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How to Measure the Sludge in Your Septic Tank

If you have recently moved into a home with a septic tank for the first time, then you may know very little about septic-tank maintenance. You also may have no idea how large the septic tank is, when the last pumping was completed, or when you need to schedule a cleaning. If you are confused about your septic tank, then there is one simple test you can complete to see whether the tank needs to be emptied. Keep reading to learn about this test.

Locate the Septic Tank

Before you can investigate your septic tank, you will need to locate it first. Some homes have lid risers, and this means the cap will be even with the ground that runs across your property. Complete a preliminary search to see whether you can locate the lid. The lid will typically be completely round, about two to three feet wide, and dark black or green in color. You may look at the lid and notice a sticker or other label that says "caution," "danger," or "septic." 

Septic tanks that are built to code will need to be 10 feet from property lines and 5 to 15 feet from your home. This will help to give you an idea of where to start looking for the tank.

If there is not a cap or lid that you can see, then it is likely that the cap is buried underneath the earth. Look at the land survey that was completed when you purchased the home or contact your town for the most local survey or permit application that shows where the septic was placed. Once you have the right documents, you will want to find the exact location of the tank. Use a large tree, a property line marker, or another type of landmark to help you locate the septic tank.

Dig into the ground until you find the septic tank lid. If you cannot find it or if you dig several feet in the ground before reaching the tank, then it is wise to contact a septic professional. Some septic tanks can be buried four feet in the ground. If you are not prepared to dig this far, then leave the job to the professionals. 

Measure the Sludge Layer

Once you find the septic lid, look for handles that can be used to pull up the cap. If you do not see any, then you will need to use the tip of a crowbar to pry up the edge of the cap. Once you have the cap off, you will need a few things to measure the sludge layer in the tank. The sludge layer is the solid debris that sits on the bottom of the tank. If you use the septic tank normally, then the vast majority of the septic tank will contain fluid wastes, and the solids will take up only about one-third of the total volume of the tank. The sludge layer will consist of about 200 millimeters, or eight inches, of waste. These measurements are likely if the tank is about an 800-gallon tank. If you have a larger one, then you may see another inch or two of sludge buildup before the tank needs to be emptied.

To find out exactly how deep the sludge layer is, you will need to use something called a sludge stick. You can buy this from your local home store or septic-maintenance retailer. This stick is a long and hollow tube that has a valve on the bottom. Lower the tube all the way down into the septic tank until it hits the bottom. Let the tube rest for a second and then pull it up from the bottom of the tank. As the tube starts to rise, the valve on the bottom of the tube will snap closed. The sludge and fluid wastes in the tank will be captured in the tube. Use a ruler to measure the amount of solid material at the very bottom of the tube. This will tell you the amount of sludge there is, and you can decide whether you need to contact a professional right away for a septic cleaning. 

Talk to a company such as SOS Septic Inc for more information.