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Septic FAQ's

Below are some of the most frequently asked questions about septic systems.  They are provided as a service to the community about the use and abuse of septic systems. 

If you suspect any problems with your septic system please contact us and our Specialists will help determine the best course of action for you.

Will additives improve the efficiency of my septic tank?

Four common types of additives commonly asked about are:

  1. Substances added to increase microbial action, e.g. yeast
  2. Food products to increase microbial growth and action, e.g. hamburger
  3. Products intended to dissolve solids in the septic tank, e.g. lye
  4. Products intended to remove scum from the tank walls

There is no significant evidence of the effectiveness of these additives.  Use of items 3 and 4 may actually damage your system (changing the pH and killing microorganisms, or clogging downstream pipes).  The introduction of any additive to the septic tank is discouraged.

Should I use special chemicals (e.g. detergents) or paper products that are considered better for the system?

Ordinary household chemicals should not harm the biological balance of the system when used in moderation, though  excessive amounts can be harmful.  The disposal of paper products in the system should be limited to those that are absolutely necessary and which fall apart easily when wet (e.g toilet paper).

What kinds of things should never be put into the system?

Any type of poisonous substance such as motor oil, paint, paint thinner, grease, solvents, pesticides, & strong acids or strong bases. Also refrain from adding cigarette butts, and paper products that do not readily degrade such as disposable diapers, sanitary napkins, facial tissues, or paper towels.

Will the use of a garbage disposal unit adversely affect the septic system?

Always attempt to minimize the amount of solids introduced into the septic tank.  Use your garbage disposal as little as possible.

What does the accumulation of lush green vegetation over my leach field indicate?

Lush vegetative growth over the leach field may indicate imminent failure.  Damaged leach line pipes or decreased soil porosity can cause effluent to surface.  Visual inspection of the area may reveal an accumulation of sewage.  Dye testing of the system can be helpful in determining if any liquid observed originated from the septic tank.  Contact a service provider if you're concerned about the health of your septic system.

In order to reduce the load on my septic system, can I divert wastewater from my washing machine or other grey water fixtures?

Placer County requires that all wastewater must be discharged into an approved sewage disposal system.  Even grey water contains high numbers of bacteria, some of which may cause disease.

What can I do about periodic odors from my roof vents?

Hydrogen sulfide (rotten egg odor) is normal by-product of the sewage digestion process which occurs in the septic tank.  Noxious odors from the septic tank my become obvious through roof vents on the house, depending on the house location and prevailing wind currents.  To help alleviate the nuisance, extend the height of the roof vents.

How often should my septic tank be pumped?

Every 3 to 5 years, depending on how many people live in the house.  Septic pumpers may be found in the Yellow Pages.

How do I inspect my septic system myself?  Or how do I know if my septic tank needs to be pumped?

The easiest way to determine the condition of your septic tank is to hire a professional experienced with septic systems.  However, should you decide to inspect it yourself, follow these steps:

  • Remove the manhole cover at the inlet end of the tank.
  • Inspect the scum layer at the top of the liquid in the tank. 
    • Be careful not to fall into the tank!
    • Do Not light a match near the open tank!
    • Do Not breath in significant amounts of noxious gases from the tank!
    • Tanks typically have a six foot liquid depth.
  • Use a shovel to push the scum layer away from the side of the tank to estimate its thickness. 
  • If the scum layer is more than 1 foot thick, have your tank pumped immediately.
  • Replace the manhole cover and thoroughly wash and sanitize your hands and shovel.

If your leach field has inspection pipes at the end of each leach line, they can be visually inspected for pooling liquid.  Accumulation of water in the leach lines is an early indication of problems.

Sewage contains disease causing microorganisms!  It is important to always exercise caution and good personal hygiene after any contact.

I have an alternating drain field system.  How often should I alternate my leach lines?

Every 6 to 12 months.  This gives the unused leach lines time to "rest," thereby increasing the life of the system.  Be sure to rotate the valve back again after the 6 to 12 month resting period.

Why does my plumbing seem to become sluggish during winter months or when there is increase household water use?

Both wet weather and increased water usage can increase the amount of water introduced into the leach field soil and cause your septic system to become overloaded.  System failure may become evident during periods of over saturation.  Clogged or slow moving plumbing is frequently the result of a failing system.  Blockages in the distribution system may be removable, but if the failure is due to clogged soil that will no longer accept effluent, then a new leach field is necessary.

Why does the septic tank need to be cleaned and pumped?

Regular cleaning of the tank is part of a complete preventative maintenance program necessary to the life of the system.  Solids must be removed from the tank before they become deposited in and clog the leach lines.  After the leach lines become clogged, cleaning the tank is of little benefit.

How can I locate my septic tank?

A simple method is to probe in the soil with a metal rod.  Or you can follow the pipelines leading from the house.  Once found, dig to uncover the manholes on the top of the tank.