How Much Does it Cost to Pump Out a Septic Tank?
Average Septic Tank Cleaning Prices & Buying Guide
Even the healthiest septic systems need to be cleaned every one to three years. Skip the routine cleaning and you might wake up one day to find raw sewage backing up your toilets and drains. At that point, the solution is not simple, pleasant or inexpensive.
Waste in a septic system breaks down into three layers - solid material called sludge on the bottom, oils and fats called scum in the middle and a clear liquid known as effluent or gray water on top. Effluent is discharged into the leach field, but the sludge and scum accumulate in the tank and need to be removed from time to time.
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To prevent septic failure, sludge and scum need to be pumped out when the scum layer is within 6 inches of the outlet pipe or the top of the sludge layer is within 12 inches, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Cost to Pump Out a Septic Tank
The cost depends on the size of the tank and how full it is. Also, rates vary from one contractor to another and from one geographic location to another. Costs can range anywhere from $75-$750 or so.
- A small tank with a capacity of about 500 or 750 gallons might cost $75-$150 to clean.
- The cost for an average-sized tank with a capacity of 1,250 or 1,500 gallons usually ranges from about $200-$400.
- For a very large tank of 2,500 gallons or so, budget $500-$750.
This little bit of preventative maintenance saves a lot of money in the long run. The cost to replace a failing septic system is usually about $3,000 to $10,000 - or more. Properly maintained, however, a septic system can last 20 to 40 years.
When To Have Your Tank Cleaned
Annual inspections are key to monitoring your sludge and scum levels. Otherwise, it can be difficult to know when they’re high. A professional septic service will measure the levels, check your system’s pipes and make sure the drain field is working properly. If scum and sludge levels are high, the service will recommend a cleaning.
Without regular cleanings, your system can overflow, causing significant damage and potentially leading to the problems mentioned above. Overflows can also contaminate groundwater, causing serious health hazards. They can pollute local water sources, spread disease and lower property values.
The frequency of required cleanings depends on the size of your tank, the number of people in the home and your usage habits. As a very general rule, if there are only one or two people in the home, septic tank cleaning is only necessary every five years. With three to five people, plan on every two or three years. More than five people and you might be looking at once a year, particularly if the tank is small. Keep in mind that use of a garbage disposal and appliances that require lots of water, such as hot tubs, will increase the frequency of required pumping.
Besides an inspection, there are a couple other indicators that your septic needs cleaning. Some systems have an alarm system that flashes a light or sounds a siren when the tank is full. The smell of raw sewage in your yard is a strong indicator, too.
The Inspection Process
The first step in a professional inspection is locating your septic system, which is not always easy. If you have previous inspection records that show the tank’s location, provide those to the septic service. If not, save the records from this inspection to save time and money on the next one.
Once the septic tank has been located, the service will uncover the manhole and inspection port, which sometimes requires digging. If so, consider having an access cover installed to make future inspections easier and less expensive.
Next, the septic technician will test your system by running water and flushing toilets to make sure waste is properly flowing to the system. Then he or she will measure the sludge and scum using specialized tools that are inserted into the inspection port. The inspection also includes tasks such as checking the tank for cracks and examining the leach field for signs of failure.
If the tank needs to be pumped, the septic company will transport the waste to your local treatment plant. In some cases, the company will bill you extra for disposal fee it pays the city or town. The fee might be $25, $50 or $100.
How to Choose a Septic Service
Make sure any septic service you hire is licensed or certified. Contact your local health department for a list of certified septic pumpers - most keep one. Once you have the list, get quotes from at least three to compare prices. You can also ask friends and neighbors for recommendations, but it’s still a good idea to seek multiple quotes.
Ask for a detailed pricing structure from any service you’re thinking of hiring. You don’t want to be surprised when the bill comes. What is the cost to have your septic pumped? Does that include both tank chambers? Are there extra charges for digging? Does the cost include disposal fees? Get an itemized list of all costs in writing. However, keep in mind unexpected costs do pop up at times. If that happens, make sure you are satisfied with the explanation for the extra charges.
Also, ask for proof that the company is insured. Without workers’ compensation or liability insurance, you could be responsible for any accidents that occur on the property. And finally, do a little research on the company’s background by checking with consumer organizations like the Better Business Bureau.
How to Protect Your Septic System
Regular inspections are a must, but there are many things you can do to prolong the life of your septic system and reduce the frequency of pumping:
- Watch what you put down the drain. Never wash down food scraps, grease or oil. If you have a garbage disposal, consider using it sparingly. Composting or throwing away food scraps instead will extend the time between pumpings.
- Never flush anything besides toilet paper. This includes tissues, tampons, sanitary napkins and paper towels.
- Stick to cleaning products that are approved for septic systems. Use products like toilet cleaners, drain cleaners and bleach in moderation. They can damage your septic system, particularly with frequent use.
- Avoid products that claim to clean your septic system. Most professionals agree these products are ineffective and potentially harmful to the system.
- Never plant shrubs or flowers over your leach field, and never let anyone to drive or park a car on top of it.