Are you one of the 25% of Americans who rely on a septic tank to process household waste? If you are, it’s crucial that you are familiar enough with a septic system to keep it working properly and identify if there might be issues. Plus, if you can find your septic tank yourself, it’ll save you money when it’s time to have the tank professionally cleaned.
If you aren’t sure where to find your septic tank, there are a few easy ways you can begin the process of locating it.
1. Check Paper Records
If you recently purchased your home, the location of the septic tank may be included in home inspection paperwork. It could also be noted on public property records, such as those kept by the Department of Health, unless the home is older and was constructed before these records were mandatory. If these methods don’t yield useful information, ask a neighbor who has lived there awhile or contact the previous homeowners if possible.
2. Inspect the Yard
As you can imagine, septic tanks are not intended to be features in your home landscape, and are installed to be as inconspicuous as possible. But some tanks can leave clues as to their location in your yard. Most septic assemblies are buried between 6 inches and 4 feet underground. An unexpected hill or depression in the terrain could indicate a buried tank. State regulations require that tanks are placed at least five feet from the home. Most tanks are between 10 and 25 feet from the home.
3. Check Indoor Pipes
If your yard hasn’t revealed your septic tank’s hidden location, inspect your basement or crawl space for sewer pipes exiting the house. It is highly likely that the septic tank is straight out from the house at the end of this pipe. You can confirm the tank location using a soil probe, readily available at your local hardware store. Probe the ground every two feet or so along the sewer pipe until you strike concrete or fiberglass. You’ve located your tank!
4. Full Stop
Once you’ve found your septic tank, do not attempt to open it yourself. Septic tank maintenance is extremely unsafe for DIYers. Very old septic tanks can have flimsy or rusted lids, or be at risk of collapsing. Opening some septic tanks requires special tools, and tanks can release toxic fumes. Often there is a small hatch opening on top that is about ten inches in diameter. Large enough to put a pump’s vacuum hose into so that the tank can be pumped clean. An open septic tank is a hazard, as a fall into the tank is likely to be fatal.
Any and all septic tank maintenance, including inspections and pumping, should be completed by a professional septic tank pumping company. Note that many Roto-Rooter locations provide this service. Reputable pumping companies transport the waste by truck to an approved disposal and treatment facility so that the waste can be safely processed. It is never OK to dispose of septic tank waste in a storm drain, ditch, creek or body of water.