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How to Know When to Empty My Septic Tank

A septic tank is an expensive but worthwhile investment. It is ever so important however, that once installed, the tank is maintained efficiently and correctly, to ensure maximum effectiveness. If you maintain it correctly, you should rarely run into problems and rarely need to empty your tank. Ideally, you should only need to empty or “de-sludge” your septic tank every 1 to 2 years or so. This however, can vary, depending on the size of the tank and the number of occupants in your home.

By maintaining the tank correctly we mean that you prevent flushing any chemicals, grease, oil or other ill advised materials down your sink or toilet. Maintaining your tank correctly also means being sensible with your water usage i.e. not filling your washing machine with loads a couple of times a day, leaving your taps running or over-using the bath or shower consistently.

Septic Tank

One tell-tale sign that your tank needs to be emptied is if your  washing machine or toilet starts to become sluggish. If you are having trouble flushing your toilet, you should immediately check your septic tank system. When waste makes it way to a septic tanks through your pipes, it becomes separate once it hits the tank. Anything that can be liquified makes its way all the way through out to the drainage pit. Any heavy particles sinks to the bottom of the tank, where it remains as sludge, hence the phrase “de-sludging your tank”. When this level of sludge builds up to a point where it threatens to block the tank, it needs to be emptied. If it is allowed to block the tank, the damage can be quite harsh on your pocket!

Another unfortunate sign that your tank is blocked and needs emptying is when it is overflowing into the surrounding surface. You will be made blatantly aware of this occurrence as there will undoubtedly be a harsh smell. If you spot such an issue, you will need to call in the experts immediately as such a problem could prove quite costly.

The aim really is to de-sludge your tank before any notable issues occur. If it takes some of these tell-tale signs for you to realise that your septic tank needs to be emptied, there may be already considerable damage done to your system which will cost significant repair fees. On having the tank installed, ask the installers to provide an estimated time period of when the tank will need to be emptied, based on its size and your projected usage. If you think you may have a problem remembering to empty it, draft a schedule with a septic tank company to come out and perform checks and de-sludging at agreed intervals. Otherwise, if you feel that you can rely on yourself to ensure that the job gets done, it is probably best to check it on a yearly basis, just to be on the safe side. Flooding and other harsh weather conditions can cause issues for your septic tank so in these occurrences, perform more regular checks. You can check the level of sludge and scum in your tank using a “stick test”.  This involves lowering PVC pipes into the tank, with marked measures to estimate the levels of sludge and scum.

Remember, with septic tanks, prevention is always better than cure. There is no such thing as being too cautious with your tank. If ever you feel that it needs emptying, for whatever reason, get to it straight away.

photo credit: Les_Stockton via photopin cc

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