How long do septic systems last?

Septic systems are designed to provide long-term, effective treatment of household waste when operated and maintained properly. However, most systems that fail prematurely are due to improper maintenance. Less serious problems are usually with plumbing (such as pipe blockages from tree roots growing into the pipe). Sometimes, the septic tank, although durable, can deteriorate or have other structural problems. The most serious problems are the result of a clogged drainfield. Unfortunately, this is the most expensive to repair. Once the absorption field is clogged, it must be replaced.

How do I know my septic system is in good working order?

A septic system evaluation can be performed by a Poo-Man Pumping septic system professional.

What happens when a septic system fails? How can I tell?

Usually when a septic system fails, the drainfield is not functioning properly. When a septic tank overflows, the effluent can pass to the drainfield, clogging up the pipes. This causes sinks and toilets to back up in the house. Other signs include: slow draining toilets and drains, an odor of sewage, wet area on or near the drainfield, or contaminated well water

How can I prevent a septic failure?

Maintenance, maintenance, maintenance! If your system has been properly designed, sited, and installed, the rest is up to you. Inspect your system annually and pump as needed (usually every 3-5 years), avoid excess water use, and watch what you put down the drain and flush down the toilet.

Can my septic system contaminate my well and nearby streams and water bodies?

Yes, particularly if the effluent is not adequately treated, as in a failing system. Untreated effluent is a health hazard and can cause many human diseases. Once this untreated effluent enters the groundwater, you and your neighbor’s wells can be contaminated. Also, if this sewage reaches nearby streams or water bodies, shellfish beds and recreational swimming areas may also be jeopardized.

Why is maintenance so important?

Septic tanks are mainly settling chambers. They allow time for solids and scum to separate out from wastewater, so clear liquid can safely go to the drainfield. Over time, the scum and sludge layers get thicker, leaving less space and time for the waste-water to settle before passing to the drainfield. There are limits to the amount of water septic systems can treat. For every gallon entering the tank, one gallon is pushed out. In some instances, too much water may back up into your house or overload the drainfield and surface in the yard. Large volumes of water in short periods of time may also not allow solids enough time to settle, and may be carried out to the drainfield, ultimately clogging the pipes.

I’ve heard I shouldn’t use a garbage disposal. Why is that?

Garbage disposals have a dramatic impact on how often you’ll need to pump your septic tank. Food particles usually are not digested by the bacteria and accumulate as scum. If a large amount of water enters the tank, it can then push the food particles into the drainfield, causing clogging. If you must use a garbage disposal, your tank will need to be pumped more frequently.

Should I be careful of what I pour down the drain?

Yes, many materials that are poured down the drain do not decompose and remain in the tank. In addition to minimal use of a garbage disposal (see question above), don’t pour grease, fats, and oils down the drain or place coffee grounds and egg shells in the disposal or down the drain. Keep chemicals out of your system.

What shouldn’t I flush down the toilet?

Flush only human waste and toilet paper down the toilet—avoid flushing dental floss, cat litter (including “flushable” varieties), hair, Kleenex, cigarette butts, cotton swabs, feminine hygiene products, condoms, paper towels, static cling sheets, diapers, and disposable wipes. These items could clog your septic system components and cause a failure.

I’ve been in my house for 18 years and never pumped my septic tank. Why should I be concerned?

Over time sludge and scum build up in the septic tank and unless it is removed it will flow into the drainfield, clogging the soil pipes. Once a drainfield is clogged, it must be replaced. It is also possible that you could have a leak in the tank. In either case, you risk contaminating ground and surface water resources, which could affect you or your neighbor’s wells or nearby streams and other water bodies. And finally, you may eventually have a plumbing backup in your home.

Can you tell if the tank needs pumping without digging it up?

Unless you have risers installed, you will need to dig up the ground above the septic tank to inspect it. Risers give easy access to the septic system without disturbing the soil above the tank. By keeping maintenance records, you can have it pumped on a routine schedule, based on the previous years’ rate of solids accumulation.

How often should I have the tank pumped?

How often you need to pump depends on the size of the tank, the number of people in the household, and the amount and type of solids. A septic tank should be inspected annually to check for needed repairs and pumped.

Why is grease a problem?

Grease is a problem because it can cause blockages in sewer collection lines resulting in overflows of wastewater from the collection system. These overflows can potentially result in damage to property and/or environmental contamination of local bodies of water. Grease can adversely impact the wastewater collection system, equipment, and grease may also encumber wastewater treatment plants abilities to adequately treat the wastewater it receives. Although many believe pouring warm liquid grease down a drain is not harmful, once the grease cools, it hardens and may result in the blockages and overflows as describe above.

What is a grease trap/grease interceptor?

The name grease trap or grease interceptor is often used interchangeably. These devices are utilized to allow for the separation of fats, oils and greases in wastewater discharges from food service establishments and/or other type grease and oil generating establishments. Such traps or interceptors may be the “outdoor” or in-ground type normally 1,000 gallons capacity or greater, or the “under-the-counter” package units normally referred to as the under-the-counter grease traps.

Do I need a grease trap?

Any Food Service Establishment  that introduces grease or oil discharges from kitchens, dish washing and any wastewater that is associated with food preparation should have a grease trap. This excludes residential occupancies that do not participate in the selling or preparation of food for commercial gain or business.

Is the grease trap I have adequate?

That depends on the discharge flow from the establishment and the amount of grease contained in the wastewater that discharges into the trap. The Universal Plumbing Code states that no grease trap should have a capacity less than 20 gallons per minute or more than 55 gallons per minute.  Most outside traps are to be at a minimum of 1000 gallon trap and no single trap should be greater than 2000 gallons (if larger is needed a series of traps may be accepted). 

I don’t know if I have a grease trap?

The first step is can you identify any under-the-counter containers where sinks and drains tie into? Check the plumbing drawing of the facility if available, to see if a grease trap is identified on the drawing. If you are still unsure you may wish to contact Poo-Man Pumping to assist you in tracing the discharge lines from the facility to see if they lead to a grease trap. Typically outside traps have manhole covers (some only 1 but typically 2). Outside grease traps are typically close to the kitchen section of the facility. 

What if I don’t have grease trap?

If your food service establishment discharges fats, oils and greases and does not have a grease trap eventually maintenance problems will occur with clogged sewer lines in the facility or backup situations in the wastewater collection lines in your service area. If you establishment is found to be the cause of such problems within the sewer service area then your establishment may be charged for any cost recovery associated with the maintenance and repair for any issues associated with the grease discharges. To prevent this you must  install some type of grease control device. This could be an in-ground outside trap or an approved under-the-counter unit(s).

What are the criteria for maintenance and securing my grease trap?

For the in-ground outside grease traps,  traps be pumped once 25 % of the trap is full with grease, solids, or a combination of both grease and solids and/or at a minimum pumped once a quarter or more if necessary. Quarters are considered to be January 1 through March 31; April 1 through June 30; July 1 through September 30; October 1 through December 31.  The entire contents of the grease trap must be removed, this includes all trapped fats, oils and greases, wastewater therein and solids.