Between 20 and 25% of homes in the United States use a septic system to take care of their house waste. Septic tanks are however not very conspicuous and might be harder to locate especially if you are a new home owner.
So, how do you locate the septic tank in your property? There are a few ways to do that, some very easy and some very complex and quite expensive.
Septic tank are located between 5 and 25 feet from the house. They are usually buried between 4 inches and 4 feet in the ground, depending on their distance from the house. To locate yours, follow the exit sewer pipe from the basement or crawlspace towards the yard, or look for an unusual lump/hill in your yard.
This means that you might have to dig a lot to locate the precise location of your septic tank. There are however other easier and faster ways of finding your house’s septic tank.
Before attempting to locate the location of your property’s septic tank, you need to be sure that indeed your house uses a septic system and not the municipal sewer system. So, how do you know if your house uses a septic system?
Does My House Have a Septic Tank?
There are a few telltale signs that your house is on a septic system and not the municipal sewer system. Some of these signs are actually so clear and you do need even have to pay a professional to determine it for you. They include:
1. A Lump/Hill in Your Yard
If you notice a lump of soil which is almost rectangular, or sometime oval in shape in your yard then most likely you have a septic tank. When a septic tank is buried in the ground, the soil initially dog out is used to cover it but since the tank has displaced most of it, a “small hill” is left in the yard.
This is however not always the case. Some homeowners are very particular about their yard landscape and will flatten the hill making the septic tank location very inconspicuous.
2. House is in a Rural/ Scarcely Populated Area
Sewer systems are expensive to construct and maintain. You can be sure that your local government will not put up a sewer system if only a handful of you (your neighbors and yourself) live in that area.
If you live in a rural area then most likely you have no sewer system, and therefore a septic tank. Folks who live in busy and populated areas use the municipal sewer system.
3. Check Your Water Bills
The city municipal will charge you for using the city’s sewer system to dispose your home waste. This charge will be listed in your monthly water bill.
If you notice that don’t have this charge in your monthly water bill you then definitely have a septic tank somewhere in your yard.
4. You Use Water From a Well
A septic system and a water well go hand in hand. Almost all folks who use water from a well also use a septic system. So, how do you know that you are using water from a well?
If you are using water from a well, you will receive no monthly water bill and hence your property has no water meter. You will also locate a pressure tank in your property where water from the well is stored under pressure before flowing to your house.
Why You Should Find Your Septic Tank
It is very important to find out if you are on a septic system or a sewer system. After establishing that you indeed are on a septic system, it is even more important to know the exact location of your septic tank.
But why is it important to determine if you are on a septic system and the location of your septic system? Here are the reasons:
1. To Take Care Of It
Unlike a sewer system, a septic system needs special care and treatment. You cannot flush down just any type of waste in a septic tank as you would in a sewer system.
A septic tank relies on the good bacteria to break down waste such that the solid waste can settle at the bottom of the tank while the effluent flows out to the leach fields. If you flush down harmful chemicals down a septic system, the good bacteria in the septic tank will die off. You will then need to pay lots of money to remedy the situation.
When you are on a septic system, you will need to use septic-safe toilet/drain cleaner as well as septic-safe toilet paper. You could also opt to use bidets.
2. To Avoid Damaging It
When you have a septic tank out in your yard, there are 2 things you want to avoid. The first thing is adding too much weight on top of it.
You should not erect another structure directly above your septic tank. The weight might overwhelm it leading it to collapse. Another very expensive thing to fix.
The other thing you will want to avoid is planting deep-rooted plants near the septic tank. I have seen many causes of tree roots finding their way into drainpipes causing serious clogs. If you just bought the house and are looking to work on the yard’s landscape then by all means avoid planting trees with deep roots.
3. For Easy Repairs
When you know the exact location of your septic tank, it becomes very easy for you to fix any problems that may arise. It is also cheaper since you won’t need to pay the plumber the extra fees for locating the septic tank for you.
Sometimes if you are on a septic system you encounter backups or even clogs which emanate from the septic tank or even the drainpipe. If you know the exact location of the septic tank you will be in a better position to troubleshoot the problem
How to Locate Your Septic Tank
As I had mentioned, finding out the exact location of your house’s septic tank can be a fairly easy process. For some people however it is not always the case. Whatever the situation is for you, I suggest you start with the easiest of them all.
