If you own or rent a house with a septic system, you may be worried about it getting full and causing problems. Septic tanks that are in good condition do not require much attention beyond pumping. Neglecting to empty the septic tank before it gets full can cause a lot of inconvenience and damage. If you want your septic tank to function properly for a longer period, it is best to know the signs that your septic tank is full.
Below, we detail some of the top ways to know if your septic tank is full so you can be ready to act if the occasion arises. But remember that developing a regular schedule for pumping every 3-5 years could save you the hassle of cleaning up a mess and could actually extend the life of your system.
What is a Septic Tank and How Does It Work?
Septic systems are underground wastewater treatment structures, commonly used in rural areas without centralized sewer systems. They use a combination of nature and proven technology to treat wastewater from household plumbing produced by bathrooms, kitchen drains, and laundry.
A typical septic system consists of a septic tank and a drainfield, or soil absorption field.
The septic tank digests organic matter and separates floatable matter (e.g., oils and grease) and solids from the wastewater. Soil-based systems discharge the liquid (known as effluent) from the septic tank into a series of perforated pipes buried in a leach field, chambers, or other special units designed to slowly release the effluent into the soil.
When the septic tank is maintained correctly, it can serve your home well, generating all the wastewater from your home.
Specifically, this is how a typical conventional septic system works:
- All water runs out of your house via one main drainage pipe into a septic tank.
- The septic tank is a buried, water-tight container usually made of concrete, fiberglass, or polyethylene. The tank is responsible for holding the wastewater long enough to allow solids to settle down to the bottom forming sludge, while the oil and grease floats to the top as scum.
- The liquid wastewater (effluent) then exits the tank into the drainfield (a shallow, covered, excavation made in unsaturated soil). Pretreated wastewater is discharged through piping onto porous surfaces that allow wastewater to filter though the soil.
- The soil accepts, treats, and disperses wastewater as it percolates through the soil, ultimately discharging to groundwater.
- Finally, the wastewater percolates into the soil, naturally removing harmful coliform bacteria, viruses and nutrients. Coliform bacteria are a group of bacteria predominantly inhabiting the intestines of humans or other warm-blooded animals. It is an indicator of human fecal contamination.
What Does “Full Tank” Mean?
Before we take you through the signs that you must look out for, it is also important that you understand what a “full tank” actually means. Experts usually refer to the below three definitions to define a “full tank”.
- Tank Filled To Normal Level
This simply means that your septic tank is filled to the level deemed to be normal, meaning the water level is the height it was designed to hold. This level of “full” also implies that the intake and outtake valve allows waste and wastewater to flow in and out of the septic tank with no issues. When a tank is pumped it will be emptied, but as it’s used it will return to the normal level of “full”.
- Sludge Has Accumulated
This is a common situation that is faced by many people who own a septic tank. Sludge gets built over time and gets trapped in the tank. It does not disappear on its own, but needs to be removed periodically so that it does not block the tank. When paper and solid waste continues to be used in a filled tank and gets trapped in the tank due to not being pumped. Wastewater continues to flow out the to the drainage area.
- Over-Filled Tank
This is the point on concern, when the drainage field stops accepting water. In this situation, water will start backing up into the overflow tank. At this stage, water level rises beyond the normal level.
Signs Your Septic Tank Is Full
Now that you understand the different scenarios when your septic tank can be full, we can dive into the signs that your septic tank is full.
Be on the lookout for the below signs and get your septic tank pumped at the right time, to prevent damage to your property and to the tank.
Warning Sign #1: Time Interval Since the Last Pumping
The absolute top way of knowing if your septic tank might be full is simply understanding what the proper pumping interval for your septic system is. This will depend on the size of your septic tank and the number of people using it.
