Frequently Asked Questions

What is a septic tank?

A septic tank is part of an on-site sewage treatment system, where the solids are retained and the liquid flows to the septic field to be evenly distributed and treated as it filters through the ground.

How do I know if the septic tank needs to be pumped?

Like oil in a car, a septic tank should be pumped before there is any indication of a problem. Based on the size of the tank, number of residents, lifestyles a septic tank should be routinely emptied, be it every 5 years or every year. If there is an effluent filter in the system it may need to be cleaned more frequently than the septic tank.

How often do I need to pump the septic tank?

Older homes once routinely had 800 Imperial gallon septic tanks installed. Recommendation based on an 800 gallon tank was to pump it out every 4 years if 2 people lived in the home, and subtract one year for each additional person. Recently larger septic tanks, or trash tanks, are used and can be scheduled less frequently depending on the size. Our technicians can help advise your scheduling frequency by what is in your septic tank. Pick a frequency, stick to it and adjust when future services reveal variances.

What is involved in pumping the septic tank?

Septic waste is removed through the large manway on the septic tank itself. Sometimes this means a homeowner must dig down to the top of the septic tank to expose several concrete slabs or manhole cover. Some homeowners install risers over each lid, bringing access to the surface so digging is no longer required. If there is an outlet filter in the tank or in a secondary tank it too will be cleaned.

How long will it take?

Our service is available Monday through Friday (special arrangements can be made by speaking to Operations), usually, one business day of service is all we need. A two-hour scheduling window is necessary to allow for servicing and traffic tie-ups. Pumping out the septic tank usually takes a half hour. Set up and wrap up depends on access unique to each property.

How do I find the septic tank?

The home’s plumbing exits the house through one main sewer pipe and should travel directly out to the septic tank. Gravity systems are graded to ensure wastes flow to the septic tank. Probe with a shovel or re-bar to map out the septic tank. Due to the airspace inside, a hollow clunk will echo once the septic tank is found. Dig to expose a large access to ensure your technician will empty the septic tank.

There's a concrete lid in my back yard, is that my septic tank?

Perhaps. An exposed concrete lid may be a component of the on-site sewage treatment system, also known as septic system, or part of the perimeter drain storm system of the home.

There's an alarm sounding in my garage, does that mean I need my septic tank cleaned?

Maybe. The alarm indicates something mechanical is malfunctioning. Alarms indicate filters, floats, pumps may require servicing, contact us or your maintenance provider for advice. Pumping out the septic tank will only temporarily silence the alarm.

Why is my tank full if I just had it pumped out a week ago?

The solids that accumulate have been removed. The septic tank is designed to work from full capacity and will be full again after a week. The process begins anew; solids settle into the tank and the liquid displaces from the tank through the system, percolating through the ground for treatment.

My septic system has been working fine for years, why pump it now?

Ignorance is not bliss. Solids settling in the tank can continue to accumulate through the outlet into the distribution box and through the lines of the septic field. A septic tank should be pumped to remove the scum level floating on top and the sludge layer accumulating in the bottom before reaching within 6″ of the bottom outlet pipe. It is also important to empty the septic tank to ensure inlet and outlet T’s remain intact. The cost of maintenance is minimal compared to replacement costs.

How long does a septic field last?

There are many variables that affect the life of a septic tank and field. A well designed, sited and installed system, plus regularly maintained system will provide on-site sewage treatment for several decades.

What causes septic system failure?

Some examples: mechanical malfunction, maintenance negligence, usage increases, drainage patterns changes or landscaping. Discharged waste cannot exceed the capacity which the system was designed. Backups or surfacing sewage may be noted. Septic friendly practices are essential.

Will bleach, detergents and other household cleansers harm my tank?

Bleach used “as directed”, properly diluted, and no more than 1 cup every 3 days and phenolic cleansers no more than 1/2 cup every 3 days is not harmful to septic function.

Is there a good or bad time of year to pump the septic tank?

In our mild part of the planet, there is no bad time of year to pump out the septic tank. There are no deep freezes. Access to the septic tank is necessary, many homeowners choose not to dig during winter and plan a pump out during the other seasons.

It seems like I only pumped my septic tank a year or two ago. Can you call me when my next service is due?

We can email or “snail” mail a reminder upon the anniversary of your last service, be it every year or every four years.

I'm purchasing a home with a septic system, what should I know?

Everything! Hire a certified inspector to inform you, the future homeowner, about every detailed component of the home’s septic system. Where is the tank and field, what size is the tank, is there a filter, is there a pump, when was it last pumped, is there a distribution box and how may lines in the septic field. This area remains the on-site sewage treatment area for the life of the home, no pool, structure, parking; garden will ever be sited here.

My toilet is not flushing; do I need to pump the septic tank?

If just one toilet is not flushing, there may be a problem with the toilet itself. Remember all the plumbing exits the house through the same pipe, if other drains are working check the toilet.

When I flush my toilet, the shower fills up....what is going on?

The system is clogged in the house, at the septic tank or beyond in the septic field. If it is near your service time, schedule an appointment and we can determine where in the system the problem lies.

There is a horrible smell in my ensuite, could this be my septic tank?

If it is that rotten egg smell, get out immediately and contact Fortis BC at 1-800-663-9911. If it is sewage you smell, ensure the traps have not dried out by running water into the sink and shower. Ensure the bathroom’s roof vent is free of any nesting or debris. If there is still an odor, note times when it is noticeable. Mornings when the entire family showers or high water usage periods can increase turbidity and create smells if service is past due.

Our home has multiple tanks in the septic system. Do we need to pump them all every service?

A certified maintenance provider will be key in your situation. A maintenance provider will routinely inspect the system to ensure proper operation of all its parts. Pump outs will be ordered as needed. Most frequently the septic tank or initial “trash” tank only is ordered unless there has been a malfunction within the latter components.

How does water use or conservation affect my septic system?

A properly designed system will have proper storm water diversion installed away from the septic field area preventing over-saturation. Inside the home it is recommended to spread out water usage over time instead of overtaxing the septic system. A laundry load each day is better than seven loads on one day.

Do I need to add anything to my septic tank to make it work?

A septic tank or on-site sewage treatment system is designed to work with the bacteria present in each flush. Remember to only flush the “paperwork” with your “business” in order to keep the system working efficiently.