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Bigbartguy

pumping septic system - how often?

22 posts in this topic

hi folks

Our cabin used to have 2 full-time residents and septic was emptied once every year.

Now it's only being used on summer weekends (for the most part) and gets nowhere near as much use. Is there a recommended max time between pump outs?

i.e. - I dont think it needs to be pumped, but am wondering if you should have it pumped every 2 years or something to keep it running correctly?

thanks!

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I'm not a septic systems specialist or expert but my guess is that he only reason for having them pumped is to prevent over-filling and clogging the drainage/mound system.

About the only other concern I can imagine is if it doesn't get enough use, there is an increased risk of freezing during the winter months and maybe emptying it in the fall can help prevent that.

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We use our cabin most weekends of the year and we were pumping every other year. We had a freeze up this winter and our septic guy moved us to once a year due to the heavy use. I would say that letting it go more then 3 is not recommended even with little use as it gets sludge build up. I would ask your septic service but I bet every other will be fine.

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I always have the tanks pumped in the fall cuz I don't use the cabin in the winter. Freezing can and will happen if the conditions are right.

There are some septic treatments you can use to break the waste down.

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I am new to septics myself, but isn't there also a problem with the tanks not having enough "stuff" in them over winter? Where frost can heave an empty tank up if not partly full?

My neighbor has very busy cabin (lots of people, every weekend) and he said he pumps about every third year. Spetic was put in about 10 years ago, and rated for a 4 bedroom home, I think.

We use Rid-x... not sure if works, but we use it smile

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I am new to septics myself, but isn't there also a problem with the tanks not having enough "stuff" in them over winter? Where frost can heave an empty tank up if not partly full?

I just purchased a new home with a new septic system, the septic installer was only worried about us not putting enough "stuff" into the tank during the winter. He said all the bacteria keeps the tank warm in the winter. This seems true enough because my last home had a septic system and in the spring the snow above the tank would melt long before the rest of the snow in the yard.

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I think there's a difference between a septic system used for a year 'round home vs. a cabin that gets used occasionally and only during the summer months.

You're correct that the bacteria is what keeps them warm but if they aren't used enough the fluids inside may be able to evaporate to the point that the bacteria can't survive inside the solid waste portion of the tank and that's when a problem could arise.

I'm only stating an opinion. I would recommend checking with an expert in this situation.

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In the metro suburbs the pumping schedule is dictated by the county. Every 2 or 3 years depending on how the tank was pumped. Not sure if that would change for a cabin or if it would even matter depending on what county it is in?

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Interesting. I am stopping using Rid-X now. The link above didn't really give much info unless you ordered the booklet, but more research found this one:

http://www.septicsystem.com/additives/

I'm going to use the bathroom and forget about it going forward. Pump maybe every third year, or when the alarm goes off wink

Thanks for the good info all.

fyi - if the link goes away, just put "septic system additive" into search engine, similar to what Tom said, but just any search engine.

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I know we had our septic system pumped once in 3 years. My septic guy asked me to make sure I'm not using those blue things in the toilet and don't use antibacterial soap. So I think I'll stick to the 3 years.

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This is taking the subject a bit off course, but I think there may be several things that could be done to help deal with the frozen septic issue in seasonal places. The first would be to insulate the mound or tank as well as possible. Putting down foam insulation above the tank is probably the best solution but really only available during an install or after a lot of work. Putting a thick mat of straw on it would help.

There have been a number of claims in the past about a tank popping up because it was not full enough and either the water table or frost pushed it up. You have to expect that there isn't going to be enough decomp to keep it warm once the frost gets into it. Options would be a slow release of hot water - but not really practical. So how about some sort of tank heater on a timer? They have tank heaters for troughs for cattle. Could you put one in a tank and put it on a timer to cycle for a couple hours a day? That would keep the tank from freezing and then you'd have to worry about the line from the house to the tank

It's going to be tough to know how bad the frost is going to get, and then balance off the cost and effort of keeping the system going against the number of times you are going to be able to use the place. The one thing I can't see is going through all the work and expense of getting one thawed out once thet battle has been lost. That would have to run into the hundreds of dollars. Probably cheaper to rent a place for the few weekends you'd want to get out of town.

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Ours is new construction, and here is what they did.

Tank is about 20 from the building, and the line is very deep. Not sure exactly, but I'm told at least 6-8 feet down. Then they put 2" foam over it (also over the water coming into the place, and the plumber told me that is at least 8 feet down, so shouldn't have to worry). I am not sure about foam over the tank, but I think I will ask.

Contractor told us with the foam, the main thing is that the frost will have to spread out and then come around the 8' wide swath, he said is very unlikely. He did tell us not to drive over it in winter, but told us we didn't need to do anything special to it other than not drive on it. He said snowmobiles should not matter unless it was a "sled highway" smile

Also told us not to drive over the line going from tank to drainfield in winter, and of course not on drainfield ever.

Last year no problem, but we used it pretty much every weekend, and we had lots of snow up there. I know some years you hear some bad stories, even from new places. So its nice to get as much info as we can - I would hate to have it freeze up.

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Depending on how much you want to spend, you could aways spray foam the tanks before putting them in the ground. but that woud probably increase the likely hood that they would float in the spring.

I also think the floating part would depend greatly on the type of soil that you have.

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Our's froze up the winter of 02/03 along with a lot of others in the northern half of MN. Since then I have spread straw over the tank and the drain field every fall and haven't had a problem, even though we are only there a couple weekends a month in the winter. There is a company that makes a heater for septic tanks.

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Was it your tank that froze or the drain field/mound? Usually it is the latter, which isn't far below ground.

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Sorry BobT ... I was up north for a while (no wifi there) and forgot about this thread. The septic guy told me he had to steam the tank before he could pump it. I think our problems all started with the drain going out of the house. The furnace drain was routed into the floor drain, and with no one there running water for a couple weeks, it built up and froze completely shut. By the time we figured that out, it was probably six or seven weeks before anything ran into the tank. Learned a lot that first hard winter!!

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Thanks for this thread - Very interesting info. I have used Rid-X for the past couple years, but will stop doing it after reading all this info. I also use a "natural" drain cleaner once a month (it's a powder that you dissolve in warm water, then pour down the kitchen sink to break up oils etc.) I'll use this until it's gone, but then stop using it too.

So here's a couple questions:

1) I'm very careful about trying to use only "natural" or "bio-degradable" products (soap, shampoo, dishwasher and laundry detergent etc.) so as not to kill off bacteria in the septic tank inadvertently with chemicals. Is this a concern, or am I paranoid?

2) Our mound is very hard and gets lots of weed/grass growth, which prevents erosion etc. I use a rough cut mower, towed behind my ATV to mow the septic mound in the Summer. I was told this is okay, due to the relatively low weight of the equipment. I don't get near it after a rain, in Winter etc. Only in Summer when the ground is very hard and stable. Does anyone else do this, or is it a bad thing to be doing?

Thanx!!

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Mowing your mound is not a bad thing to do because it keeps threes and other perrenials in check. I usually stop mowing mine about this time of year so the grass has a chance to get some height before winter freeze-up.

As far as the chemical thing goes, what you're doing is probably better than most.

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Not using stuff the kills germs is a good idea. I have wondered if something as simple as flushing some yeast into the tank would help. We all use soaps and whatever to keep things in check. Maybe the ratio of that stuff at a cabin is higher than at a home. My guess is that some yeast won't hurt. The less stuff you use that claims to kill bacteria the better off you are.

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