Septic System FAQs

Minnesota Septic System Compliance Inspection Questions & Answers


What is a septic system?

A septic system, commonly called a septic tank, is an underground system that treats the sewage coming from your home before disposing of the treated, cleaner water. The treated water is then filtered back into the surrounding environment. Because the sewage in your septic system is meant to be cleansed and filtered, it’s important that your septic system is working properly so that untreated sewage does not pollute surrounding waterways and water systems, or even the earth surrounding your septic system.

What is a Drainfield?

The drainfield, or leach field, if where the water from your septic system goes once it’s been treated and filtered out. The drainfield is built using piping that evenly distributes water back into the earth.

How do I find my septic system?

If you’re lucky enough to have a newer septic system in your yard, it may have an access lid that’s visible at ground level. If this is the case at your home, finding your septic system is as easy as stepping into your yard. Unfortunately, this isn’t the case for older septic systems. If you have an older system at your home, you might be able to find it yourself by looking for greener, faster-growing grass, or even an area with less growth than the rest of your yard. If this doesn’t help, contact your county health department to find the septic system record drawing for your property, or the “as-built” diagram. This will show you where in your yard your septic system can be found.

As time-consuming and unpleasant as this process sounds, it will be well worth it because, if the health department doesn’t have a record of your septic system, your next option will likely be to go poking around your yard with a tile probe. You’ll need to search for the spot where your septic system’s sanitary line exits your home and follow that line until you’ve found your septic tank. If all else fails, call a septic installer. As a last resort, if you can’t locate your septic system, your yard may need to be dug up by a septic system installer so that your septic tank can be found.

How long do septic systems last?

Septic systems don’t have a set number of years that they should last. If properly maintained, you can look forward to having your septic system around for decades without having to worry about replacing it, but if your septic system fails or deteriorates due to poor maintenance, its lifespan is significantly shortened. The only way to get a rough estimate of how much longer your septic system will last is to have it checked out by a septic system installer or repairer. However, if you know that your tank is well-maintained, the date of installation should give you an idea of how long it will last.

What’s the advantage of installing a newer septic system rather than an older system?

Installing a new system isn’t necessary, but there are benefits to having a newer rather than older septic tank. For starters, when you have a new septic tank, you can be sure that if you properly maintain it, it’s going to last you for decades without you having to worry about it getting “too old.” Newer systems have also been adapted to reduce the likelihood of your system getting backed up, and if something does go wrong with a new system or when it comes time to have your septic system pumped, a new system will likely be easier to locate because they often are built with ground-level lids. New septic systems also provide a secondary treatment for your sewage water, making it cleaner before it’s discharged. All of that said, though, if your home already has an older septic system installed, as long as it meets the regulations of your health department and is in good working order, it shouldn’t need to be replaced.

How much does a new septic system cost?

New septic systems can be a huge investment, often costing tens of thousands of dollars. If you need to replace an old septic system, you should look for financing options that will make affording a new septic system easier for you. Ask a septic system installation company for more information about getting the best-priced septic systems and obtaining a low-interest financing plan.

How big is my septic tank?

The size of your septic tank depends on the water volume used in your home and local regulations. To find out how large your tank is, check with your county health department.

Why should my septic system be pumped out?

When your septic system isn’t pumped, the gases released by sewage waste build up and have the potential to increase the rate of septic tank deterioration. By having your septic system pumped, you’ll be able to slow down the rate of your tank’s deterioration. It’s important to know, though, that deterioration is inevitable. Proper maintenance, including pumping your tank, can only help you septic system last longer. If you want to avoid paying for a brand new tank, pumping your septic system about once every 2-3 years is the best thing you can do.

Does my tank need to be dug up to know if it needs to be pumped?

Newer septic systems often have risers, which make your tank accessible from ground level through a lid. If you have risers installed in your yard, determining whether it needs to be pumped is simple for any septic system expert. However, if your tank cannot be accessed at ground level, it will need to be dug up to know whether it needs to be pumped. To avoid checking your septic system to find out whether it needs to be pumped, follow a schedule, having your system pumped every 2-3 years.

Why should I have risers and lids installed on my septic system?

Risers create ground-level access to your septic system, making them ideal when it comes time to locate, pump, or repair your septic system. With a septic system lid, you’ll be able to mow your lawn, and you’ll easily be able to locate your system. Lids and risers also present the benefit of being accessible year-round, unlike older septic systems that are only accessible by digging into your yard. During the winter months, if your septic system needs to be pumped or repaired for any reason, getting beneath layers of frozen ground can be difficult, if not impossible, and you may have to wait to access your tank.

How often should my septic system be pumped out?

An average septic system holds a 1,500-gallon tank, and these typically need to be pumped about every 2-3 years for a family of four. If you have fewer than four people in your home, you’ll likely be able to pump your septic system every five years instead. You should contact your health department to find out for sure how large your tank is, and consult a septic system company to find out how often it needs to be pumped based on your family size and the size of your septic tank.

Do I need to have the septic tank pumped if I’m selling my house?

Check with your local health department to find out the regulations specific to your area. Typically, as long as your septic system has been pumped routinely by a licensed septic system company and recently enough for the new homeowners to live there for a year or two without having to pump the septic system, you shouldn’t need to have it pumped again.

How do I find someone to pump my septic system?

