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Frequently Ask Questions
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Septic Tank Problems Frequently Asked Questions for customers in Decatur, Bloomington, Champaign, Springfield and all surrounding areas

Where will I find my septic tank located?

You can usually find the septic tank buried somewhere in your yard. It may be the front yard or the backyard. Many newer septic tanks are marked with visible lids that sit around ground level. If your septic tank doesn’t have a lid, you may be able to see it, because the grass will grow faster and greener in this location. If there are no visible signs, you should contact the local health department, as they should have a record of the permit and a diagram of the tank.

How large are septic tanks?

Septic tanks are not a one-size-fits-all sewage solution. In fact, they’re sold in a range of sizes to meet the needs of various commercial and residential applications. The size of the tank you need will depend on a number of factors that include the number of bedrooms and bathrooms in the home, the number of people living there, the total square footage and much more. A local plumber from Sewer & Septic Specialist can provide better insight as to what size of tank your property will need.

Why do septic tanks need to be pumped out?

When waste flows into the septic tank, it’s broken down by bacteria, and the solid waste floats to the bottom as sludge. Over time, this sludge builds up, and it could cause problems such as a tank overflow if you don’t have it cleaned out on a regular basis. Most septic tanks allow for a few years of sludge buildup, but this depends mainly on your usage. As the sludge level rises, there’s less time for the solid waste to settle at the bottom of the tank, meaning, eventually that sludge starts to leach out into the yard, causing thousands of dollars in damage. To prevent this, you should be pumping your tank out about every 2 years or so.

How often should septic tanks be pumped out?

As a general rule, you should have your tank pumped out every 2 – 3 years. However, the length of time between pumpings will have more to do with the size of your family, the size of your home and your usage volume. Larger families may need more pumping while smaller families can get away with waiting longer in between pumpings. Regular pumpings help maintain the system, which helps it last longer and save money on fewer repairs over time.

Why does my tank fill up so fast?

The tank being full of water is not alarming. In fact, this is quite normal. The purpose of removing the sludge is to prevent damage to the system components and septic tank overflows. The tank will fill up with water as part of the natural process, but the level of the water should be below the bottom of your outlet line. If you just had your tank pumped, and the water is above the outlet line, you need to have your system inspected and repaired by a trained professional.

What are the warning signs that my septic tank has a problem?

It’s important to keep an eye out for strange things that happen with your plumbing system, as this may be a sign of a problem. Here are some of the signs that may alert you to something wrong with your system:

  • Water surfacing in the yard
  • Gurgling from sinks, toilets or laundry hookups
  • Slow draining toilets and sinks
  • Plumbing backups in sinks, toilets or tubs
  • Pump alarm is going off
  • Foul odors present in and out of the home
What should I flush down the toilet?

Unfortunately, people flush things down the toilet that are causing damage to their plumbing system with clogs and buildups. Here is a list of things that you should NEVER flush down your toilet:

  • Plastics
  • Cigarettes
  • Paper Towels
  • Facial Tissue
  • Baby Wipes
  • Diapers
  • Grease
  • Feminine Hygiene Products
  • Condoms
What additives can I use to help maintain my septic tank?

Using additive is a common practice among those that have septic tanks at their homes. Unfortunately, there are many things that you can add to your tank, but the results may be varied. Here are a few general tips about using additives in your septic tank.

  • Using additives that are too basic or too acidic can cause a problem called sludge bulking that may disturb the biological activity of the tank. Additionally, the additives could get into the soil and change the characteristics of your landscaping and grass.
  • Adding enzymes without adding bacteria could lead to the loading of the drain field, which could cause a system failure.
  • Adding yeast may increase the performance of your system.
  • Root killer products shouldn’t affect the performance of the system if they are used as they are supposed to, according to the directions.
What chemicals can I use that are safe for my tank?

Don’t put chemicals in your system! No chemical on the market is going to enhance or maintain the performance of your tank.

Do I have to make the top of my tank accessible?

Yes, the lid needs to be accessible to inspect, maintain and repair your septic tank. However, these things can easily be installed at ground level to minimize how much you can see them and prevent access from children or pets.

Can I flush unused pills down the toilet?