Septic tanks should typically be pumped every 3 to 5 years. The exact interval will depend on several factors specific to your home, such as:
- Size of the septic tank
- Household size
- Amount of waste water generated
- Volume of solid waste
If you have recently moved into your home, ask the previous owners for a copy of the pumping and maintenance schedule that was performed on the tank prior to you moving in. If you cannot determine the last time your septic tank was pumped, we suggest getting it pumped immediately and starting the proper normal pumping interval from the time you get it pumped. This clears up any uncertainty and gives you peace of mind that your system will be okay for a few years.
Warning Sign #2: Unpleasant Smell or Odors
You should not smell anything coming from your system. Any foul smell coming from the septic tank is usually a pretty obvious sign that the septic tank is full or at least almost full. If the septic tank is full, it may start to affect performance due to clogging, overflow and extra waste. When the tank is full, the gases in it do not get an escape route and you will notice a foul smell in your drains, sinks and area surrounding the tank. This is the time to immediately call for your local West Coast Sanitation septic tank expert.
Never ignore the septic tank’s unpleasant odor because it can lead you to trouble in the near future as sewage may start to seep into your property or the land around the storage tank.
Warning Sign #3: Slow Drainage
Warning sign number three that your septic tank might be full is the existence of slow drains in your home. Drains should flow clearly and quickly. When your septic tank is full, the sludge (solids in the bottom of the septic tank) may clog your drainage pipes which in turn cause slow drainage. Slow drainage can be caused by multiple issues, not just a full septic tank. If only one drain is slow, then it could be a clog in that specific pipe drain. However, if the drains are slow throughout the house or in multiple locations, it could indicate your septic tank is full and needs to be emptied. The slow drains could be a symptom of a back-up from the overfilled septic tank.
Warning Sign # 4: Standing Water
Puddles or pools of water around the drain field are a sure shot sign of the tank being full. When the septic tank is loaded in its capacity, you will start to notice water accumulation in various places around the yard. The most common place where this happens is the area around the actual septic tank and/or drainage area. If there is too much solid waste in the septic tank, the sludge will move into the pipes in the drainage zone. Once solid waste blocks these pipes, the drainage area will not work properly. When water enters the field, it will not flow through the pipeline as designed but will accumulate in a specific area.
Warning Sign # 5: Gurgling Sound In Pipes
The gurgling or bubbling sound of sewage water is an alarming sign that your septic tank is full and needs to be emptied. You should never hear gurgling in your toilet or pipes. If you hear any gurgling or bubbling sound of sewage water, please do not ignore it. This is the indication that your septic tank needs to be emptied, especially if the sound is consistent. Such a persistent sound is a sign that your tank if full and needs pumping. The sound usually comes from the toilet, especially after using it.
Warning Sign #6: Slow or Troublesome Flushing
Your toilets should flush flawlessly every time. If your toilets show a sign of struggle when being flushed, there are high chances that your septic tank is full. If all the toilets are showing this, then it is surely beyond a local clog.
Warning Sign # 7: Overly Healthy Grass
While super healthy grass may seem like a good thing, it could actually signal that your septic tank might be full and needs to be emptied. We are not saying that green grass definitely means you are headed for trouble. We are talking about abnormally green or lush lawn above a portion or your septic system. This can be common around the drainage field.
It is normal for the grass above the drainage field to be a bit greener or nicer than the rest of the lawn, but an overly lush or super green lawn could mean you have an issue with your septic tank needing to be pumped. Like standing water, the outer area directly surrounding the septic tank may show signs of overflow or leakage.
Warning Sign #8: Sewage Back Up
This sign is probably the most obvious sign your septic tank is full. This is also probably the worst warning sign since it is a pretty severe indication you have a big problem that needs to be addressed right away as raw sewage can cause a health risk.
Call West Coast Sanitation Today!
The fact is that many homes and septic systems were not designed to handle the load put on them from modern appliances and modern lifestyles. But, with a little care and awareness, you can manage this impact and help to avoid increased maintenance problems and the need for costly system repairs and replacement.
At West Coast Sanitation, we know that you don’t have time to deal with septic problems. If you think that your system has reached capacity, please give us a call right away. We have professionals ready to answer your questions and get your system working properly again.