The topic of septic tank pumping isn’t the most pleasant one, yet it is always a necessary one. Nowadays it turns out that septic tanks are very popular among the US households as almost 25% of them have such systems installed in their homes. And due to their complex functionality and specific installation requirements, many questions can often arise and make you face the need of searching for answers. This material will guide you through all the specifications of septic tank pumping and answer all questions related to their costs, installation, repair issues and etc.
Septic tanks are basically watertight chambers, constructed from wide variety of materials such as fiberglass, concrete, PVC and etc. A septic tank usually consists of few small tanks (each tank consists of two chambers) with capacity of 1000 – 2000 gallons.
Septic tanks are named that way due to specific anaerobic bacteria that usually develops within the tank and serves for decomposition or mineralization of the discharged waste. The purpose of a septic tank pumping system is to ensure the appropriate flowing of the domestic wastewater and its basic initial treatment. When the water gets into the septic tank, it is then processed with moderate substances in order for the solids and organics to be reduced. For that process to run smoothly, the septic tank is connected to a wastewater inlet pipe from the one side, and to a septic drain field from the other. The wastewater gets into the first chamber which allows the solids to settle. They are then digested by the anaerobic bacteria and the liquid components is then released into the second chamber. All remaining impurities are eliminated in the soil.
A septic system can operate either by gravity or a lift pump, depending on the geo- and topographic characteristics of the region. Basically, septic tanks are considered as a very suitable solution for areas that are not connected to any sewerage system like the rural ones. Once installed, a septic tank system will last for decades. As a very reliable and cost effective way to handle the waste water if there is no active sewerage system in your area, septic tanks won’t experience any problems if their proper periodical maintenance is ensured.
Septic tank pumping
One of the main things that homeowners have to deal with if they have a septic tank installed is its periodical maintenance and more specifically – its emptying. This process is needed from time to time, due to the fact that there is always some waste left that is not decomposed by the anaerobic digestion and should be pumped out from the septic tank. In case such much needed emptying is not performed on time, the septic tank will fill up and the wastewater, alongside with all the undecomposed material will discharge straight into the drainage field. Such problems are not only harmful for the overall functionality of the septic tank (will potentially force the need for an expensive future repair), but they are detrimental for the environment as well, as they may significantly reduce the porosity of the surrounding soil.
That is why the periodical emptying of septic tanks is essential. The whole process may sound complicated, but in reality, it can all be handled by professionals in 2 – 4 hours. Septic tank pumping is handled by a vacuum truck which pumps up all the accumulated sludge from the tank.
But how often should a septic tank be emptied? There is no definitive answer to that. When it comes to estimating the appropriate time intervals for handling such procedure, there are few important factors that need to be considered. For example – septic tank pumping depends massively on the input of solids and the amount of the indigestible ones, the characteristics of the septic system, the usage, the temperature and the requirements of the local authority, if there are such. It is important to bear in mind that the anaerobic decomposition processes are usually optimized significantly when the septic tank is refilled.
However, there are some approximate ways to determine how often should the septic tank be emptied. For example, if your household consists of 4 members and there is a 1500-gallon tank in your house, emptying it will be necessary once every 3 to 5 years. But this is just a basic, non-professional estimation. If you call an expert for example, he will turn his attention to specific sludge and scum layers that every septic tank has. That way he will be able to provide you with some guidance whether and when an emptying is or will be necessary.
Yet, there are some factors that can help you influence the frequency of the pumping that your septic tank will need. These factors are: the way the system is being used and the size of your household. Understandably, the more people live in your house, the more waste will be generated. Nevertheless, the way the system is used is the factor that you can control by managing the amount of solids and waste water that are entering the system.
Here are some important things to bear in mind in order to ensure the problem-free exploitation of your system:
It is always better to invest in plumbing fixtures (toilets, faucets and etc.) which are water saving or high-efficient. That way you will be able to significantly reduce the amount of water that enters the septic system. Also, make sure to have all leaks around your home (even the small ones) repaired as soon as you notice them. That way you will be able to avoid the overuse of water that will potentially lead to faster filling of the septic tank.