No. This can be extremely harmful. The septic system and the biology inside the tank are meant for breaking down human waste. When chemicals from pills and other pharmaceuticals are added, it upsets the balance of bacteria that help the septic system break down waste. This causes solid waste to build up much quicker, causing you to pay for pumping and repairs.

I can smell a strong odor in my home – is this my septic tank?

It’s possible that this could be a septic system problem, but don’t jump to conclusions just yet. First, evaluate the smell to find out where it’s coming from. Does this smell like rotten eggs? If so, it may be a gas leak as opposed to a septic problem. If you suspect a gas leak, leave the house immediately and call your gas company for further instruction. If it smells more like sewage, it’s probably a septic problem that needs to be addressed by a professional.

My downspouts drain onto the lawn – will this affect my septic tank?

Yes. This can hurt your septic system depending on the layout of your property and slope of your land. Any runoff water should be channeled away from your system either with guttering or by sloping the land. Excess water can hurt the system by flooding it.

What are the benefits of a new septic system?

The biggest benefit of a new septic system is the advances in plumbing and materials that have likely been made since the last one was installed. If your system was installed not that long ago, you won’t see much change. However, if you’re going from a really old system to a brand new tank, you’ll experience much better performance from your tank.

How long will my septic system last?

The lifespan of your system will depend on a number of different things. If installed correctly, maintained appropriately and used modestly, the drainfields may last up to 20 or 30 years. Once again, that’s with proper maintenance, installation, and repairs. After this amount of time, steel tanks tend to rust. On the other hand, concrete septic tanks usually last much longer, especially if the soil has a favorable pH balance. Some concrete tanks will last the lifespan of the home, while others last a minimum of 50 years.

How much will a new septic system cost me?

Septic systems are not cheap, but the cost will depend on the size and work involved in getting it installed in your yard. You can estimate these numbers by using the number of bedrooms as a simple rule of thumb. For instance, a 1,250-gallon tank should be suitable for a three bedroom home, which can range from $6,000 to $8,000. A five bedroom home would need a larger, 1,500-gallon tank, which may cost up to $8,000 to $12,000. Once again, these estimates are highly dependent on your home, where you live, the size of the home, your water usage and more. Call a local septic company for more details about what a new system installation will cost you.

Will a garbage disposal hurt my system?

You should only use your garbage disposal in moderation as it can cause food waste that builds up in the system and causes blockages and clogs. Frequently use of the garbage disposal may prohibit the waste from getting a chance to settle, which could cost substantial amount to repair if it begins to leak into the yard.

My yard has a wet spot, and it smells bad – is something wrong?

It sounds like there’s most likely something wrong with your drain field. If too much waste has been put into your tank or it has been too long in between pumpings, sewage could get into the drain field and produce a film that prohibits the water from draining into the ground. Eventually, the water will end up in the front yard, which will cause a smelly odor and a health hazard that should be cleaned up as soon as possible.

I'm building a new home – how do I get a permit for my septic tank?

Call your local health department for details about forms, permits and other things associated with the installation of a new septic tank.

Is there a certain type of system that’s best for me?

Yes. However, this depends on your property, usage and other factors. Most likely one system will favor your needs over the other. You should ask this of your septic professional before making any decision. Additionally, the permit received from the Health Department will identify the type of system that your home requires.

What does a septic inspection cover?

During a septic inspection, we send a professional to your property to thoroughly check the following things:


  • The type of system that you have
  • The amount of water and waste the system will hold
  • The level of the liquid at the top of the tank
  • The amount of surface discharge or effluent on the ground
  • Whether or not water entered tank from the home
  • Whether or not the outlet tee was in place
  • The overall working condition of the tank
  • The overall condition of the lids or risers
  • Whether or not the tank needed pumping service
  • Whether or not the tank was working properly

Why choose Sewer & Septic Specialist?

We’re proud to be the local provider of these essential services for people in Decatur, IL, and throughout the surrounding communities across Central IL. Additionally, we know you could take your money anywhere for sewer and septic services. With that in mind, we make it our goal to reward customers with a hassle-free experience that won’t gouge them on price. Why choose us? Because…