Here is how to find your septic tank:
1. Ask the Previous Home Owner
Of course you bought your house from someone. If they had lived in the property for more than 5 years, they most certainly know the location of the septic tank.
If you still have their contact information just grab the phone and give them a call. Most people will be more than happy to help. Even if they will not come to the property to pinpoint the exact location of the septic tank, they will tell you where to look.
2. Talk to the Neighbors
If you are unable to contact the previous homeowner, or there is a particular neighbor you feel happy to talk to, go ahead and ask them. If your house is on a septic system, there is a very big likelihood that you neighbors use septic systems as well.
Your neighbors will either know where your house’s septic tank is located, or they will show you where theirs is located. By seeing the location of their septic tank, you will be very right in making the assumption that your septic tank also follows that trend.
3. Check Your Yard
The fact of the matter is that the septic tank is buried somewhere in your yard. Depending on how keen the previous homeowner was to landscaping, it will either be very easy or close to impossible locating your septic tank.
As you do this, there are some spots where you want to take your time to search while there are others you shouldn’t even think of. Although septic tanks should be buried at least 5 feet from the house, in most houses that distance is 10 feet.
If your house is supplied by water from a well, don’t expect the septic tank to be closer to the well. This is because of the likelihood of water contamination.
Another place you don’t need to look at is under or very near to the driveway and patio. Such structures are never constructed on top of the septic tank. If your house has deep-rooted trees then the septic tank will be further from the trees.
After eliminating all these areas, walk around your yard looking for clues. Your septic tank will be located on the same side as the toilet. This prevents the need for having several sharp bends in the plumbing system.
What you want to look out for in the yard is any hill or depression which might indicate the presence of buried septic tank. Sometimes you will that the grass around where the septic tank is buried is greener than elsewhere in the yard.
4. Follow Your Sewer Outlet Pipe
Your house will have several drainpipes. The toilet, shower/bathtub, kitchen sink, washing machine etc. have a drainpipe each which are then all joined together and exit the house as one main drainpipe.
In most houses the drainpipe exits the house through the basement. If you can locate this sewer outlet your work is half done. The septic tank is located in line with the sewer outlet some 5 to 25 feet from the house.
Note: sometimes the sewer pipe will take a 45 or 90 degrees turn so that the septic tank is buried around the corner of the property. Check if this is the case in your house.
Dash to your basement or crawl space and look for a 4-inch (mostly black) pipe that exits your house through the wall leading to the yard. If your basement is finished, the sewer exit pipe will not be very conspicuous.
In the case of a finished basement, look for the cleanout in a closet or behind a wall. Check also for access covers which might be used to conceal the sewer outlet.
If you are lucky to have a toilet, in the basement, its flushing system will be pressure-assisted. When you flush it, a pump will come on and that way you will be able to know the direction the sewer is flowing.
Once you locate the sewer outlet pipe, walk outside the house and come back to where the sewer line exits the house. From where you stand, the septic tank will be located between 5 feet and 25 feet away.
One thing to notice is that waste flows to the septic tank via gravity. The drainpipe will there slope towards the septic tank. What this means is that the further it is from the house the deeper it is. The septic tank will lid be between 4 inches and 4 feet deep in the ground.
There are a few methods you ca use to locate the septic tank depending on its distance from the house as well as its depth.
Use a Metal Probe
Use a thin but strong metal probe by sticking it into the ground so that it hits the sewer pipe. You can only use this method if the ground is soft enough and the probe can penetrate it easily without applying too much force.
Note that most of the sewer pipes are made of PVC and as such you do not want to break them with the metal problem. If the conditions favor you, go ahead and do it.
Probe every 2 feet until you come across a hard surface, which will most likely be concrete or fiberglass. That way you know you have found the septic tank.
If the septic tank is quite far from the house then this method might not work. You will need a more sophisticated tool.
Find the Septic Tank With a Metal Detector
A metal detector is not something people always have in their house but you can rent out one. Go to the nearest plumbing store or rental section of a home improvement store like Lowes or Home Depot and rent a metal detector for a few hours.