Another important thing to bear in mind is to constantly monitor the solid waste that gets into the system. Try to avoid flushing down bigger trash and waste (except toilet paper) and stop them from entering the septic tank. That way you will ensure its problem-free operation for way longer, as its potential overburden will be avoided.
Using a garbage disposal unit that is specifically intended for septic systems will help you in that process. Bear in mind that the small effort of putting trash in the can, where it belongs, will make a significant difference in the long-term.
Septic tank pumping cost estimation
The estimation of the costs of a septic tank pumping service is most of the time, defined by its size and type and whether there are any additional issues that should be fixed. Basically, if you try to be as informative as you can when you are calling a given company in order to request such service, you will be able to receive an approximate cost, based on all the details and system specifications that you have pointed out. And that is a good place to start. For a more in-depth offer, you will have to wait until the specialists arrive on site. When they run a more thorough analysis on the septic tank system and its condition, you will be presented with a final cost estimation.
Whatever kind of service you can think of one thing is clear – the doubt whether the price is right is always present. There is always that concern whether you could have paid more. But you should leave that feeling aside and focus on the reputation of the company and the quality of the delivered work. Paying more here in fact means paying less for the long term. It is often understandable when you don’t want to pay more than you think you have to, bear in mind never to choose an option because it is the cheapest one you can possibly find. That is not a safe, nor a long-term choice either.
Do not think of the affordable choice as a bad one, just try to find the most cost-effective solution. The price is just one factor and there are many others that you should get in mind when choosing the right service provider. And whatever kind of offers you receive, bear in mind that a regular 1000-gallons septic tank pumping service usually costs anywhere in the range of $150 to $300. That is a sum not so big to force you searching for lower offers and reducing the quality of the delivered works. However, bigger septic tank systems require significantly higher maintenance costs. The pumping of a 2500-gallons tank, for example, can go up to $800.
Another important thing that it is good to consider when pumping your septic tank is to have it cleaned also. Because of the fact that the tank will once again get dirty sooner than later, many people miss this step intentionally, in order to save some money. But bear in mind that pumping the system down won’t remove all of the sludge that is left in the bottom and the corners of the vessel. And what is left in the tank will fester with the course of time, which may lead to more serious problems in the long-term. That is why it is always better to have your tank pumped down and cleaned at the same time. And that is something that the service provider will most likely advice you to do. So, consider it carefully. You won’t need to spend much more to have your septic tank cleaned, but that way you will be able to save a lot of money when you prevent the potential future problems. Septic tank cleaning usually costs in the range of $50 – $80.
Many homeowners decide to invest in advanced technology and devices, which can help them report real-time problems with their septic tanks. For example, one of the most popular feature of septic tank systems, is the scum and sludge levels tracking. By installing small devices in the septic tank, you will be notified by warning lights on a panel, located inside of your house, whenever a potential problem is about to appear. If you receive a notification that there is a high risk of potential issues to arise, make sure to call a professional and have them solved before it is too late. The sooner you get them fixed, the more money you will save.
Another thing to consider, when it comes to septic tanks, is that at some point, you may face the need of having a special septic tank filter installed. The purpose of having such component is to have your leachfield/drainfield protected. Ensuring their appropriate protection will significantly prolong the life expectancy of your tank. Basically, a high-quality filter installation may cost you up to $250.
So, here is a summarized table with all the costs that are involved in a common septic tank pumping and maintenance procedure:
|Type of service||Average national cost
|1000-gallon septic tank pumping||$150 - $300
|2500-gallon septic tank pumping||up to $800
|Septic tank cleaning||$50 - $80
What questions to ask the septic tank pumping specialists?
Whether you want it or not, a moment when you will need to get on with the septic tank emptying and regular check-up will come. That is also the moment when you should have already found out who to call to handle this work. But finding the right professionals to deal with your septic tank issues can sometimes be a tough task. Bear in mind that the best way to find the appropriate specialists is to make your own thorough research, as well as ask your friends for some recommendations. After you have narrowed the list of potential companies that can be hired to solve your problem, you should go further and ask them some important questions about the work that needs to be handled, the time that it will take, the quality of the final result and about some maintenance and exploitation tips and tricks also. Here is a useful set of questions that will help you navigate the process easily and without any complications:
1) Ask about their experience and background.
