Featuring America's Home Inspector: Nationally Syndicated Columnist, Barry Stone

The House Detective by Barry Stone, Certified Home Inspector

Dear Barry: I’m not sure how often to have my septic tank pumped, but I’ve heard two opinions on the subject. Some say I should pump the system every 1-2 years. Others say, “If it’s not broken, don’t fix it.” Just leave it alone unless there’s a problem. Some even say that needless pumping can cause loosened solids to clog the leach lines. It’s been twelve years since my septic system has been pumped. What do you recommend? Ken

Dear Ken: The septic opinions you’ve heard are incorrect in opposite extremes. Pumping the tank every 1-2 years is needlessly excessive. As long as the bacterial environment in the tank is good, the solids should continue to decompose, and as long as the leach field was property installed and is not too old, the liquids should continue to be absorbed into the earth through the leach lines.

Maintaining the bacterial balance in the tank can be done simply and inexpensively. There are common products for this purpose, available in hardware stores. All that is needed is to flush the contents down the toilet once or twice a year. And care should be taken not to drain strong laundry detergents or other chemicals into the system.

To ensure that the system is performing adequately, the tank should probably be pumped every five years. The idea that pumping will clog the leach field is unfounded: pumping removes the solids from the system before they can flow downstream to the leach lines.

If you’ve gone 12 years without the system being pumped and inspected, you’re long overdue and should have this done soon.