Knowing the location of your septic tank lids is important for proper maintenance and servicing of your septic system. However, septic tank lids are often buried or obscured, making them difficult to find. This article provides a step-by-step guide on how to locate the lids of your septic tank.
Why Find the Septic Tank Lids?
There are several reasons you may need to find the lids to your septic tank:
- Conducting septic tank inspections and pumping
- Diagnosing issues like clogs or backups
- Marking the location for future reference
- Preventing damage from vehicles driving over the tank
- Adding risers for easier access
- Landscaping or digging around the tank
Without knowing where your septic tank access points are, it can be a huge hassle when service or repairs are needed. Finding the lids now makes future maintenance much easier.
Step 1: Check Property Blueprints
The first step is to check for any diagrams or permits related to the original septic system installation:
- Review building plans and blueprints for your home to locate the septic tank.
- Contact your county health department to obtain septic system permit records showing tank location.
- Refer to any home inspection diagrams provided when you purchased the property.
These records should indicate the orientation of the tank relative to the house along with distance measurements. Having an exact idea where the tank is located makes finding the lids much easier.
Step 2: Follow the Sewer Pipe
If no diagrams are available, tracing the sewer pipe from the home is another option:
Locate where the 4-inch sewer pipe exits the home. This is often found in the basement or crawlspace.
Follow the sewer line as it runs underground outside the house. Septic tanks are typically 5-25 feet from the external wall of the home.
Use a metal probe to check for the buried septic tank every few feet by testing for resistance. Mark edges once located.
The septic tank will be positioned along the path of the sewer line that connects to it.
Step 3: Look for Vent Pipes
Some septic systems have vent pipes coming up from the tank – locating these can assist in finding the tank:
Vent pipes allow gases to escape and are usually vertical, between 1-4 inch diameter PVC pipes.
Vents may be concealed with shrubbery or decorative rocks but will indicate where the tank is located if found.
The vent may connect to the sewer pipe rather than directly to the tank but still provides a reference point.
Step 4: Use a Metal Detector
A metal detector is the easiest non-invasive tool for locating your buried septic tank:
Most tanks are constructed from metal materials that a quality metal detector will pick up on.
Walk slowly over the suspected area where the tank is thought to be and mark when the detector picks up a continuous metal signal.
Outline the full perimeter of the tank once detected to approximate the size and location of the lids.
Step 5: Start Digging
If the above methods fail to pinpoint the tank location, digging and probing the ground may be required:
Use a long, slender metal rod to probe the soil every few feet in a grid pattern around where the tank should be.
When you hit resistance, mark the spot and expand search in all directions until hitting the tank edges.
Carefully dig with a shovel once the perimeter is marked to expose the buried lids but avoid striking the tank.
Septic lids can be buried anywhere from a couple inches to a couple feet down but are typically around 1 foot deep.
What Septic Tank Lids Look Like
There are two main types of septic tank lid covers you may find once you’ve located the access points:
Concrete lids – These heavy, durable lids usually require special tools to lift and remove. They will be square or rectangular.
Plastic lids – Typically green or black, these lightweight plastic lids can be removed by hand when servicing needs arise.
Septic tanks generally have either two or three access lids positioned over the inlet, outlets, and inspection ports. Tank sizes vary but lids measure around 24 inches across.
Safety Tips for DIYers
Although it’s possible to locate tanks and lids yourself, some important safety notes include:
- Never open or remove septic tank lids – have a professional do this.
- Tanks contain dangerous gases, liquids, and bacteria.
- Concrete lids are extremely heavy.
- Mark or fence off the area to prevent access once located.
The easiest and safest option is to hire a professional septic contractor to find and uncover your tank. But at minimum, mark the spot for future reference once located.
Locating the Drain Field
Finding your septic tank lids also provides a reference point for where the drain field is positioned:
Drain fields connect to the septic tank outlet to distribute effluent underground.
Drain pipestypically run perpendicular in trenches around the tank and downhill.
Systems installed after 1980 should have drain field maps available.
Older systems may require probing, metal detection, or dye testing to locate drain field piping.
Marking and Protecting the Septic Tank Area
Now that you’ve uncovered the lids, some tips for marking the location and protecting your septic system include:
Leave lids exposed for easier access in the future.
Disguise lids with plastic rocks, planters, or other decor.
Keep the area clearly marked and avoid building over it.
Take care when driving or digging near the tank location.
Add removable risers to raise lids closer to the surface.
When to Call a Professional
Situations when it’s best to have a professional septic contractor locate and access your tank include:
You are unable to find the tank and lids yourself.
The tank needs to be opened for repairs or pumping.
You want to add an effluent filter or risers to the lids.
The drain field location is unknown and needs to be found.
You plan to do any landscaping or digging around the tank area.
Locating your buried septic tank lids and marking them for future access can save you time, money, and headaches down the road when the system needs maintenance.