Although you may have already found out the answer of this question while doing your research, it is always good to understand more about the knowledge and the professional experience that the given specialists have. Bear in mind that you may have read on the Internet that the given company “X” has been in business for more than 30 years or so. That sounds wonderful and makes you feel the sense of confidence about the quality of the delivered works that you will receive. Yet, that may be misleading at times. Because of the fact that septic tank pumping involves different types of complex works, requires to be handled by skillful and experienced specialists.
That is why it is important that those who work on your site have solid experiences, not the whole company. You do not care whether it is just a part of their whole department that have more than 30 years of experience if they do not have suitable training programs. What you should seek is your septic tank pumping to be handled by experienced specialists that have been doing this for years and are able to react in any kind of situation that may arise. That is why, when they arrive at your site, you should be willing to ask about that. If they have the needed experience, they will be more than glad to share it with you.
2) Ask to be walked through the process.
Having your septic tank pumped will take some time as it includes few operations that should be taken in order for the job to be completed successfully. And it is your job to understand as much as possible about these steps. Asking the specialist to walk you through the different phases of his work should not bother you. You should be aware of all the operations that will take place and all the obstacles that may arise. That way you will find out whether the process is handled professionally and according to all requirements. To be confident when discussing the steps of the septic tank pumping process with your specialist, make sure to do your own research before.
That way you will be able to fully understand how the professionals intend to handle the process and whether they are not missing something. So, the first, most basic step that a septic tank pumping process includes, is the localization of the tank’s lids. If you can help your service provider with their location (if you are aware), then you will speed up the process. Otherwise, they will find them by themselves and keep then on file for the follow-up maintenance visits during the next few years. After that, with the help of a vacuum-based hose, that comes from the special vacuum truck, the whole septic tank will be pumped down. This may take a while, depending on its capacity. Once they are done, the specialists should check the tees – both the inlet and outlet ones in order to ensure that they are working properly. If any leaks or weakened links are found, they will be fixed. Next comes the regular check-up procedures.
The specialists will check the bacteria levels and adjust them if needed. Finally, you will be asked to flush your toilet. That way, the experts will be able to check whether everything is working fine. The lid will then be covered and you will get your detailed service report. And this is how a standard procedure works. If you request such information and receive just a simple answer, such as: “We will clean this thing down”, be aware that you may not receive the best quality service that you may get.
3) Ask about general recommendations (on maintenance, exploitation and etc.).
No matter what you read on the internet, the most reliable source of information about the proper exploitation and periodical maintenance of your septic tank that you may find, is the on-site specialist. That is why, while you are having your septic tank pumped down, you should think of questions that will help you preserve your system for the long term, by ensuring its proper exploitation and maintenance. Many professional service providers won’t wait for you to ask them and will start advising you on the matter as soon as they arrive on site. When it comes to you – try to be as informative as possible.
Explain every single detail that you have noticed and every pattern that you have found. For example, if you notice that your pipes are draining very slowly, then the problem may be related to the septic tank. Share that with the pumping specialist. If the problem isn’t due to some septic tank issues, then he will most probably tell you that some of the drains are clogged and will immediately clean the washer line. Sparkling such kind of communication will help you track all malfunctions and prevent many problems from worsening.
4) Ask when should you have your next septic tank inspection.
Although most specialists start with that there are often cases when they miss sharing with you that point and you end up wondering when should you have your septic tank inspected again. Most of the time, you will have it written down in the documentation that is presented to you after the work is completed, but if, for some reason, you lack such, then you should find the answer yourself. But do not worry. The basic rule of thumb is that most septic tanks need inspection about once every 2 – 3 years. Yet, it all depends on the capacity, the needs of your household, the type of the system, its age and etc. If, for example, your septic tank has more mechanical components, bear in mind that it should be inspected more often. All that makes the topic pretty much individual and you should be bear in mind that what is good for your neighbor’s system, may not be right for yours. That is why an on-site specialist is the best point source of information that you may find as he is already familiar with all the listed factors and can make a professional recommendation about the next steps in the process.
