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How to install, clean and maintain a septic tank

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If you live in an area where a common sewer water treatment system is not available, then a septic tank is a critical part of your home. The septic tank allows you to maintain sanitary conditions around your home by treating wastewater.

If your home needs a septic tank, ensure you understand what it takes to install a new system. It’s good to know what to expect even if a professional is doing the job. 

Once your tank is in place, it helps to understand how the system works and what you need to do to maintain it. Knowing how to treat the system correctly can help it continue to work well and last longer.

We’ll walk you through frequently asked questions regarding this important home system, from septic system installation to cleaning and regular maintenance.

 

What are the types of septic tanks?

An incredible variety of home septic systems exist. The one you select for your home will depend on different factors, like how many people live in the house, local weather conditions, soil type, bodies of water near the home, and local laws and regulations. 

We’ll walk you through the most common types of septic systems to help you choose the best one for your home. Keep in mind that different system designs can exist within each type.

  • Standard septic tank: Inside these tanks, the fats rise to the top, the solids sink to the bottom, and the water in the middle moves through the system to the drain field for further treatment.
  • Decentralized water treatment system: This consists of the tank described above and an infiltration system that uses gravel. 
  • Chamber system: This option replaces the gravel drain field and works well where the septic system might have intermittent uses or where the groundwater table is high. It uses soil and the microbes it contains to provide treatment for the wastewater.
  • Aerobic treatment unit: These treatment units, also known as ATUs, work by injecting oxygen to encourage bacteria to start treating the effluent (wastewater).
  • Mound system: This option uses a pump. It consists of a sand mound and a drain-field trench. 
  • Sand filtration system: This uses a pump to move the effluent over the sand filter, where it is treated and filtered before moving to the drain field. 
  • Evapotranspiration system: These systems use watertight material to hold the water. The water has to enter an area where it can move into the drain field and evaporate. 
  • Constructed wetland: This option aims to mimic natural wetlands. The wetland cell contains different parts, such as wetland plants, gravel and microbes, to treat the wastewater from the septic tank.
  • Cluster system: This option is used for areas where you might have a few homes close together that need a community septic system. The homes each have a septic tank, and the wastewater then moves to some type of common treatment area.

What is the cost to install a septic tank?

The final septic tank installation cost varies depending on the size of the tank you need and the type of system you install. Installing a septic system requires thinking about the tank itself, including whether you’ll use an anaerobic (no oxygen) or aerobic (requires oxygen but works more efficiently) system, the leach field or the drain field, and the pipes you’ll need. 

According to HomeAdvisor, you can expect an anaerobic system to cost between $2,000 and $10,000. On the other hand, aerobic systems typically cost between $8,000 and $20,000. You might need to plan on an additional $10,000 if you need a specialized drain field installed.

 

How to install a septic tank in 4 basic steps

Installing a septic tank is not a typical DIY project. It generally requires experience as a plumber and industry knowledge. Whether you plan to hire a professional or attempt this project on your own, knowing how to install the system successfully can help prevent future damage to the water tables and promote environmental health. 

On top of plumbing experience, you also need to know how to operate the heavy machinery required to complete the job. Those who have the necessary skills and equipment may be able to secure permission to install a new septic tank. 

If you’re interested in installing a wastewater treatment system on your own or wonder what to expect when a professional arrives, we can help by walking you through the steps involved.

Step 1: Obtain any necessary permits

Each state and jurisdiction will likely have building permits and requirements for installing new septic systems. They might regulate the type of system that needs to be used, where it can be installed, and who has to install it. As the property owner, you’ll want to fully understand any applicable requirements and public health concerns and follow the proper procedures for a permit application before moving forward.

Step 2: Prepare your space and plan the excavation 

Begin by outlining precisely where the septic system will go. Ensure you know the location of the local water tables and the soil conditions to make these decisions properly.

There are two ways you can set your tank up to drain properly: 

  • A septic pump can move the effluent from the septic tank to the rest of the system. 
  • The gravity system operating in a downhill direction can also promote accurate waste movement.

Then you’ll need to excavate at least 2 feet down (or more) for the tank placement.

Step 3: Install the tank and connect the plumbing

Place the pipe that connects the home plumbing system to the septic tank. Pay attention to the required grade and distance according to the system you’re installing. Typically, you’ll need about an inch and a half of washed drain rock around the pipe to ensure it doesn’t move once the system has been installed. 

Then connect the septic tank to your drain field through the second set of pipes. Again, follow the instructions according to the type of system you want to install. If using perforated pipes, ensure the leach lines have the proper caps so the system works correctly.

Step 4: Conduct a final septic tank inspection

You’ll need to have the septic system inspected by the health department after you connect all of the septic tank parts. It will ensure all the parts are connected correctly and that the system ascribes to the regulations in your region. 

