Can you pump from this pipe?

That depends on what you have:

Cleanout – cannot be used for pumping


Cleanouts are about 4″ across (usually with a twist off cap) that are installed on the line between the house and the tank. 

They are for cleaning the line – they do not provide direct access to the tank.  We do sometimes use them to help locate the tank.  Sometimes they can be used to pump septage out of the line between the house and the tank, but since you can’t directly access the tank and the inlet line is at the top of the tank you *cannot* pump out the tank through a cleanout.

Pipe with cleanout

“Pump Port” – can be used for pumping, but is not best practice

Pump port with cap

Pump ports were very popular for a period of time (before Access Risers) for tanks that were deep.  They are a pipe, usually about 8″ across with a cap that are stuck straight through the tank lid or top. 

These can be pumped through, but if the lids are accessible and less than 3ft, we highly recommend pumping from the lids – pump ports have no visibility into the tank, no way to clean the filter, and limit the maneuverability of the hose – meaning the pump is less thorough.

Pump Port

Tank Lids & Access Risers – best practice

Standard Concrete LIds

Tank lids are usually found on either end of the tank (one above the inlet, one above the outlet). (See this section for information about uncovering tank lids.)

For concrete tanks, they are usually about 22 x 22 inches (though they can be other sizes); for plastic tanks and access risers, they are usually about 18″ across and are green plastic circles.

For access risers, the original lids are removed, the riser is put on over the existing hole, and a lid is put on at the top of the riser so that the lids is (closer to) ground level and easier to access.

For pumping, the lids provide maximum visibility so that we can see what is in the tank and maximum access so we can move the hose around and reach all the areas. This is the best choice if the lids are accessible and less than 3ft deep.

Riser Lids
Much better access and visibility

Septic Pumping: It won’t solve all septic/plumbing issues.

Septic Pumping only solves the problem of the tank being too full. If something else is causing an issue, pumping will not solve it. Sometimes it requires a septic contractor, sometimes a plumber.

Drains in the house are smelling, bubbling, draining slowly, or not draining at all.

Is it only happening in one drain or room? Probably a Plumber

Its probably a clog in the line, which would be a plumber issue. If its the lowest or closet to the out pipe, it might be the early stages of a septic back up, but we would recommend starting with a plumber.

Its happening in multiple drains/rooms? Probably a Septic Pumper

This is probably the septic system backing up.

If the tank is just ready to be pumped, a septic pump will solve the problem. (See below)

If there is a clog between the tank and the house, a septic pump will probably not solve the problem and you’ll need a septic contractor or a plumber to work on the line.

Yard smells like sewage and/or there is constantly a wet spot, even when the rest of the yard is very dry? Septic Pumper or Contractor.

Do you know if its over the tank or the drainfield?

If it’s over the tank, the tank is probably ready to pump.

If it’s over the drainfield, you might still need a septic pump to empty the tank to keep it from backing up into the house, but you are also going to need a septic contractor to look at the drainfield – they may want/need the tank pumped before or as part of their assessment (even if it was pumped a couple days before).

There is also a chance that there is a break in the line between the house and tank, or between the tank and drainfield or there could be a that has a problem. A Septic Contractor can help you.

Why is my tank full? Why does it need pumped? I just pumped the septic, why is it backing up again?

A septic tank is designed to hold septage and let the solids, fats, oils, greases, etc separate from the water. The the solids, fats, oils, and greases build up in the tank and need to be pumped out occasionally (rule of thumb every 3-5 years). Pumping it regularly will reduce the chance for issues.

If too much septage is being put into the tank too fast (for instance between 6 am and 8 am you run the washer, the dishwasher, and 3 showers – a lot of water all at once), that can cause issues. Pumping it and spreading out your water usage throughout the day/week will solve the problem.

If the filter is clogged, that can keep effluent from leaving the tank and cause it to fill up.

If the drainfield is not working properly, it can back flow into the tank once the tank is emptied and prevent water from leaving the tank. Pumping will stop it from backing up into the house, but it will continue to need pumped frequently until the drainfield issue is repaired. (This is the most common reason for a tank that was just pumped to back up again a few days later.)

Sign that the drainfield might have an issue – water coming back from drainfield as we pump the tank

Sign that the tank is overly full

Septic Pumping: One lid or Two? Inlet or Outlet?

Most septic tanks in this area have two lids – one over the inlet pipe, one over the outlet pipe. Usually they are about 20 to 24 in square for concrete tanks, or round for plastic tanks.

This can vary depending on age and type of tank – some will have one lid, some will have lids in different places, etc.

