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Frequently Asked Questions



How do I locate my septic tank?

You will want to identify where the sewer main leaves the house.  If you have a basement or crawl space you can look for a 4-inch pipe…follow where it goes out of the foundation.  If you don’t have a basement/crawl space, or the sewer main is under the foundation, you will have to look for the lowest drain in the house.  This is usually a floor drain in the laundry area and this is generally the area where the pipe will leave the house.  

Once you have an idea where the pipe exits the house you want to go outside to that part of the house and take a ¼” or ½” steel rod about 5’ long (concrete re-bar will work but a stainless steel rod is better because it doesn’t “stick” to soils as much) and start probing the ground next to the foundation until you hit the pipe.  Be careful.  Poke too hard and you could poke a hole in the pipe, particularly if it is older cast iron pipe. 

Once you find it you will want to move further out a few feet at a time to track the pipe until you locate the septic tank.  Tanks are usually 10 to 20 feet away from the house.  Once you find the tank you will want to probe around it to get the outline.  Tanks can be round, square or rectangular, but once you know the size you can start digging right in the middle.   


Can you pump my septic tank through the 4 or 6 inch extension?  
Yes we can pump out your septic tank this way; however the best way to clean the septic tank is to uncover the top of the tank so that pumping can be completed in all compartments of the tank. 


A septic tank is designed as a water-tight container with a water capacity usually in excess of 1,000 gallons plus air and scum space equivalent to approximately 25% of water capacity.  Inside of the tank, the waste is separated in to three layers:  solid waste or a sludge layer that accumulates on the bottom of the tank and provides a place for anaerobic (non-air breathing) bacteria to break it down.  The middle layer consists of wastewater.  Oils and greases create a scum layer that floats on top.  


Ideally, each compartment of the tank should have a riser at grade for cleaning, preferably 12-24 inches in diameter, but no less than 9-inches.  When pumping through only the small extensions, we can only pump out water from the tank; solids are not removed, as hose reach is limited.  


If your septic tank is not cleaned properly periodically (recommended every 2 to 4 years), it fills up and eventually the solids migrate out of the tank and into the drainage field.  This sludge accumulation then prevents the drainage field from absorbing the wastewater making it necessary to install a new and costly leach field.  


How often should a septic tank be pumped?

There are many guidelines about how often a septic tank should be pumped. The absolute answer is to measure the amount of sludge and scum in the tank and pump when it exceeds recommended levels. Remember that the septic tank acts as a separation device separating solids and greases from the water. It takes time for this to happen and generally the tank should be three to four times larger than the daily flow of waste. This gives three to four days for the water to pass through the tank. As the tank fills, this time is reduced and the effectiveness of the tank declines.

Another way of looking at this is to remember that the most expensive part of the septic system is the drain field. Therefore every effort should be made to protect the drain field. The only thing in the septic tank that generally has the potential to fail are the baffles. These can be inspected at the time of pumping. Perhaps a better guideline is to pump the septic tank at least every three years so that the baffles can be inspected and the drain field protected. If there is heavy usage of the system, then pumping more often may be warranted.  See Maintaining Your Septic System – A Guide For Homeowners.  


Should I use an additive or system cleaner for my septic tank?

While many products on the market claim to help septic systems work better, the truth is there is no magic potion to cure an ailing system. In fact, most engineers and sanitation professionals believe that commercial septic system additives are, at best, useless, and at worst, harmful to a system.  There are two types of septic system additives: biological (like bacteria, enzymes, and yeast) and chemical. The biological additives are harmless but some chemical additives can potentially harm the soil in the drain field and contaminate the groundwater.  While there hasn’t been extensive study on the effectiveness of these products, the general consensus among septic system experts is that septic system additives are an unnecessary evil.  Be aware that the extended use of strong pharmaceuticals and personal care products may harm the working bacteria population in the tank. 


Can I use a garbage disposal if I have a septic system?
Garbage disposals are not recommended for septic systems, because the food particles fill up the septic tank faster.  If a garbage disposal is used the tank must be cleaned twice as often. 


What is the difference between seepage pit/drywell and a cesspool?
Both of these systems rely on a pit as the water absorption system. In general these will be older systems because in most areas permits cannot be obtained to install pits anymore. A seepage pit/drywell has a septic tank in front of it which collects the solids and greases. A cesspool acts as both the septic tank and the soil absorption system. While many cesspools and seepage pits operate for years, they are more prone to failure and are more difficult to restore. Proper maintenance can help extend their lives.

Seepage pits and cesspools were generally installed where there was good soil drainage. This was important since they have small soil absorption areas. If there is a relationship between the amount of surface area and the ability to absorb water, then most of the water in pits is absorbed through the bottoms. The side walls account for a small amount of absorption since there is little water pressure available to drive the water into the ground. As you go further from the pit, the water pressure also decreases. Over time, the soil outside the pit will become saturated which also decreases the ability to function as an absorption system. This is one reason why a large amount of water can be pumped from a seepage pit or it can fill quickly after pumping. The water from the surrounding ground is draining back into the pit.