You can cover up the tank and the rest of the system by following local regulations once the inspector says your septic system passed inspection. Next, pressurize and turn on your septic tank as indicated by your system’s instructions. Do some landscaping on the top, and the system can become unnoticeable.

 

5 steps for cleaning your septic tank

Keeping your septic tank clean can help your septic system continue to work well for a long time. Failing to take care of it could collapse the entire system. If that happens, it can cause a tremendous mess and be incredibly expensive to fix. 

Here’s what you should do regularly to clean your septic tank and ensure it remains in peak condition. 

Step 1: Dig out the tank

First, identify the exact location of your tank by following the direction of the sewer pipe that leads from your house. 

Once you identify the location of the tank, dig out the top of it. You’re looking for an access port lid that should firmly connect to the system. For future maintenance, you can add risers to the top of the tank to make it easier to locate. 

Once you find the tank, give it a quality inspection to make sure you don’t see any signs of damage, rust or cracks. Have someone inside the house flush the toilet to check that the wastewater goes through the system correctly. If you locate any problems with your system, now is the time to correct them before larger issues occur. 

Step 2: Inspect scum depth

Now test the sludge depth. Create a simple measuring tool by connecting two pieces of PVC pipe and gluing them into the shape of an L with an elbow joint. Then put caps on each end.

Slide the long end of the tool into the top of the tank and make a mark on your handle side when you feel it hit the top of the scum. Then push the tool through the scum. You’ll feel it hit the bottom of the scum substance. Hold the L shape flat against this bottom and make another mark on the long side of the measuring tool like you did before. You can now measure the distance between the two marks and see the total depth of the scum.

Step 3: Inspect sludge depth

Now make a second PVC tool. This one should be at least 10 feet long and smaller in circumference than your L-shaped tool. It should also have caps on the ends so nothing gets inside. Wrap one of the sides in a white or light-colored material (like a sock or towel). Secure this white material firmly to the pipe.

Use your L-shaped PVC measuring tool from the earlier step to create a hole through the top layer of the tank, and insert your new measuring tool through this hole. Push the tool through the sludge until you hit the bottom of the tank. Let the material sit in the sludge for several minutes. The longer you wait, the darker the stain will be and the easier it will be to measure. 

Step 4: Clean baffle filters

Put on a pair of quality rubber gloves to clean the baffle filter. The baffle filters will be inside the pipes leading the waste into the water and out of the tank. Note that not all tanks come with these filters. If your tank does not, you can skip this step. 

Reach into the outlet baffle and pull out the filter. Once the filters are out, hold them over the opening of the septic tank and spray them down with the hose. Give them an inspection to check for signs of damage before putting them back. If you’re sure your filter is in good shape or you have a replacement, put it back into the system. Look for arrows or other directional indicators that tell you how to replace it.

Step 5: Pump the tank

Your septic tank should be pumped out with a cast-iron pump that sucks out any solid waste that the bacteria can’t break down. Septic tank pumping generally requires the assistance of a professional. Even if you could do it, you would need to ensure the waste is disposed of safely and legally.

 

How to maintain your septic tank

As you clean your septic tank, you also want to ensure that you maintain your system. Here are the important rules to keep in mind as you maintain your septic tank. 

Items you shouldn’t flush down the toilet

Ensure you know what you can and can’t flush down the toilet. Items that shouldn’t be flushed can potentially clog the system and cause considerable problems. 

Some items to make sure you don’t flush include:

  • Any cotton products, such as cotton pads: These don’t break down like toilet paper.
  • Wipes: This includes baby wipes and wipes that say “flushable.”
  • Feminine products and diapers: This includes tampons, which won’t break down.
  • Condoms: As well as anything plastic, which can cause clogs.
  • Paper towels and tissues: These are also not designed to break down.
  • Medications: These can leach into the water.
  • Cat litter: Many systems cannot properly clear small pieces that will start to line your pipes.
  • Hair or dental floss: These can get caught in the pipes.
  • Food products: This includes grease, which can quickly cause clogs.
  • Bleach: This is extremely harsh on the septic system. 

Schedule regular pumpings

Have a professional pump out your tank every few years. This keeps it maintained rather than waiting for it to get clogged, which can save you time, money and headaches in the future. 

Plan on pumping your septic tank about every three years. If you notice that your sludge and scum levels are approaching the outlet pipe, you might want to schedule pumpings more frequently.

 

Discover how home plumbing systems are protected by Cinch

As a homeowner, in addition to caring for your septic system, you may want to protect your home systems in case something goes wrong. Have you considered how detrimental it would be to the comfort of your home if your air conditioning or septic system decided to stop working unexpectedly on a hot summer day? Cinch is here to help.

The Cinch Built-in Systems plan can provide you with protection for your plumbing systems. If you need to get a covered item fixed from normal wear and tear, trust us to help connect you with a vetted service technician to fix the issue. Reach out today for an instant quote!

 

Here’s what you need to know about installing, cleaning and maintaining your septic tank system to keep it working optimally.