Complicated Septic System:


Today, I got a call from a nice lady confused of why she needed a septic inspection when it was only a year old.  I can totally understand the why.  She paid over 15,000 dollars for this septic system, why does it need inspected all ready.  She stated that it was a basic septic system, and doesn’t know what all the fuss was about.  I told her it’s a real good idea to have your septic system inspected periodically to be sure it is functioning as designed.

She scheduled, and I came out.  I came out to find a pretty complicated septic system.  There is a computer running the whole show, and someone had opened it up and messed with the timers.

Septic System Contol Panel
Septic System Control Panel

Here is a control panel for a septic pump.  It is controlling the on/off time of the pump.  Now at this location, this septic system was engineered to time-dose a sand filter only 20 gallons of effluent every 1 hr and 45 minutes.  And it is to run this setting forever.  Now you may ask, “how do you know how much water is being pumped, there’s no flow gauge or flow meter inline?”  Now this is where things get a bit tricky.

First you must find the volume of the pump tank.  LxWxH.  That is your volume in cubic feet.  In this tank we were 3 feet x 6 feet x 4 feet.   That is 72 cubic feet.  Now we need to convert cubic feet to gallons.  There is 7.48 gallons per cubic foot.  So we multiply the two.   That gives us 538 gallons.  Now, we need to figure out the gallons per inch.  The tank is 4 feet deep, so we divide 538 by 48 inches.  That gives us our gallons/inch.   About 11 gallons of water per inch.

Now we can see how much the pump is pumping.  I took a depth measurement of the water in the tank.  Then turned the pump on for exactly one minute.  I need to know what this pump is pumping per minute.  I got 5 inches of drawdown in one minute.  At 11 gallons per inch, we are pumping 55 gallons per minute.  The pump is doing great and the sandfilter is accepting water at an acceptable level.

Now here’s where the problem is.  I found the on-time for the septic pump at 1 minute 45 seconds on.  That’s over 90 gallons per dose.  This is over the maximum by nearly 4 times the acceptable level.  This now explained to me, and the homeowner why the sandfilter was so soggy.  It was getting slammed too hard all at once.  Remember this septic system was designed to have 20 gallons per dose.  This system was heading down the road to failure quickly.  And it was only a year old.

Here’s a picture of the septic system with the lids opened.

Septic Tank Pumping
Septic Tank Pumping

The lid closest to me is the solids handling tank.  It was nearly empty. One inch of scum and zero sludge.  Second compartment is the clarifying chamber.  It was also empty with zero sludge and zero scum.  But there is a filter in this one that needs cleaned.  I will show a picture of that in a second.

The furtherest lid is the pump compartment.  It’s designed to be a surge tank and gather enough effluent to push it out to the sandfilter. But only time dosing it 20 gallons every hour and 45 minutes.

The first two compartment of this septic tank are what normally needs pumped.  About every 5 years if used properly.  If one person lived on this system, it could easily be 15 years between septic pumpings.   A family of 9 or more would be pumping this more frequently.  Sometimes every 2-3 years.  Remember, this system will only handle what it was designed to process.  In this example, it is designed to handle 360 gallons of wastewater per day.  And yes, showers, baths, laundry, and cleaning is included in this amount.  With a system like this one, if you exceed the amount, an alarm will go off asking you to back off until it can catch up.

Part of the inspection I check to make sure all alarms are functioning.  We want to make sure it will tell you that something is wrong.  There is a silent switch on all alarms.  Let me assure you that this doesn’t mean you fixed it.  It means you acknowledge the alarm and are doing something to fix it.

Septic Filter
Septic Filter

Here is the septic filter I was talking about earlier.  I am taking the picture after it was cleaned, so you aren’t seeing it all goopy and stuff sluffing off of it.  It’s not too pleasant, but it’s job is vital on how long this system can function.

There was one homeowner that was tired of cleaning it yearly, so he threw it away.  Well the filter is designed to trap particles from going into the sand filter and plugging it up.  And yes he plugged up his sandfilter in 5 years, and needed to be replaced.  Another $5,000 – $7,000 dollars for a new sand filter.  Seems like I’d keep it in and keep it clean.

I really hope you are getting a lot of information from this site,  If you are, please leave me a note.

Thanks for reading,



  1. hey,Fantastic blog post dude! i’m Fed up with using RSS feeds and do you use twitter?so i can follow you there:D.
    PS:Do you thought putting video to your blog posts to keep the visitors more interested?I think it works.Sincerely, Meagan Sporysz

  2. What I would do is liquefy the effluent by using a septic system treatment like Miller Plante Inc ‘s Septic Helper 2000. Your pumps will not work as hard and less particles will reach your drain field to clog it up. Miller-Plante, Inc

    1. I truly thank you for your input on this septic tank additive matter.

      As of today 6/12/2010 I have found no literature, or university studies that can prove claims of septic tank additives working. Plus the ones I find actually state that the additives actually hurt septic components.