5) Ask about the potential life expectancy of your septic tank system.
Basically, a well maintained fiberglass, concrete or plastic septic tank system should be able to work effectively for as much as 50 years. Managed properly, these installations will provide you with trouble-free service for decades to come. But what does it mean to manage your septic tank system properly? It is basically to ensure that it is odor-free and to organize a periodic inspection and pumping of your tank. That is all you have to do in order to create all the needed prerequisites for it to serve you for the long term. Although the potential life expectancy of a septic tank system is measured in decades, there are few reasons why it is always good to ask the pumping specialist about it. For example – if you have moved in a new house, you won’t be aware for how long has the system been there and how was it maintained, unless you aren’t shown any documentation, which in most of the cases, is the last thing buyers request from the previous homeowners.
Another reason is the fact that the installation of a new septic tank system is a pricey thing. The cost of installation of a new one starts from $8 000 – $15 000 for a 1000-gallon system and goes up to $25 000 for the 1500-gallon ones. It also requires some permits that further complicate the process. These and few other reasons make it necessary for you to ask about the potential life expectancy of your septic tank system. Getting an approximate estimation about the years you can expect for it to serve you, will help you make a more careful planning on your finances, in case you need to make such huge investment for buying a new system.
6) In case things are not looking good, ask about potential septic tank system restoration.
Although very durable and with such a long life expectancy, there are some cases when things have gone wrong and your septic tank system is unable to do its job effectively. No matter whether it is thanks to the previous homeowners which had often forgotten to ensure the potential maintenance and treated the system on the “out of sight, out of mind” principle, or it is just some outside factor that can’t be avoided, a septic tank system may face the problem of significantly worsened operation.
If that is your case, then ask your pumping specialist what is the best way to proceed. If he advises you to invest in the installation of a new system, then there are two potential reasons for that – either his firm is doing that and he is trying to rip you off, or the problem is really serious. In both cases, make sure to ask whether any restoration works are possible and what will their potential effect on the who system be. A restoration and rejuvenation works are possible if, for example, there is some issues that prevent the leaching bed or the drain field from proper functioning. Most of these cases won’t require for you to invest in new septic systems as a simple restoration work will do the trick. It will basically regain the flow and capacity to the drain field, which will be done in the least aggressive way. That will cost you way less than replacing your existing septic tank.
7) Request to be provided with a documentation report on the works that have been handled.
The trusted and reliable service providers will do that without the need of you to even mention it. But there are some unprofessional companies that may avoid doing that. Your task is to request a report in a written form of all the works that have been executed and that you have paid for. That is very important because even if you decide to sell your home in the near future, in most US states, it is required to have a valid proof of a recent inspection of the septic tank system.
Otherwise, it may be impossible for you to sell your home. The best thing to do if you are not sure whether things work that way in your state, is to contact the local Board of Health and request for some more information on the matter. Apart from that, requesting a copy of the work report is also important in case you forget when was your last septic tank maintenance. Having a copy of that will help you easily track the process and schedule the next regular check-up right on time.
8) Ask how is the quality of the delivered work guaranteed.
As it became obvious, septic tank pumping works include many different operations and all of them should be delivered in the appropriate way. If, for some reason, there is a problem after the specialists leave your home, then you should be able to make a claim and request from them to come back and fix it on their expense. Imagine the situation when the professionals pump down all the septic tank, ask you to flush your toilet and after they make sure that everything looks fine, they are paid and leave your home. But after you wake up on the next day, you see some ponding right over your septic tank. You smell some bad odors and pretty much everything looks worse than it was before the professionals visited your home.
The reasons for such problems may be more than one – from a break in the main line, to some Bio-Mat blockages that wasn’t removed and etc. Whatever the reason for that is, you should be able to have it fixed at no cost. But you won’t be able to do that in case you don’t request to be provided with a written warranty. As septic tank works usually are not so cheap ones, spending more and more because of badly-delivered work is completely unnecessary.
