these systems presently in use.  Cesspools are constructed of open-jointed walls (concrete block or stone) and open bottoms.  The solids in the wastewater settle in the bottom of the cesspool, while the effluent seeps through the jointed walls and bottom.  If the cesspool is not properly cared for, the sidewalls and bottom tend to plug up with solids.  This may result in sewage backing up into the house or being discharge to the ground surface.  Seepage pits are simply cesspools proceeded by a septic tank. 

Is there anything else I can do to prolong the life of my septic system?

Yes. Install an effluent filter on the outlet baffle of your septic tank.  A quality filter will increase the efficiency of your septic tank by 40%. Septic tank effluent filters provide a relatively inexpensive means of preventing solids discharge. They are usually installed at the outlet of the septic tank, collecting solids that may be discharged from the tank. Generally this filter needs to be cleaned once a year.  Sometimes it needs to be cleaned more often.  It's easy to clean.  You can do it yourself or we can clean it for you.

Are there any additives I should be putting into my septic system?

No.  Neither your township, the PA-DEP, nor the EPA recommend putting additives into your septic system.

How can I eliminate a septic odor problem?

There are many causes of septic odors. The three most common sources are:

  • From your waste pipes
  • From the access openings on septic tanks and dosing tanks.
  • From malfunctioning septic systems which cause sewage to surface on the ground.

Solutions are as follows:

         Traps are designed to prevent odors from coming out of your waste pipes. If a sink or shower does not get used the water in the trap can evaporate, allowing odors to escape. The solution is to run water down the trap to fill it up. This is a very common problem and very easy to solve. 
Sometimes it is necessary to install a new trap between the septic tank and your house to prevent odors from coming out of your vent pipe in the roof. Down drafts can sometimes carry these odors to your backyard patio or deck. Another option is to install charcoal filters on the vents in the roof to absorb the odors. These filters have to be replaced periodically.

Is it safe to use any type of laundry detergent?

It is safe to use any kind of detergent in your septic system.

Is it necessary to use only 1-ply toilet paper in a septic system?

Usually when you use 1-ply toilet paper you use twice as much. Therefore, you can use 2-ply toilet paper.

Can wipes be flushed if I have a septic tank?

As a general rule, soaps, household cleaning products, and toilet paper are all okay to flush down the toilet when used in moderation.  Baby/Cleaning Wipes (Any Wipe), paper towels, toys, feminine products, contraceptives, strong chemicals such as paint thinner, acids can clog or damage the drains and cause your system not to function properly and even fail.

Wipes of any kind should never be flushed; even those marked as safe for septic tanks can cause serious problems.

Can I use a garbage disposal with a septic system?

It is not recommended, but if you must you should have it pumped once every year.

Is it harmful to drive vehicles over any part of a septic system?

Yes. Vehicles should never drive over any part of a septic system. Septic tanks and dosing tanks can crack or even collapse. Pipes can break, and soils can become compacted which will prevent the wastewater from percolating through the ground.