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Septic Tank FAQ's & Tips for Preventative Maintenance

FAQ'S

How do I find a copy of my septic system's design?

You can try searching for the design on maine.gov septic system permit search. The permit(s) may also have additional information on your system, such as the date of installation, soil properties, etc. You may also reach out to your town office for assistance.

 

Septic System Permit Search: DHHS - CDC - Environmental and Community Health (maine.gov)

How often should my septic tank be pumped?

In general, a septic tank should be pumped every 1-5 years. A septic tank should be inspected annually to check for needed repairs and pumped as needed. The frequency of pumping the septic tank depends on many different factors, everyone is different! It varies based on the tank size, number of people in the household, habits of water use as well as the amount of solids accumulated in the tank. Some alternative systems that are more complex may require more frequent inspection or pumping. If you are unsure, give our office a call and we will be happy to help, 207-926-6060.

Should I be careful of what I pour down the drain?

Yes. Many materials that might be poured down the drain do not easily decompose. This can be harmful to the healthy bacteria that grow in your septic tank and drainfield to help break down organic matter. Do not pour grease (such as fats, butter, wax, cheese, heavy cream), liquid wastes (such as pesticides, drain cleaners, household chemicals, paints, paint thinners), oils or coffee grounds down the drain. If you have a garbage disposal, limit its use because food waste can add an unnecessary amount of solid material to your septic tank. Harmful chemicals put down your drain can also be discharged into the groundwater and can impact drinking water supplies and the environment.

What can I flush down the toilet?

  • Only flush human waste and toilet paper down the toilet.

  • Never flush these items down the toilet because they could clog your septic system and cause a failure:

    • Cooking grease or oil

    • Non-flushable wipes, such as baby wipes or other wet wipes

    • Feminine hygiene products

    • Condoms

    • Dental floss

    • Diapers

    • Cigarette butts

    • Coffee grounds

    • Cat litter

    • Paper towels

    • Pharmaceuticals

    • Household chemicals like gasoline, oil, pesticides, antifreeze, and paint or paint thinners

If I smell a foul odor coming from my septic system, does that mean my system is failing?

  • There may be several reasons for the smell, which can occur inside or outside your home. If you notice an odor, it may be coming from a roof vent or other vent pipe that allows the system pressure to equalize. This is a normal part of your system. Sometimes these vents can become obstructed and clogged (from leaves, debris, etc.) or the vent pipe can freeze during prolonged cold spells. These situations could cause an odor inside or outside of your home. Another possibility is a down draft (changes to wind pattern) or other location-specific conditions, which can create an odor inside or outside your home. In these cases, the vent may need to be cleaned or raised. There are charcoal filters available for roof vents that may also alleviate the odors.

  • If your drainfield is not working properly, that could be another reason you smell an odor inside your home or around the septic system. Soft, wet, or spongy soil (especially when there have been no significant rainfall events) around your drainfield is a good indication of a system failure.

Can you tell if septic tank needs pumping without digging it up?

No, you will need to dig up the ground above the septic tank to inspect it unless you have risers. Risers give easy access to the septic system without disturbing the soil above the tank. 

Does using a garbage disposal unit impact my septic system?

Yes. Using an in-sink garbage disposal unit can impact how often you need to pump your septic tank. Food waste usually is slowly digested by the healthy bacteria in your septic tank and can accumulate as scum and sludge. If a large amount of water enters the septic tank or the tank fills up with solids, it can push the solids into the drainfield, causing the pipes to clog and increasing the thickness of the biomat (a bacteria layer that forms on the bottom and sides of the drainfield trenches). If you must use a garbage disposal unit, your tank will need to be pumped more frequently. 

What can I plant over my drainfield and septic system?

Grass is the ideal cover for drainfields. Grasses can be ornamental, mowed in a traditional lawn, or in an unmowed meadow. Trees and shrubs should never be planted near a septic system as roots are naturally drawn to water sources and could invade the system and create problems. For plantings over septic tanks, keep in mind, if you don’t have risers installed, you will need to dig up the ground to access the tanks for inspection and pumping. Growing vegetables over a drainfield is not recommended.

Can landscape plastic or fabric under mulch be placed over the drainfield?

No. Plastic reduces the necessary air exchange in the drainfield soil. Even mulch or bark over the drainfield is not recommended, because it reduces air exchange and retains water.

I've never pumped my septic tank, is that a problem?

Yes, if you have not pumped your septic tank in several years but do not seem to notice having any problems, it may mean one of several things:

There is minimal water use in the home. This is rare but may occur when there are only 1-2 people in the home or it is a seasonal home.

The tank has a leak and is discharging wastewater into the ground instead of into the drainfield.

The tank is full of solids, which are slowly getting out into and may eventually clog the drainfield. This will increase the cost of pumping the tank and may require replacing the entire drainfield if it becomes clogged due to poor maintenance.

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