9) Ask about the financial terms.
Every home improvement or maintenance work requires from you to ask this question. Not only because you should be able to plan your budget accordingly, but it is more about making sure that there won’t be any hidden costs that will show up in the end. Most of the trusted and proven septic tank pumping service providers will guide you through a thorough analysis of all the costs that your project will require, right after they have conducted the initial check of the system.
They will also present to you a written contract where all fees are listed in order for you to feel comfortable that no additional payments will appear here and there. That is what makes the difference from a pumping specialist with good reputation and such with a bad one. The latter will often try to rip you off by including some additional, hidden costs for this or that. For example, you may be told that the initial lookup on the system is free of charge but later on, you may find out that it is so only if you hire them to handle the required work. Otherwise you will need to pay a fixed amount for the diagnosis of the problem. You should make sure to ask what is included in the initial inspection also, so that you can avoid any potential payment requests when the specialist come on site.
Apart from all that, there are some scammers which will try to calculate small add-ons here and there like a fee for locating the lids of your septic tank, a fee for checking the bacteria levels, a fee for further inspection of the links and hoses and so on and so forth. But the most common mistake that people make when they are hiring a septic tank pumping provider is to forget asking about the waste. Many low-reputation companies will take advantage of that and will charge you for taking your waste and handling it for disposal. As this is something that you can’t argue against (you have nothing to do with your waste), you will most probably agree to pay. And that is where you are wrong. Bear in mind that the reputable service providers will charge you a given amount for the work that is conducted as a whole – no hidden small costs for this or that, here and there. And they will never charge you an unexpected cost for taking your waste for disposal at the appropriate places. Except all that, you will be provided with a written warranty, backing the quality of the delivered work.
10) Ask about the working hours and whether they offer an emergency assistance.
Most of the time, the septic tank pumping is not an emergency situation. It is usually scheduled for a given time in the future, due to the fact that the state of the system may not escalate quickly enough, to create some further problems. But it is always good to know that you have someone which you can rely on. Most of the septic tank pumping service providers will be able to react even if you have a problem that you would like to have fixed in the late hours like bad odors, that significantly harms your living comfort, leaks and etc.
Bear in mind that if your desire is to work with a reputable company, it is important to know that they are, most of the time, overwhelmed with work. Although they may be able to react quickly, it is always good to be able to plan ahead. You should also ask about the working hours – whether they are flexible with their visits. It is not every day that you can run out from work in order to have your septic tank pumped down. And if there is no one in your household who can be on site while the work is handled, you may end up in a situation where you won’t be able to handle the issue for an indefinite period of time. That is why finding a professional service provider who has flexible working hours is always important. The last thing you need to do is to reschedule your plans in order to conform with a company that works from 9 to 5, without the weekends.
Septic tank pumping is a much needed process that cannot be underestimated. Scheduling a proper maintenance and check-up once every 2 – 3 years is mandatory. Otherwise, you risk putting yours and your family’s life comfort at risk. When the time to deal with such issues comes, bear in mind to do a good research and find a trusted service provider to handle it. The most important thing here is to make sure that you are hiring only licensed professionals. Due to all the health hazards, posed by the waste in the tank, the regulatory authorities make it mandatory for every septic tank system to be pumped only by licensed and trained specialists. They know their job and has passed numerous training modules in order to be able to handle all problems and complications.
When it comes to the financial part, make sure that you are paying for the right quality. Do not follow unprofessional advice, marketing materials, advertisements and etc. Bear in mind that there are no products that can replace the need of your septic tank’s regular maintenance. Many homeowners make the mistake to trust scammers who offer ‘special’ chemicals who are able to entirely eliminate the pumping needs, thus saving you significant funds in the long-term. But this is the best guarantee for future problems and bigger repair costs. These chemicals can make the sludge in your tank to expand and clog the drainfield, which significantly harms the functionality of your septic tanks. That is why it is important to work only with trusted, highly-rated professionals. A properly maintained septic tank will serve you for more than 50 years. And who does not want to spend those $10 000 – $20 000 on something more pleasant, than a new septic tank system?