Inspecting the Septic Tank Condition Before Pumping Begins

PHOTO of the septic tank cleanout cover being removed.A Photographic Guide to Pumping a Septic Tank

Article contents

  • Inspect septic area safety before approaching the septic tank – do not approach an area of subsidence without expert assistance – risk of fatality
  • Inspect septic tank covers & cleanouts for safe secure closure
  • Inspect septic tank baffles for indications abnormally high sewage levels: blockage
  • Inspect septic tank sewage level for abnormallyi low sewage level – leaks
  • Measure floating scum & settled sludge layers before tank pumpout to adjust tank pumping frequency

As the septic tank cleanout cover is lifted clear of the tank the worker keeps his back straight to avoid injury.

Notice that the worker above has also spread his feet and found secure footing before lifting the tank cover. Slipping at this point can lead to a serious injury or even to falling into the septic tank.

PHOTO of the septic tank opening after the cover has been removed.Once the septic tank cover has been removed, we can observe that the level of sewage in the tank is at a normal level (Second photo at left). Low sewage level in an in-use system would indicate a leaky or damaged septic tank.

Before starting tank pumping, inspect:

  • Septic tank area safety check: The surrounding conditions for safety: are there small children playing nearby? Is there a curious owner inclined to lean over to look into the tank? Keep people away from open septic tanks – falling in is likely to be fatal. Is there evidence of subsidence at or near the septic tank? If so do not approach the tank without expert assistance. A collapsing septic tank cover could lead to a cave-in and a fatality.
  • Septic Tank Cover and Access Covers: The condition of the septic tank cover itself and the cover opening for soundness and safety.
  • Septic Tank Baffles: The condition of the septic tank baffles. For an explanation of septic tank baffle condition and for notes on how to replace or repair septic tank baffles, see the link: “Baffles: Inspecting the Condition of Septic Tank Baffles” at “More Reading” below. When a septic tank is opened at a center cleanout port the baffles are not easily visible except indirectly by mirror or camera held inside the tank.PHOTO of a modern concrete septic tank baffle
  • However for this case we opened and inspected the septic tank inlet baffles as shown in this photo of a concrete septic tank baffle.The sewage atop the concrete tank baffle suggested that the septic tank had been flooded in the past. We located and corrected the source of water leaking into the tank. In this case the leak was at the inlet pipe to the septic tank where water was collecting by running down the hill into the sewer line trench.We sealed the entry to the septic tank with concrete as shown in the second photo of a concrete seal at the sewer line entry to the septic tank.
    You cannot see all of the baffles before the tank is pumped but inspect the baffle tops for evidence of corrosion, damage, total absence, or of sewage flowing over the baffle top (an indication of excessive in-tank sewage levels).
  • PHOTO of a repair at a septic tank leak at its inlet pipeThickness of scum and sludge levels: Septic tank maximum scum and sludge buildup prior to pump out, and instructions for measuring the floating scum layer thickness and settled sludge layer thickness in a septic tank are available in a separate chapter atMEASURE SCUM & SLUDGE
  • High sewage level may mean a blocked tank outlet or a failed leach field.
  • Low sewage level may mean a tank leak. See our notes below about leaks into septic tanks and leaks out of a septic tank. See  Septic Tank Leaks for details about why septic tank leaks are a problem. .
  • (See “Levels: Inspecting the Level of Accumulated Solids, Sludge and Floating Scum in Treatment Tanks” link at “More Reading” below.)

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