For standard tanks, the best practice is to pump from both the inlet and the outlet side. In modern tanks, the inlet side is about 2/3 of the tank. The inlet side should have most of the solids, but there is usually some solids on the outlet side and these should be removed to make sure they don’t clog the filter or travel into the drainfield. The filter (if there is one) should also be cleaned by being removing it from the outlet tee and held over the inlet side while being rinsed with a hose. (See this section for information about uncovering tanks.)

Solids on the inlet side
Solids on the outlet side

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.


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 Inspection: To Pump or Not to Pump

The state rules say we are required to tell our clients:

Client requesting this inspection has been advised that for a complete inspection to be performed the tank needs to be pumped.

And then give them the option to opt for a pump or to decline a pump.

Tanks should be pumped on a regular basis as part of the regular house maintenance. The general rule of thumb for a system that is being used appropriately and is functioning correctly is about every 3-5 years.

We recommend that buyers’ agents ask the list agent when the tank was last pumped (and for a receipt). If it has never been pumped or they don’t remember when it was pumped or it was more than 18 to 24 months ago, we *strongly* recommend pumping the tank during the inspection.

NOTE: Tank should NOT be pumped before inspection. Best practice is to have the company doing the inspection do the pump – that lets the inspector see how its working with stuff in it and then to see how it looks empty.

That being said there are pros and cons to pumping or not pumping and times when pumping may not be appropriate.

To Pump – Recommended Choice


  • It gives the inspector the best view of the tank (see “Note” above).
  • You know when it was done.
We probably wouldn’t have been able to see this
if the tank was not pumped during the inspection.


  • Adds to cost
  • The current homeowner should be doing it regularly as part of regular maintenance.
  • If you don’t buy the house, you’ve spent money on something that may or may not benefit you.

Not to Pump

Usually, this option is chosen if the tank has been pumped in the last 12 to 18 months (or if the buyer is leaning towards not buy the house).


  • Less expensive up front. (See below)
  • May be easier to schedule.
  • Can ask the seller to pump it before closing or buyer can have it pumped after they are the owners


  • If tank is overly full, the inspector may not be able to do a complete inspection (for instance: we may not be able to camera the lines or check tank condition).
    • If this is the case, we will do the report to the best of our ability and note that the tank needs to be pumped and note which items could not be inspected. (No discount or refund will be given.)
  • Could be extra costs if pumped later.
    • For example: our inspection includes digging up to 3ft deep for the lids. A stand alone pump includes digging up to about 1 ft deep for the lids and for 1 to 3 ft deep there is an extra charge.
This tank is too full – we can’t camera the line out and the contents are pretty thick so its going to limit the inspection of the tank condition.
Could probably inspect without pumping – we have
access for the camera and the contents are relatively clear – BUT we would probably not be able to see something like the first picture which is why Pumping during the inspection is highly recommended.

We often get asked “can’t we decided once the tank is open?” The simple answer is not always – if a septic inspection is ordered without a pump, the pump trucks may be booked on other jobs and not available.

Septic Pumping: Flowable Solids

Tanks should have 3 layers – fats, oils, and greases float to the top; other waste settles to the bottom; the middle layer of effluent (mostly water) should move to the outlet side of the tank, where it should settle some more, before the effluent goes to the drainfield (leaving the solids – fats, oils, greases, other waste – in the tank).

Eventually the solids need to be pumped out. These are what are called “Flowable Solids”. Think of it like having a bathtub of full of slightly melted milkshake and sucking it up with a shop vac – relatively easy, right?

If the solids get too solid, we can no longer pump it the standard way – think of a bathtub full of a block of clay and sucking it up with a shop vac – it’s not going to work. We can usually still pump it, but its going to be a “special project pump”.

This happens most often in tanks that haven’t been pumped in 10+ years. Basically, as waste keeps being added to the tank, it pushes together and pushes the water out, until the tank is completely clogged and then it backs up to the house. Again, as this is a special project pump, its not something that usually going to be fixed after hours or on weekends as its going to require more supplies and man power.

It occasionally happens if a tank has solids in it and has been left unused for many years – eventually the solids can dry out, but this is less common.

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.


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.


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

Septic Pumping: 1,000 Gallons

Our pump service is for up to 1,000 gallons.

Most tanks in this area are 1,000 gallon tanks. This means the tank holds about 1,000 gallons of wastewater and still have 9 inches of air space between the top of the waste and the top of the tank.

A tank that is overly full or backing up into the house may have more than 1,000 gallons in it. One pump may not completely empty it but it will get most of it and (for a system working and being used properly), pumping again in 2 or 3 years should be fine.

1,500 gallon tanks are not uncommon in this area – again an 1,000 gallon pump will get most of it, but if you want it completely empty, you would need to order a second pump.