How often do I need to pump my septic tank?

The NC Laws and Rules say:

a) Any person owning or controlling the property upon which a ground absorption sewage treatment and disposal system is installed shall be responsible for the following items regarding the maintenance of the system:

(2) Ground absorption sewage treatment and disposal systems shall be checked, and the contents of the septic tank removed, periodically from all compartments, to ensure proper operation of the system. The contents shall be pumped whenever the solids level is found to be more than 1/3 of the liquid depth in any compartment.

15A NCAC 18A .1961 MAINTENANCE OF SEWAGE SYSTEMS

This is not very useful for the average homeowner, so the general “rule of thumb” is every 3-5 years (and we are seeing more and more permits where the county is writing “pump every 3-5 years”).

If a tank has gone 10 years or more without being pumped, a standard pumping may not be possible. The contents often harden up so that they are no longer “flowable solids”. Imagine have a bathtub that is filled with one big block of clay and trying to vacuum it up with a shop vac – it doesn’t work.

Septic System: Uncovering & Recovering

There are a few different situations:

  1. Septic Pumping only – uncovering the lids is not included in our septic pumping service, but is available for an additional fee.
  2. Septic Inspection – our inspection includes uncovering lids if accessible and 3ft deep or less.
  3. Septic Repairs – there is a charge to uncover by hand or by small machine depending on the job. This will be listed in the repair estimate.

What you should know:

For septic inspections and septic pumping (and most repairs), the only thing we should need access to are the two tank lids. The whole tank doesn’t typically need to be uncovered. We typically leave it how we found it (if it was uncovered when we arrived, we leave it uncovered.)

NOTE: If you are going to uncover the lids prior to our arrival, PLEASE leave the lids on the tank and we will remove and return the lids.


Uncovering

Concrete Lids: The standard tank in this area is a 1,000 gallon concrete tank. These are usually buried and are about 5 ft tall and 4 x 8 ft. Newer tanks should have two lids: one over the inlet line and one over the outlet line (near the short edges of the tank). These are roughly 20 x 20 inches square, though older tanks may have bigger lids or lids in other locations.

Please do not remove the lids prior to our arrival: an open septic tank is a major safety hazard; additionally, the 20×20 inch lids are about 50 to 80 lbs each – our crews have tools to help remove them safely.

1st Picture: A tank completely uncovered, showing lid locations. We do not need the whole tank uncovered.
2nd Picture: A standard concrete tank with the two lids, uncovered. This is what is needed for pumping and inspections.
3rd Picture: An older tank with two lids in the standard location, but these older style lids are much bigger. For these type tanks, this is what is needed for pumping and inspections.

Plastic Lids: Plastic tanks are becoming more common. They should still have two lids on either end of the tank, but they are usually round plastic. Additionally, some concrete tanks may have round plastic lids due to the addition of risers (or one of each as pictured below)

Please do not remove the lids prior to our arrival: an open septic tank is a major safety hazard – plastic lids are not very heavy so please leave them screwed in until we arrive to prevent accidents.

1st Picture: Two plastic lids in place.
2nd Picture: Two plastic lids removed.
3rd Picture: A concrete tank with one riser/plastic lid, and one deep hole.


Recovering

If the lids were exposed (uncovered) when we arrived, we will put the lids back on, but we will not recover them.

If we uncovered the lids, we will recover them as neatly as possible:

  • We put the dirt on a tarp as we dig to help keep the yard tidy.
  • There may be slightly mound after we recover it. This is normal and it will naturally settle pretty quickly. We do not “pack” it down because that inhibits the regrowth of the grass/ground cover.
  • We do not reseed or sod. Most grass/ground cover, will grow back relatively quickly, especially in spring. There is no way for our crews to identify the kind of grass or keep seed for every possible type of grass on every truck (Is it fescue, bluegrass, zoysia grass, etc? What type of bluegrass/fescue is it? and so on).

1st Picture: Lids uncovered for inspection
2nd Picture: Same lids recovered after
3rd Picture: Lids (& pump tank) uncovered for inspection
4th Picture: Same lids recovered after
5th Picture: Recovered after inspection
6th: Picture Recovered after inspection