When looking for a septic system company to pump your septic system, you should be aware that not all companies are licensed, and not all companies properly dispose of or recycle the waste they pump from your septic system. You should make finding a company that follows EPA regulations your top priority, and from there, look into pricing, how pricing is broken down, and which company is offering the most honest, affordable, and reliable service. Look into company reviews, and when you choose a septic system company to hire to pump your septic tank, make sure that they do the job right, leaving enough water and waste to keep the sewage decomposing without leaving more than a few inches behind. For a list of certified pumpers, you can contact the local health department or look online for septic pumpers with websites that clearly state their certifications.

How much does it cost to have my septic system pumped?

Pumping can cost upwards of $200, so you should always contact a number of pumpers before making a decision, asking every question you can think of to ensure you’re getting the best service for your money. When it’s time to have your septic system pumped, don’t feel like you’re wasting your money; by properly maintaining your septic system, you can avoid paying tens of thousands of dollars to replace your septic system long before it should have needed replacing.

What happens if I don’t have my septic system pumped?

By not pumping your septic the solids will build up in the tank, eventually over flowing into the drain field and plugging it. This can cause backups resulting in damage to your home, and possibly needing the drain field to be replaced which can be a very costly mistake.

I just had my septic system pumped. Why is it full already?

Septic systems are meant to refill quickly, as the point of pumping is to remove the non-biodegradable waste, not the water itself. Once your septic system is pumped and you begin using the water in your home, your tank will quickly refill to maintain proper functionality. If the water level gets too high, reaching above the outlet line, call your septic system service provider for assistance.

What do you look for when inspecting my septic system?

When performing an inspection, we check to be sure that your septic system is in good working order and meets the requirements to merit a Certificate of Compliance. Typically, homeowners have their homes inspected when they’re looking to sell them, as it’s a way to get a better price for your home if you can prove that it’s been inspected by a septic system inspector who is certified by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.  We’ll check to be sure that the liquid in your septic tank is at the proper level, be sure that there is no surface-level discharge, note whether the level of solid waste in your septic tank means it should be pumped, and whether any repairs need to be made to improve system functionality.

The drains in my home aren’t draining as quickly as they normally do. Does this have to do with my septic system?

Backed up drains that empty slowly are not always major causes for concern. Check first to make sure that there is nothing clogging your drain before assuming it’s a problem with your septic system. If only one plumbing fixture in your home is draining slowly, there’s a good chance that it’s clogged; however, if all of the drain in your home drain slowly or leave waste backed up, your septic system likely needs to be inspected and may need to be pumped.

What happens when my septic system fails?

When your septic system fails, you could face mild problems like drain broken or interrupted pipes, which can be caused by intersecting tree roots. However, septic system failure can also mean that your septic tank has deteriorated to the point of no return and must be replaced. With any luck, a clogged drainfield won’t be your problem because it’s the most expensive piece of your system to replace, but if it is, you can’t wait to make the repairs, or else your waste will continue to back up, potentially damaging your home. If your drains are emptying slowly, the yard above your tank or drainfield is wet, there’s a sewage smell coming from your yard, or your well water is contaminated, you’re likely looking at a clogged drainfield, and you’ll need to replace it immediately to prevent contamination of water sources.

How do I prevent my septic system from failing? How can I properly maintain my septic system?

With regular maintenance, your septic system should deteriorate at a normal rate lasting decades. Maintenance usually just includes having your septic system pumped on a timely schedule and making sure you don’t flush or wash anything down the drain that will clog your septic system.

What shouldn’t I flush down the toilet?

As a general rule, flush only human waste and toilet paper. Flushing medication down the toilet is never a good idea, as medication can kill some of the bacteria in your septic tank, which is needed to break down solid waste, and medications may also contaminate nearby well water. You should also refrain from flushing feminine hygiene products, paper towels, tissues, hair, cat litter (even if it’s flushable), diapers, wipes, condoms, cigarettes, and anything else that’s inorganic and seems like it shouldn’t be going down the toilet.

What shouldn’t I pour down the drain?

Kitchen grease, engine oil, anti-freeze, gasoline, paint, and food should not be poured down your drain. Your drains should be free of everything except for soap and water, but you should especially avoid pouring any type of chemicals down your drain that should not be recycled into the earth.

Is using a garbage disposal bad for my septic system?

If you use a garbage disposal, you’ll unfortunately need to pump your septic system much more frequently than if you avoided washing food particles down your drains. Because food is not digested by the bacteria in your tank, too much accumulation of food can clog your drainfield. If you use a garbage disposal, talk to your septic system company about how often it needs to be pumped.

Should I add bacteria to my septic system?

In general, adding bacteria to your septic tank is absolutely unnecessary. There is enough bacteria created by human waste to break down the solid sewage in your tank without the help of bacteria additives. However, if several members of your household are using medications, these will enter your septic system through human waste and kill some of the needed bacteria in your tank. To find out whether you should be concerned about the amount of bacteria-killing substances entering your septic system, contact your septic system company.

There’s a strong sewer odor outside of my house. Could this be my septic tank?

A strong sewage smell coming from your yard could very easily be your septic system, but it could also be coming from something else entirely. Check for propane or gas leaks in your home before deciding that your septic system is to blame, but if your gas or propane lines are not leaking, check how long it’s been since you’ve had your tank pumped, and whether there’s any sewage waste in your yard or other signs of septic system failure.

Can my septic system contaminate nearby water?

If your septic system is not properly maintained or your septic system fails, your septic system can contaminate nearby water sources. Make sure that you have your septic system pumped frequently and inspected if you think there are signs of septic system failure.

My gutters’ downspouts drain into my yard above my septic system. Is this a bad thing?

If your gutters drain into your yard above your septic system, particularly your drainfield, it can be detrimental to your septic system. All water should be routed away from your septic system to avoid flooding or damage to your septic system’s tank or drainfield.