The Beginner’s Guide to a Septic System

February 1, 2018

So, you’ve found yourself the owner of a septic system. It can be a little daunting for someone new to the prospect of living on a property that’s not connected to a city sewer system, but Bishop-Thiem is here to tell you that it’s not so different from the life you’re used to living. Last month, we gave you a set of common septic system terms that any owner should familiarize themselves with, and this month we’ll be delving a little deeper into some of the basics of what you should know to best take care of your system.

How Large Is Your Septic Tank?

This might seem like a difficult question to answer at first (it might be a little easier if you have a septic tank riser), seeing as your septic tank resides beneath the ground, but it is nonetheless an important one. The size of your septic tank is one of the factors that dictates the frequency at which it needs to be pumped. Fortunately, there are a few ways of ascertaining the size of your tank. First, start with this simple table:

Number of Bedrooms Septic Tank Capacity (gallons)
1 or 2 750
3 1,000
4 or 5 1,500

While this table can be a helpful tool, it by no means is a definitive answer. If you have paperwork prepared by the system’s original installer or by the last provider to have serviced the system, that may prove to be more informative. Your local Environmental Health office may also have it on file. Of course, the only way to be absolutely certain is to hire a maintenance provider to inspect the tank and provide you with a precise answer.

Where Is Your Septic Tank Located?

While this table can be a helpful tool, it by no means is a definitive answer. If you have paperwork prepared by the system’s original installer or by the last provider to have serviced the system, that may prove to be more informative. Your local Environmental Health office may also have it on file. Of course, the only way to be absolutely certain is to hire a maintenance provider to inspect the tank and provide you with a precise answer.

Septic tanks are typically buried anywhere between four inches and four feet beneath the ground. If you’re unfamiliar with the location of your septic tank lid, it may be a difficult endeavor to locate where the tank is buried. If you have access to a county map, you may be able to find record of the septic tank installation and precisely where it was placed on your property.

Remember that septic tanks are typically between 10 and 25 feet away from your home and never closer than five feet. Walk along your property and scan for areas that may have unexplained high or low spots in the lawn. This is often a sign of your septic tank’s location.

If you’re just having no luck at all finding your septic tank, consider contacting the last provider to have serviced it. They should have the information on file.

What Is Your Septic Tank Made Of?

You might think that the material your septic tank is made of is unimportant, but by discovering this information, there’s a lot you can learn about the service it may need down the road. Typically, we find septic tanks in the area are made out of either concrete or plastic/fiberglass.

Concrete septic tanks usually last for several decades before issues begin to crop up. It’s not uncommon to find cracks or complete separation in these tanks, allowing waste to flow from the tank or allowing groundwater in. In either case, it’s important to get the tank inspected and potentially replaced.

If you have a plastic septic tank, there is little risk of cracking, but that doesn’t mean it’s impervious to difficulty. These tanks are also more resistant to natural chemical processes, but they can still be damaged. Due to the lighter weight of the tank, it’s more susceptible to structural damage in the event that a vehicle drives over it or if the tank begins to rise out of the ground.


Of course, this is by no means a comprehensive list of everything you can know about your septic system. Knowing whether your utility or sprinkler lines run over or near the tank, if there is a 4-inch plumbing clean out between the house and the tank, or when the last time solids were pumped from the tank – this is all useful information. Once you think you’ve found out as much as you can on your own, be sure to call Bishop-Thiem Septic Services to help you with the rest.

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