      For Example National Environmental Services Center

      I copied and pasted this from the National Environmental Services Center’s Website.

      Research conducted by Winnerberger, et al. suggests that some biological additives may increase the biological activity to the point where excess solids can be carried into the soil absorption system. This occurs when anaerobic decomposition of sids causes the formation of methane gas. Ase they rise, bubbles push solids up from the settles portion of the septic tank. Ultimately, this may lead to solids “carryover” to the soil absorption system where clogging can ensue.

      Also copied from the same site:
      Do I need to use additive in my septic system to keep it working?
      A Homeowner does not need to add a stimulator or an enhancer to a septic tank that is designed, operated, and maintained properly 0 naturally occurring bacteria are already present within human fecal matter. Contrary to popular belief, yeast, dead chickens, possums, or raw hamburger do not need to be added to the septic tank.

      I can go on and on. Going from one university to another, finding articles exactly as this one. But I can not find any supported articles on your Miller-Plante, Inc

      I alway have said, if it looks like saw dust, smells like saw dust or burns like saw dust, it’s probably a $170 bucket of saw dust.

      And even with the most trusted septic tank additive out there Rid-X

      Someone posted a question. “If I use Rid-X will I have to have my septic tank pumped?
      Answer was, “Yes, the average recommended time between septic tank pumpings is 3-5 years, depending on the rate of sediment build-up, family size, and other factors. Used regularly, Rid-X helps break down the solid waste in your septic tank. This may slow the accumulation of solid waste in the tank, allowing more time between pumpings.

      Needless to say, septic tanks are giant garbage cans that do need emptying from time to time. But with the study done by the National Environmental Services Center, stating that these additives may actually clog up your drainfield or sand mound. I think I would just let the tank collect the solids, and have them emptied every few years. Instead of a 3,000-9,000 dollar component replacement.

      Thanks for Reading,


  3. Ronnie,

    Thanks for replying. There is studies by the Massachusetts EPA that includes a list of of approved treatments including Septic Helper 2000. Quote “following is a list of septic system additives that have been allowed for use, with certain conditions, as it has been determined that the product will not harm the septic system components” Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection

    Also in Septic Helper 2000, the 8 bacterium ingredients and the 5 enzymes they create are all defined in Wikipedia as bacterium that have real biological functions that break down different types of waste.

    1. That is great. I am so glad to hear back from you. I read the site you provided, and your link is good. But it’s not a study, its more of a we-can’t-prove-it-helps-or-hurts-a-septic-system so use at your own risk disclaimer. Do you have any official studies? The only studies I can find state that it has a big possibility of hurting the septic system by having solids crossover into the drainfields or to sand components. Plus additives have not been studies on ATU systems. That’s aerobic treatment units. Do you have any studies on those?

      Thanks for reading,


  4. Thanks for taking the time to discuss this, I feel strongly about it and love learning more on this topic. If possible, as you gain expertise, would you mind updating your blog with more information? It is extremely helpful for me.

  5. Jim. Thanks for your continued interest. It’s uplifting to know that others are looking at this and I am not just writing for my own benefit. If you check my blog I have added Diaper Wipes. And soon will be rain and septics.

    Thanks for reading,


  6. Hi Ronnie. I check your web site from time to time. When we bought our house 2 years ago, in Ariel, you did our inspection. We didnt get to meet you, but my father in law said you were great. Anyhow, we seem to be the only ones in our neighborhood that truly care about our septic system. I really appreciate all the info you have on here. Thanks for doing what you do.. and caring enough to post it for us!

  7. With havin so much content and articles do you ever run
    into any problems of plagorism or copyright infringement?
    My website has a lot of completely unique content I’ve either authored myself or outsourced but
    it seems a lot of it is popping it up all over the web without my agreement.

    Do you know any solutions to help stop content from being ripped off?
    I’d genuinely appreciate it.

    Feel free to surf to my webpage:

  8. Thank you for every other excellent article. The place else
    may just anyone get that type of information in such a perfect means
    of writing? I have a presentation next week, and I’m on the look
    for such info.

  9. Wonderful items from you, man. I havve consider your stuff prior to and you’re simply too magnificent.
    I actually like what you have acquired right here, really like what you’re saying and the way in which through which you sayy it.

    You are making it enjoyable and you continue to care for to stay it sensible.
    I cant wait to read much more from you. This is really a wonderful site.

    my blog post:

  10. It’s really interesting that septic system specialists install alarms into their systems so owners are not surprised by their pipes backing up. That makes me wonder how you can access the alarms and what levels they can be set at. I would imagine that it would be good to have them set a ways back from the top, so a septic cleaning service can have time to come in and pump.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *