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Sewage and sanitation are some of the most important factors that affect health and hygiene in any home. One in every four American homes depends on a septic tank to deal with sewage, especially in rural areas where municipal sewer services are not available. If your home has a septic tank, it is essential for you to know when it’s time for septic tank pumping, how much it costs, and how to maintain it.
How septic tanks are built
Septic tanks are watertight containers made out of concrete, polyethylene, or fiberglass that are buried underground in an area near the house. There are two main pipes in every septic tank: an inlet pipe, through which all the waste from the house enters the tank, and an outlet pipe, through which the liquid wastes flow into the drain field.
Most of the tank remains buried out of sight, save for a couple of inspection pipes, and a manhole cover which is opened only when it is necessary to pump out sludge.
How septic tanks work
Let’s take a look at how your septic system works. In the absence of municipal sewer lines, all the water and wastes from your home are washed down a main sewer pipe into the septic tank. While in most cases, gravity does the job, some homes need an electric pump to help these wastes into the septic tank.
Once in the tank, solid wastes settle at the bottom of the tank, while oils, grease, and lighter wastes float on top. The solid wastes at the bottom are broken down over a period of time by anaerobic bacteria and are greatly reduced in volume.
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The liquids on top of the scum layer flow through a series of porous pipes towards a drain field filled with gravel and other aggregates. These aggregate, along with bacterial action, help purify these wastes as they trickle into the soil. By the time this wastewater treatment is complete and the liquids reach the groundwater, they are sterile.
Read more: Aerobic septic system costs
How often should you pump your tank?
Pumping refers to the process of removing sludge from the septic tank before the levels increase to a point where the sludge starts to clog the outlet pipe from where the liquid wastes drain into the drain field.
While the United States Environmental Protection Agency or EPA says that most septic tanks need to be inspected once every 3 years and pumped every five years or so, how often you need to pump your tank depends on a number of factors.
For example, tanks that have features like electrical float switches, pumps, and other mechanical parts may need to be inspected at least once a year.
Homes that have smaller tanks or high usage will need to be pumped more often. Let’s take a quick look at some of the other factors that influence how often a septic tank needs to be pumped.
- A larger household is likely to generate more waste, which means the tank will need to be pumped more often.
- The amount of wastewater that is generated affects how soon the septic tank fills up.
- Households that make frequent use of garbage disposals and generate larger volumes of solid wastes will need to pump their tanks more often.
Ideally, the average single-family home with bedrooms ought to have a septic tank with a capacity of between 1,200 and 1,500 gallons and ought to be pumped every three to five years.
Read more: Above ground well pump
How much does it cost?
There are a number of factors that affect how much septic tank pumping costs. These factors include:
- Where you live.
- How old your septic tank is. Older septic tank systems do not have features like risers.
- How large your tank is.
- How full your tank is at the time of pumping.
- What condition your drain field pipes are in.
Ideally, costs increase if there are repairs needed on the drain field pipes or on the tank itself. Here are some indicative costs to give you a fair idea about how much you may need to spend on your septic service.
- The national average cost to pump a septic tank is between $295 and $610.
- It costs approximately $175-$300 dollars to pump a 750-gallon tank.
- Tanks ranging between 750 and 1,000 gallons cost around $225 to $400 to pump.
- Pumping 1,250 to 1,500-gallon tanks costs between $275 and $500.
- Larger tanks with a capacity above 1,500 gallons could cost you upwards of $600 to pump.
Septic tank maintenance
Here are our top tips to help maintain your septic tank.
- Reduce the amount of water you use. This may mean using water-saving faucets and fittings, being more economical with the usage of your washing machine, and repairing leaks before they become serious problems.
- Reduce the number of solid wastes that enter the septic tank. Dispose of organic food wastes in the garbage instead of into the garbage disposal. Only human waste and toilet paper ought to go into the septic tank.
- Hot tubs and swimming pools ought to be drained into the yard away from the septic tank and drain field.
- Sump pumps, roof drains and other rainwater drains must be directed away from the drain field.
- Never park on the drain field.
- Unless directed by a trusted professional, avoid adding any chemicals to the septic tank. They tend to disrupt bacterial activity and do more harm than good.