How To Check Septic Tank Is Full

Having a septic tank on your property provides a convenient way to handle household wastewater. However, septic tanks require regular maintenance and monitoring to keep them functioning properly. One key aspect is checking if your septic tank is full and needs pumping. This article provides a comprehensive guide on how homeowners can check if their septic tank is full.

What is a Septic Tank and How Does it Work?

A septic tank is an underground chamber made of concrete, fiberglass, or polyethylene that collects wastewater from your home. The septic tank separates solids from liquids and allows the liquids to drain into the soil through a leach field or drain field.

Inside the septic tank, heavy solids settle to the bottom forming sludge while grease and light solids float to the top as scum. Naturally occurring bacteria break down the sludge. Clarified wastewater flows out of the tank into the drain field.

If not pumped regularly, too much sludge can accumulate, fill the tank, and flow into the drain field clogging it. Therefore, checking if your septic tank is full and pumping it periodically is essential.

Signs Your Septic Tank is Full

How do you know if your septic tank is full? Look out for these common signs:

  • Slow drains: If sinks, tubs, and toilets in your home drain slowly, it could mean the septic tank is full. Wastewater cannot flow out of the tank freely causing backups.

  • Gurgling sounds: Listen for gurgling noises coming from the plumbing, especially when you flush the toilet or use a sink. This indicates septic tank backups due to a full tank.

  • Lush green grass: Excess wastewater leaking from a full septic tank has high nutrients that makes the grass over the drain field brighter and more lush than surrounding areas.

  • Standing water: If you notice standing water or soggy soil around the septic tank and drain field, the tank could be full. Excess wastewater has nowhere to go.

  • Sewage odor: A strong rotten egg or sewage smell around the septic tank likely means the tank is full and sewage is backing up to the surface.

  • Slow draining sinks/tubs: If water drains slowly after use, it indicates a septic system backup from a saturated tank.

  • Plumbing backups: Sewage backing up into sinks, tubs, and toilets, especially in the lowest levels of your home, points to a full tank.

  • Pooling water: Excess water collecting in the yard means the septic tank can’t handle more wastewater and is saturated.

  • Increased midges/flies: More flies and midges around the septic tank and yard could signal a full tank, as they are drawn to the excess wastewater.

How Often Should You Pump Your Septic Tank?

Septic tanks should be pumped every 3-5 years typically, depending on the size of the tank and household water use. Check with your local health department for recommendations. Some signs it is time for pumping include:

  • Your last pump out was over 5 years ago
  • You notice signs your tank is full like slow drains or pooling water
  • Your household has expanded significantly, increasing water use
  • You have installed new water fixtures like a pool, hot tub, or second bathroom
  • A visual inspection indicates sludge depth exceeds 1/3 of the tank

Pumping frequency also depends on tank size. Here are general guidelines:

  • 1000 gallons – pumped every 4-6 years
  • 1250 gallons – pumped every 5-7 years
  • 1500 gallons – pumped every 6-10 years

Inspecting sludge/scum buildup and keeping a pumping schedule is key to maximizing your septic system’s lifespan.

How Homeowners Can Check if Their Septic Tank is Full

There are a few methods homeowners can use to inspect the inside of a septic tank. However, extreme caution should be taken due to dangerous gases and bacteria inside tanks. Consider hiring a professional inspector if you have any concerns working around a septic system.

Use an Inspection Pipe

Inserting a PVC inspection pipe into the inspection port allows a safe view inside the tank. Slowly insert the pipe through the port until it hits the bottom, then retrieve it. Check the pipe to see how much sludge or scum clings to it. Compare to diagrams to estimate if pumping is needed based on sludge levels.

Flush Colored Dye

Flushing a colored dye into the toilet can help track the flow of wastewater. If the dye appears backing up into toilets or sinks, it indicates a full tank. Dye test kits are available at home improvement stores. Make sure to use a dye made specifically for septic systems.

Check Filter Screens

For tanks with outlet tees or filter screens, unscrew the cap and check the filter screen on the outlet pipe inside the tank. If the screen is covered in thick sludge, it means high sludge levels and you likely need pumping.

Hire a Professional

Septic professionals have pumps, cameras, and tools to accurately check sludge levels and determine if a tank needs to be pumped. This option removes the guesswork and provides an expert assessment. Expect to pay $75-$150 for an inspection.

Use Sludge Judge Measuring Sticks

Special sludge judge sticks measure sludge and scum levels based on a color scale. Insert the stick through the inspection pipe, resting it on the bottom. Remove and check the sludge marks. Match the color to diagrams to determine sludge depth.

Check Manhole Covers

Removing manhole covers very carefully using proper tools can allow visual inspection of the inside of a tank. Again, this is not recommended for homeowners due to dangerous gases. Hire professionals.

What Are Signs Your Drain Field is Clogged?

Along with a full septic tank, a clogged drain field can cause backups and other issues. Signs of a clogged drain field include:

  • Standing water or wet spots over the field
  • Lush bright green grass over the field
  • Slow drains and plumbing backups
  • Gurgling sounds from plumbing
  • Sewage odors around field

If you suspect a clogged drain field, have a professional inspect and service the system. Pumping the tank may provide temporary relief but the field may need repairs.

What Should You Do if Your Septic Tank is Full?

If you determine your septic tank is completely full, take the following steps:

  • Stop using water – Minimize showers, laundry, flushing to prevent overflows
  • Call a professional – Arrange emergency septic pumping
  • Keep an eye out – Check for overflows until tank is pumped
  • Do not try to unblock– Avoid opening inspection ports or discharging waste

Getting the tank pumped as soon as possible is crucial to prevent backups. Follow any usage guidelines from your inspector or local health department.

FAQs about Checking if Your Septic Tank is Full

How much does it cost to pump out a septic tank?

Depending on tank size and local rates, expect to pay $275-$500 on average to have a professional pump out a residential septic tank completely. Emergency service for a full, overflowing tank costs more.

Can you pump your own septic tank?

It is not recommended for homeowners to pump their own tanks, due to health risks and the heavy equipment required. Considerable expertise is also needed to pump a tank fully. Always hire a licensed septic pro.

How often should septic tanks be inspected?

Septic tanks should be inspected at least every 3 years by a professional. Annual inspections are a good idea to check tank levels and condition. Inspect immediately if you have any concerns or notice signs of a full tank.

What happens if you overfill a septic tank?

Overfilling forces sewage to back up through the system. Raw sewage can overflow onto the surface creating a hazardous health situation and environmental contamination. An overfull tank can also damage the drain field.

Can septic tanks fill with rainwater?

Excessive rainwater cannot enter or fill most tanks. However, it can saturate and flood the drain field, hampering the soil’s ability to absorb treated wastewater. This leads to backups like a full tank.

Key Takeaways on Checking Septic Tanks

  • Inspect your septic tank regularly to check if it is full and needs pumping
  • Watch for signs like slow drains, sewage odors, wet ground, and lush grass over the drain field
  • Pump septic tanks every 3-5 years or as needed based on sludge levels
  • Do not attempt to enter a tank yourself; instead use inspection pipes or hire a pro
  • If your tank is full, stop using water immediately and arrange emergency pumping
  • Preventative maintenance by routinely checking your tank levels avoids costly repairs down the road

Knowing how to inspect a septic tank and recognizing when it needs service can help homeowners avoid headaches

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