The treatment of a seepage pit or cesspool depends on treatment of the bottom to improve the water absorption ability. Because the bottom is almost always going to be anaerobic, this also increases the possibility of failure.


What are the baffles?
The baffles on the inlet and outlet side of the septic tank are designed to prevent solids and greases from passing directly through the septic tank to the drain field. Modern designs also have a gas deflector to prevent the gases released from the biological action from carrying some of the solids out of the tank. These generally are made of concrete or plastic. They may also incorporate a filter to help prevent large pieces of solids from passing to the drain field.  An effluent filter should be installed on the outlet of a septic tank.


What is a riser or extension?

It is essential that the septic tank be available for inspection and cleaning. In order to facilitate this, a riser generally concrete can be placed over the lid and inspection ports, a heavy corrugated pipe can be used to make an “extension” to just below ground level. This will allow access with minimal disturbance of the yard and reduce potential time and costs for maintenance. 


The same situation occurs for the distribution box, a riser can make inspection of the water levels in this component of the system easier. It also provides access for any treatment of the soil absorption system.


If there is no distribution box, the a riser can be added to the system by putting a “T” or a “Y” adaptor in the pipe between the septic tank and the soil absorption system to allow for inspection or treatment of this component of the system. It is better if the adaptor allows a six inch piece of pipe to come the surface since this makes it easier to observe the conditions in the drainpipe at the bottom treat the system if necessary.



Do I need a Licensed Engineer to design my septic system?
Some areas in New York State do require a Licensed Engineer to design new septic systems, generally if over a 1,000 gpd flow rate.  However, before purchasing any property, consult with your local Health Department, as many counties have completed soils evaluations which reveal the characteristics of the property and the Health Departments can make recommendations as to what type of system is required for that area.    


What are some alternatives to a septic system?
An alternative to the common drain field is the Seepage Pit (Dry Well). In this type, liquid flows to a pre-cast tank with sidewall holes, surrounded by gravel. (Older versions usually consist of a pit with open-jointed brick or stone walls.) Liquid seeps through the holes or joints to the surrounding soil.  


Septic Tank: Waste water flows from the house to the septic tank. The tank is designed to retain waste water and allow heavy solids to settle to the bottom. These solids are partially decomposed by bacteria to form sludge. Grease and light particles float, forming a layer of scum on top of the waste water. Baffles installed at the inlet and outlet of the tank to help prevent scum and solids from escaping. Newer septic tanks can have a partial concrete dividing wall in the center, thus making two compartments. This helps ensure the sludge does not get forced out of the baffle into the drainfield. Newer tanks can also have two manhole covers, one above each baffle.


Another alternative is the Sand Mound System: These systems are used in areas where the site is not suitable for traditional septic systems. For instance, the soil may have too much clay to allow the water to seep through at the proper rate, or the water table may be too close to the ground surface. In these systems, the waste water flows from the septic tank to a storage tank. The liquid is then pumped from the tank to perforated plastic pipes buried in a mound of sand built on the original soil surface. This system provides a layer of suitable soil thick enough to ensure adequate time and distance for proper treatment of the waste water. Vegetation growing on the mound helps to evaporate some of the liquid. This is particularly important in areas with shallow water tables. 


Tile Field: A solid pipe leads from the septic tank to a distribution box where the waste water is channeled into one or more perforated pipes set in trenches of gravel. Here the water slowly infiltrates (seeps) into the underlying soil. Dissolved wastes and bacteria in the water are trapped or adsorbed to soil particles or decomposed by microorganisms. This process removes disease-causing organisms, organic matter, and most nutrients (except nitrogen and some salts). The purified wastewater then either moves to the ground water or evaporates from the soil. Tile systems are the most common type of system used in new home construction.   This system can also be constructed using gravel-less (bio-2 or chamber) trenching.


Sand Filters:  Sand filters have been proven to be an effective method of final treatment for effluent from residential septic tanks or aerobic treatment units.  In sand filters, the effluent from the primary treatment system is directed to the filter, where final biological treatment takes place.  Sand filters are constructed due to tight or clay soils conditions.  



What is an Aerobic Home Wastewater Treatment Unit?

​AEROBIC HOME WASTEWATER TREATMENT UNITS (ATU) - An onsite treatment system that collects, treats and disposes of wastewater from a single source in the same location that it is generated. Treatment plants remove impurities contained in wastewater so that the treated wastewater can be safely returned to the environment.

Sheesley’s provides 3-year/6-inspection Aerobic Service Contracts as required by Chemung County and New York State Regulations for every ATU unit we sell.  We have factory trained service technicians and we attend installation and refresher training.  

Contact our office at 607-733-1862, Monday – Friday 8:00 am to 5:00 pm to obtain more information regarding Aerobic Home Wastewater Treatment Units.