As you know, the septic tank is usually made of concrete or other non-metallic materials, unless yours is quite old. How does a metal detector locate the location of this concrete/plastic then? It is very simple.
The septic tank is constructed with the help of some reinforcement bars which are all steel. Move around your yard (in line with the sewer outlet pipe) with the metal detector. Once you are on top of the septic tank you will hear the detector beep sharply. Just make sure you are not wearing steel-toe boats.
Locate the Septic Tank Using a Plumber’s Snake
A plumbing snake is what you use to unclog the drainpipe. You might have a simple toilet auger which might work if the septic tank is not very far from the house. Toilet augers are usually about 4 to 6 feet long.
If your septic tank is more than 10 feet from the house you need a bigger plumbing snake. You can either buy one or hire one from a home improvement store.
Introduce the plumbing snake from the most convenient spot. This could be the toilet or inspection/rodding eye.
Since the pipes are not clogged, you want to snake it as slowly as possible. Make sure you note each bend the snake takes so that you are able to precisely retrace its movement.
When you encounter a restriction (between the 10 and 25 feet distance) you have without a doubt reached the septic tank’s inlet T. Don’t ram against the T as you do not want to damage it. Flag that spot on the snake.
Pull out the snake, again taking note of the bends and curves. Measure the distance between the front of the snake and the flag. Add 3 feet to that measurement, to locate the center of the septic tank.
Locate the Septic Tank With a Flushable Transmitter
This is another fantastic way of locating your septic tank. A flushable transmitter is pushed down through the cleanout or flushed down the toilet.
You then work around the yard with a receiver starting off with the one place you highly suspect to find the septic tank. The strongest signal will be around the septic tanks inlet.
Again, you do not need to buy this device. Just head out to a plumbing store and hire one for a day. Unlike probing the ground or using a plumbing snake, this method is quite fast and accurate.
Once you locate the top of the septic tank you can choose to dig just to be sure it is indeed there. You will also get to know the type of septic tank you have in place. This could either be steel, concrete, plastic or fiber glass. The shape could be rectangular, spherical or oblong with varying capacities.
5. Use a Septic Location Map
In modern days, when a septic system is installed an “as-built” map/diagram is usually handed over to the local authorities. This diagram usually contains the precise location of the septic tank as well as drain fields.
The septic location map as it is often called is usually drawn to scale. This means that you will see all the dimensions, bends/curves from the house to the septic tank.
Please note that in the septic location map there might be some landmarks which have since been removed. This landmarks may include trees or some structures in the house. It should however be really easy to read the map.
How to Find Septic Tank Records
There are several ways to find your septic tank records/map. If you just bought your house, the map should be attached in the house inspection paperwork. Dig through the paperwork and see if something of the sort catches your eyes.
If you do not find any, there is a possibility that a map for your septic tank does not exist. This is usually the case with old buildings that were built before septic tank maps were a thing.
In that case, you will need to locate your septic tank through other methods and come up with the map yourself. This will help you in future should you wish to sell your house.
There is also a possibility that the previous homeowner just forgot to hand over the map during the house inspection. If you still have their contacts grab a phone and enquire.
Another good option is to check with your county. If your septic system was not was not built so long ago, an “as-built” diagram was issued out to your local health authority. Head over there and ask for a copy of your property’s septic tank map.
You can also try to check out with local plumbing companies. There is a good chance one of them was responsible for building the septic system.
How Much Does It Cost to Locate a Septic Tank?
The cost of locating a septic varies a lot, depending on whether you are doing it yourself or a third party will be involved. If you are lucky it could only cost you your time.
According to Home Advisor, renting a hand-held drain snake will cost you 30 to 45 dollars a day while a machine auger will cost 50 to 85 dollars a day.
It seems that a flushable septic tank locator is the best rental equipment for finding your septic tank. It will on average cost you 25 dollars a day, 37 dollars per weekend or 75 dollars per week. Just don’t lose it.
Bringing in a plumber to locate the septic tank for you will be quite expensive. It will also depend on the tools they are going to use. Sometimes they have to put a camera through your drains which is not cheap, in addition to their hourly rate. Your location in the country will also determine the cost.
It will cost you anywhere between 100 and 300 dollars to locate your septic tank using a professional plumber.