|What size Septic
Tank do I need for my home?
For single-family homes, tanks
typically range in size from 500 to 1500 gallons of
wastewater storage capacity. For a one- or
two-bedroom home, a 1000- or 1200-gallon tank is
common; A typical 1000-gallon concrete tank measures
about eight feet long by four feet wide and six feet
deep. Check with your local building
department for actual sizes needed.
Although a 1500-gallon tank costs
slightly more than a 1000-gallon one, it affords more
complete digestion and can reduce pumping occurrences
by a factor of four or more for a family of
|Where should the
Septic Tank be located for my home?
tank is located near the house and is buried with the top of
the tank about a foot or two below the surface of the ground.
There is an inlet port and an outlet port through the sidewalls
on opposite ends of the tank for wastewater flow. The interior
may be a single open chamber, but commonly consists of two
compartments created by an internal wall with an opening for
flow from one compartment to the next.
In colder climates, the tank may
be buried deeper below the frostline to avoid damage from
freezing. Also, foam insulation (such as Dow Blueboard, a
burial-rated, 2-inch insulation) can be placed over the top and
along the sides of the tank to prevent freezing. In some parts
of Canada, a light bulb inside the tank is used for
|How can I protect
and properly maintain my Septic System?
Have your septic tank
pumped and inspected every 2 to 3 years.
Septic tanks should be pumped out every 2 to
3 years by a reputable septic tank service
contractor, who is required to have a state
permit to handle and dispose of the material.
Businesses are listed in the telephone
directory. For more information, you can also
call your local County Health
Use less water. Don't let
the water run while shaving, brushing your
teeth, washing your hands, washing dishes,
etc. Spread your laundry washing out over the
week to avoid putting a lot of water into the
drain field at once.
Avoid using chemicals.
Chemicals such as drain cleaners, toilet bowl
cleaners, and "miracle system cleaners" will
kill the bacteria which break down sludge in
your septic system. An alternative drain
cleaner is 1/2 cup of baking soda, followed
by a 1/2 cup of vinegar poured down the
drain. Let that sit a few minutes and then
follow with boiling water.
Don't use a septic system
for the disposal of anything other than
toilet wastes and the water used for bathing,
laundry, and dishwashing. The system cannot
handle other waste such as cigarette butts,
diapers, coffee grounds, tampons, condoms,
Keep cars and trucks away
from the drain field and septic tank. Never
build or pave over the drain field. Driving
or building on your tank or drain field can
compact soil and break pipes. Soil compaction
and paving prevents oxygen from getting into
the soil. This oxygen is needed by bacteria
to break down and treat
Keep a record of when your
septic system has been inspected and
|Locating the Tank.
Where is it?
If the tank has no risers over
inspection holes, and no diagram is available showing
the location, you will have to probe for the tank, as
follows: Use a long metal rod (1/2-inch rebar, bent
over 90° to make a handle at the top) and begin
probing where the main drain pipe leaves the house.
Push the rod firmly down into the soil until you
"feel" the drain pipe. Use a firm and steady push.
Don't punch or pound the rod as you can damage the
pipe, particularly the pipe/septic tank connection.
If the soil is too hard and dry for probing, try
soaking the area with a garden
Another method: There may be lush
growth over the drainfield. Then the tank will be in
an obvious place between the house drain and the
drainfield. Or, you can run a snake down the
clean-out to the tank and locate it with a metal
When you find the drain pipe at one
spot, move a little further from the house and probe
again. Continue along the path of the drain pipe
until you locate the tank. The tank will probably be
1 to 3 feet underground and at least 5 feet from the
building. Once you locate it, dig up both manhole
covers. Or, if you're lucky, the tank will have
risers with sealed caps instead of the very heavy
manhole covers of earlier models. If you plan to
inspect your own system and don't have these risers,
we recommend that you have them installed (contact
American Concrete Products for pricing information).
