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Frequently Asked Septic System Questions

How Often should I have my septic tank serviced?

You should inspect your system every 3 years and have it serviced every 3 to 5 years, depending on the size of your system and the number of people in your household. To prevent buildup, sludge and floating scum need to be removed through periodic pumping of the septic tank. Regular inspections and pumping are the cheapest way to keep your septic system in good working order and for uninterrupted use of your system.

What should I expect when I call for service of my septic tank?

At your scheduled appointment, your Arnold’s Service Technician will locate the manhole cover to your system. He will perform a brief inspection of the system and pump out the septic holding tank. Typical service is about 45 min to an hour.

Can I request a reminder to get my system serviced?

We understand that getting your septic system serviced every 3 years can be easy to forget. Arnold’s will gladly send you a reminder to schedule your service. Ask our Customer Service to get you signed up.

How does my septic system work?

A septic system has 4 main components: an inlet pipe from the home, a septic tank, a drainfield, and the land it is buried in near your home. The septic tank is a buried tank typically made of concrete, fiberglass, or polyehylene. It holds the wastewater long enough to allow solids to settle out, forming sludge, and oil and grease to float to the surface, knows as the scum layer. Microbes in the soil digest or remove most contaminates from wastewater before it eventually reaches groundwater.

Where is my septic system located?

The concrete, or sometimes steel, septic tank is buried in the ground, usually a minimum of 10 feet from the house. The top of the tank is usually about one foot below the soil surface so it can be periodically opened for inspection and pumping. If you do not know for sure where the tank is located, the first step is to locate where the house sewer pipe leaves the house. In a house with a basement, this is where the pipe passes through the wall. Locating the exit point may be more difficult for a house with no basement. If the pipe exit can be found, the tank normally begins about 10 feet from the house outside wall and in line with the house sewer pipe. You can also check the “as-built” drawing for your home. We are happy to help locate your manhole when we come out to service your system.

Estimated Septic Tank Pumping Frequency In Years (assumes no garbage disposal)

  Household size (number of people)
Tank size 1 2 3 4 5 6 8
1000 12.4 5.9 3.7 2.6 2 1.5 1


Why do septic systems fail?

If the liquid effluent cannot soak into the soil surrounding the leach field, sewage may back up into the system and overflow into the house or puddle on the surface of the ground. There are several possible causes for this problem.

  1. Poor Soil Conditions; Faulty Design or Installation A leaching system placed in unsuitable soil, a system that is too small for the house it serves, or an improperly constructed system may lead to early failure.
  2. Soil Clogging If sludge or scum is allowed to escape into the distribution box and from there into the leach field, the soil will quickly become clogged. If this happens, the liquid will no longer soak, or percolate, into the soil. This condition can be caused by broken baffles in the septic tank that allow sludge or scum to escape. Failure to have the tank pumped can also lead to a situation where the sludge and scum overwhelm the baffles.
  3. High Water Table During wet, or abnormally wet, seasons groundwater may rise into the leach field and force sewage upward to the ground surface. This condition may mean the system has to be re-installed at a higher level. It may also be possible to intercept the high groundwater with a series of drains around the system called “curtain drains.”
  4. Roots The roots of trees and bushes planted too close to the system can sometimes enter and block the pipes of the system. Removal of the plants and clearing the pipes of the roots is usually required.
  5. Physical Damage Trucks or heavy equipment passing over the system can damage pipes and joints to the point of rendering the system inoperable. You should be aware of the location of the system and direct traffic to avoid such damage.

Do you offer other septic tank services or repairs?

Yes. We can repair or replace baffles, augering to remove clogs, jetting to remove any sludge build-up and camera inspections to take a closer look at the condition of the interior of your system. How long should a septic system last?

You can expect a conventional septic system, such as that being described here, to last about 30 -40 years. Some systems last much longer and some systems can fail earlier for reasons like those noted above. Other things can also affect the life of a septic system. For example, a system may have been providing satisfactory service for a previous owner for many years, only to fail shortly after you have bought the house. If the previous owners were a working couple with no children, the system was probably not heavily used; if yours is a family of six, the added load could push a marginal system over the edge and into failure.

What are the signs of a failing system?

Sewage backup into the home is one possible sign of a failing system. However, backup can also be simply the result of a blockage somewhere between the house and the septic tank (this is relatively easy to fix). Another possible sign of failure is a smell of sewage outside the house. If this smell is more noticeable after a lot of water has been put into the system – multiple showers or several loads of laundry (if the laundry waste discharges into the septic system), for example – this may be an indication that the leach field is failing. The smell may also be accompanied by a “spongy” feeling in some areas of the leach field, near the distribution box, or near the septic tank. The “spongy” feel may be caused by water and waste being pushed to or near ground level. If ponding water is also seen, this is called “breakthrough” and is an almost positive indication of failure of one or more parts of the system. This smell, however, can also originate at the plumbing vent. In either case, further investigation is warranted.

How big should a septic tank be?

Septic tanks are sized according to the amount of liquid waste they must process. This is done by counting the number of bedrooms. The minimum size tank that can be installed now is 1000 gallons for a 1, 2, or 3 bedroom house. For each bedroom after 3, add 250 gallons to the size of the tank. If a garbage grinder is in the kitchen sink, it counts as an additional bedroom.

What is gray water?

Gray water is usually water from a laundry system, perhaps the effluent from a sump pump, the foundation footing drains, roof runoff, and sometimes shower drains. This water usually does not contain human waste products and does not need to be digested like human waste. The disposal requirements for this type of water are less stringent than those for human waste. If there is a space problem on your site, it may be possible to segregate the gray waste from the human waste and minimize the size of the system needed for control of the human waste. Your design professional (Licensed Engineer or Registered Architect) can advise you of your options in this area.