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Date Posted: 2021-02-18

Is my Septic Tank Full? Do I Need a Pumpout?

In this blog post, our goal is to help you learn the answers to this common and important question: “How do you tell if your septic tank is full?”

For homeowners who are not connected to the municipal sewer lines, a septic system is needed to manage and treat onsite wastewater. Even though the septic tank is part of one of the most important systems in the home, many people forget to keep on top of its maintenance.

Unfortunately, unlike forgetting to take out the trash in the kitchen, a neglected or poorly maintained septic tank can result in a real nightmare. While the first thought could be to get a drain cleaner or some other product, this is certainly not the best solution to the problem. 

For any homeowner with a septic tank, septic system maintenance should be scheduled regularly, just like any other important system. Doing so can save homeowners thousands of dollars in replacement costs.

What Does a Full Septic Tank Mean?

Before looking into the tell-tale signs that you need your septic system pumped, defining what those signs are is critical. There are three main states of a septic tank:

  1. Tank Filled to Normal Level - At this level, the outlet and inlet allow wastewater to flow in and effluent to flow out without any problems. On gravity-fed tanks, the effluent should be at the invert (base) of the outlet pipe during normal operation.
  2. Sludge is Accumulating - The accumulation of waste inside the tank is a normal process. The Ontario Building Code dictates that when sludge and solids occupy 1/3 of the working capacity of the tank, a pump out is required. At the 1/3 level, wastewater typically continues to flow out into the drain field or weeping bed, but the sludge may begin to impact the effluent quality being sent to the bed. At this point, a pump-out is required to bring the tank back to optimal efficiency.
  3. Overfilled Tank - Over time, the tank may become overfilled with solids or grease and result in a backup into the home or to the dispersal bed becoming clogged. If not caught in time, a backup into the home could be messy and costly. If the dispersal bed becomes clogged, the situation could be much worse as this could end up requiring a replacement of the dispersal bed. 

What Happens When a Septic Tank is Full?

Some of the signs of a full tank that you need to be watching out for include:

It’s Time for Regular Maintenance

While this is technically not a sign but rather a rule, this is one of the most important things to do. Getting your septic system maintained at regular intervals is critical to ensure the system lasts as long as it should. Doing so can save you the stress of not knowing how it is performing and potentially a lot of money.

Slow Flushing or Slow Drains

If you realize that your toilets, washing machine, showers and tubs are not draining at the normal rate, it could be an indication that your septic tank is full and starting to back up. Even though a clog in the system can make flushing slow, if the septic system has not been cleaned and pumped for a while, you should consider getting the tank pumped before it becomes a problem. 

Bad Odours

Since all the wastewater, toilet paper and solids go into your tank, over the years they decompose and release gasses. Once the tank starts to fill up with solids, you may notice strong odours in the area of the tank. You may also have odours emanating from the drain field if too much raw sewage is making it out to the weeping bed.  

Pooling Water

Pooling around the grass over the septic tank area is an innocuous sign of a septic tank that may be full. If you notice standing water when it has not rained, this probably means the tank is at capacity, and some of the wastewater may be coming out of the tank and reaching the surface.

Gurgling Water

Gurgling sounds are familiar in most drains, but if you notice constant gurgling, it might be a sign that the septic tank is backing up and needs to be pumped so that it can work more efficiently.

Sewer Backup

This is one of the most unpleasant signs that indicate that your tank is full and needs to be pumped. A backed up is a sign that you will most likely experience if you do not have a regular maintenance/pumping schedule. If you have ignored many of the previous signs, you could have raw sewage backup into your bathtubs and sinks.

Your Lawn is Too Healthy

Like pooled water, the area around your septic tank can be an indicator of a leak or an overflow, especially if the grass is too green. If you notice that the lawn around the septic tanks seems to be greener than the rest of your lawn, it can be a sign of an overflowing septic tank that will need to be emptied. It is critical, though, to remember that sometimes green grass can be an indicator of a failing drain field.

Well Water has High Nitrate Content

High nitrate content is an innocuous sign for homeowners depending on well water for domestic needs. You need to be performing tests on your well at regular intervals to determine the levels of nitrate. If higher than normal levels are found, it might be an indicator of an overflowing septic system that will need to be looked into since the wastewater is leaching into groundwater.

How Long Does it Take for a Septic Tank to Fill Up

The time it takes for a septic tank to fill up depends on several factors such as tank size and the number of people living in a household. Since the pumping and regulatory industries recommend that scum and sludge should never be more than 1/3 of the working capacity in any septic tank, typically, you will require a pump out every three to five years based on a family of four with normal usage. 

The Importance of Septic System Maintenance 

It is always important to keep a schedule of when the system needs to be pumped and maintained. By following appropriate pumping intervals, you may never see any of the warning signs that a tank needs emptying. 

Even though the average 1000 gallon tank will be filled up in between two to three years, the Environmental Protection Agency recommends emptying between 3 and 5 years of use. 

The exact interval of emptying will depend on several factors such as:

  1. Volume of solid waste
  2. Number of people in a household
  3. Amount of wastewater generated
  4. Septic tank size

For homeowners who have recently purchased a house, it is critical to find out the maintenance schedule from the previous owners or, if not, ask about the last time the system was pumped. If you cannot find the information, then it is advisable to get the tank pumped immediately so that a tank backup does not occur. 

What Should You Do if Your Septic Tank is Full?

If you find that your septic tank is full of sludge, then it is time to call a septic service provider. If you are lucky, you may only need to get the tank pumped, and you should be fine. If the maintenance schedule has been neglected for a while, you might have more issues to deal with, such as leakage in the system and drain field deterioration. 

Allto Construction is a full-service septic system design, installation, maintenance and repair company that has the experts to help you every step of the way. Call us today for a scheduled service plan so that you can prevent problems with your septic tank before it unnecessarily becomes much more costly. 

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