In addition to providing easy access for inspection,
they keep out dirt and rainwater. In the meantime,
use a rope through the metal handles on the concrete
manhole covers to swing them up and off the tank. The
tank is now ready for inspection and/or
|What is Septic
A septic system should effectively
accept liquid wastes from your house and prevent
biological and nutrient contaminants from getting
into your well into nearby lakes and streams. Anytime
these things do not happen, the system is
example, when waste backs up into your home or liquid is
bubbling up in your backyard, the system has obviously
failed. If significant amounts of biological or nutrient
contaminants reach your well or surface waters, the
system is also failing, even though it may appear to be
working just fine.
|How will I know if
my Septic System is failing?
Look for these symptoms to
determine if you have a serious
Sewage backup in your
drains or toilets. This is often a black
liquid with a disagreeable
Slow flushing of your
toilets. Many of the drains in your house
will drain much slower than usual, despite
the use of plungers or drain cleaning
Surface flow of wastewater.
Sometimes you will notice liquid seeping
along the surface of the ground near your
septic system. It may or may not have much of
an odor associated with it.
Lush green grass over the
absorption field, even during dry weather.
Often, this indicates that an excessive
amount of liquid from your system is moving
up through the soil, instead of downward, as
it should. While some upward movement of
liquid from the absorption field is good, too
much could indicate major
The presence of nitrates or
bacteria in your drinking water well. This
indicates that liquid from the system may be
flowing into the well through the ground or
over the surface. Water tests available from
your local health department will indicate if
you have this problem.
Buildup of aquatic weeds or
algae in lakes or ponds adjacent to your
home. This may indicate that nutrient-rich
septic system waste is leaching into the
surface water. This may lead to both
inconvenience and possible health
Unpleasant odors around
your house. Often, improperly vented or
failing systems cause a buildup of
disagreeable odors around the
|What do I do if my
Call your local health
department. This is the first thing you
should do. Health department staff members
have the expertise to assess your situation
quickly and offer advice on how to cure the
Have your septic tank
pumped. Frequently, this will help the
problem temporarily, especially when it is
combined with drastic water conservation. The
empty tank can hold several days of waste.
(This won't be effective if a clog exists
between the house and the septic tank, or if
very high water levels are the cause of the
Conserve water in your
home. This is particularly effective if your
system has not failed completely. It can help
lessen the problem for a short time.
Water-saving devices and reduced consumption,
especially in your bathroom, can have a
Fence off the area. If
liquid waste is seeping to the surface,
prevent people and pets from getting in
contact with the effluent.
In many cases, redesigning and
replacing the system in a new location is the only
practical long-term solution. This type of work
should be completed only by a qualified contractor.
Local health department permits are required before
construction can begin. The chemical cures sometimes
advertised are ineffective remedies for severely
damaged systems. Other solutions may be of help in
some situations, including:
Increase the size of the
absorption field. This will help if the
original field was too small for the size of
your family or if the soil does not allow
water to percolate very
Conserve water in your home
on a long-term basis. The smaller the amount
of water flowing through your system, the
longer it will last. For systems that perform
marginally or leak nutrients into nearby
lakes and streams, this is a good
If periodically saturated
soils are a main cause of problems, consider
installing perimeter drains. This system
involves installing tile drains underground
at a specified distance around the absorption
field to help lower water levels. It works in
some but not all situations and requires the
assistance of a qualified contractor. Its
location should also be evaluated by your
local health department.
Connect to a community
sewage system, if one is available. Although
the long-term costs may seem high, the
benefit of reduced worry and greater
responsibility are often worth this
If septic system failures
are common in your area, consider
participating in the development of a small
community "cluster" system or other similar
alternatives. These systems are designed for
small communities and some rural areas and
are generally much more cost effective than
large sewer systems.
|Where should I go
believe your system is failing or just want advice about its
operation or condition, contact your local health department.
The people there can also assist you in finding reputable
septic system installers and pumpers in your