Frequently Asked Questions and Answers from Coulter’s Septic Service

These are just a few of the questions we’ve been asked repeatedly during our years of service to the Durham community. We hope you’ll find them helpful. Please feel free to reach out to us with any further questions you may have if your concern isn’t addressed here.


Septic Tank Drawing (Click to Expand)

What is a septic tank?

A septic tank is a cement tank, installed underground that is part of your septic system. Septic tanks come in many sizes, such as 800, 1000, 1500, 2000 and 3000 Canadian imperial gallons. Usually the size you have depends on the number of bathrooms and the square footage of your home. Many older tanks have just one chamber whereas most new, modern tanks have two chambers. The two-chamber tanks have two lids to allow access to both sides of the tank. It is necessary to have both of these lids exposed when having your septic tank pumped. New systems may require a pump-up system. This consists of a pump chamber to house a mechanical pump which then pumps the water up into a raised septic bed. Occasionally the pump may quit causing your tank to fill up and you will require our pumping services to facilitate fixing your pump.


A holding tank means that there is no leaching/weeping bed. When the tank is full, it must be pumped in order for you to flush your toilets, etc. They are commonly found near lakes, waterways and small properties that cannot accommodate a leaching bed.


How do I find my septic tank?

To locate your septic tank, you will need to find a 4” black pipe going through the foundation wall in your basement. The tank is usually located about 5-6 feet out where the black pipe exit’s the foundation wall. This can vary depending on where your well is located and the lay of the surrounding land. If you have difficulty finding your septic tank, you can call your local health department or call us for assistance in locating it.


How does a septic system work?

House diagram

Your septic system is buried in your yard and is built to last. Your system performs a very vital task. It treats tonnes of organic waste each year. It consists of a septic tank and a leaching/weeping bed. Wastewater from your home (including, toilets, bathtubs, sinks, dishwashers, washing machines, etc.) travels to your tank via the outlet pipe. As your tank fills up, the lighter organic matter floats and the heavier matter (sludge) settles to the bottom. The naturally occurring bacteria (billions of microscopic organisms) in your tank works to break down the solid organic waste and turn it to liquid. As time passes, the liquid gets thicker - sludge - and this should be removed. The grey water in between the two layers flows to the second chamber where a similar process occurs. The water in the second chamber flows out through the outlet pipe to the leaching bed where it is absorbed into the surrounding ground. Please note that excessive use of disinfectants will kill off the good bacteria necessary for the proper functioning of your system and is not recommended.


How do I determine if I have a problem with my system?

There are some signs to watch for that may indicate you need to have your system looked at, such as:

  1. Toilets, showers or sinks may begin to back up or take longer than usual to drain.
  2. The water level in the tank is higher than the outlet pipe.
  3. You begin to notice occasional sewer odours.
  4. The ground around your tank or the septic field is soggy or flooded.

How often should I get my septic tank pumped?

Even with proper use, your septic system still needs regular maintenance. Determining how often you need to have your tank pumped depends on the size of your tank and how many people live in the home. Preventative maintenance can save you money in the long run.


Generally, a household of 4 people with a 1000 gallon tank would need to be pumped every 3 years. A household of 4 people with a 1500 gallon tank would need to be pumped about every 5 years. Getting your tank pumped every 3-5 years helps to ensure that sludge doesn’t get into your weeping/leaching bed, reducing the life span of the bed.

Riser Diagram (Click to Expand)

What is involved when I get my septic tank pumped?

Your septic tank has two lids which you need to have exposed before we come to pump out your tank. If your lids are more than six (6) inches below the ground surface, we recommend you have risers constructed over the lids to save you time and energy by not having to dig out the lids every time you need a pump out. We pump out your tank as clean as possible with our vacuum truck. We then inspect your tank to make sure it is working properly. Our driver will advise you as to when you should have your system serviced again.


What happens if my septic tank is not pumped regularly?

Organic waste, also known as sludge, builds up in the bottom of your septic tank. Over time, if not pumped out regularly, it builds up to the level of the outlet pipe. It is then carried out to your leaching bed along with the grey water. As the sludge accumulates in your bed, the bed eventually becomes blocked, back up into your tank, and then into your house. Ultimately, your septic bed will need replacing which can be very costly and preventable with regular maintenance.


Is it necessary to add any products to my septic system?

Excessive bleaches destroy the good bacteria that is necessary for your system to function properly. As long as you do not use excessive bleach products, generally you will not need to add anything to your system.


How do I look after my leaching bed?

Your leaching bed will look after itself. It is recommended that you do not:

  1. Construct anything over the field such as decks, sheds, patios, interlock, parking areas.
  2. Drive over the leaching bed, as this can compact the soil and/or damage the pipes.
  3. Plant any trees near the field area. The tree roots travel to the water source, and will plug up and damage the pipes.

Your drainage field needs sunlight and ventilation so the moisture can evaporate. The grass usually grows faster and greener over your leaching bed area, and this is a good sign.

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