Serving San Diego and South Riverside Counties
McKenna Septic & Sewer Services - Logo
760-751-2293 (Inland)
858-755-2290 (Coastal)

Septic FAQs

Experience, Knowledge, Honesty and Value 

Frequently Asked Question

Get Your Answers Today

We understand that you may have a lot of questions when it comes to your septic tanks and why they fail. We have provided you with some of our most frequently asked questions to give you the answers you're looking for before your service.

If you have any questions that are not listed or are ready to schedule your services, call McKenna Septic & Sewer Services at 760-751-2293 for a FREE onsite estimate. 24-hour emergency services and manufacturer's warranties are available. Se habla español.

How often should I have my septic tank pumped?

Industry standards advocate that your system be serviced every two to three years; annually if you use a garbage disposal. Older homes with smaller systems may require more frequent pumping. Only a trained professional can correctly assess your usage and the present condition of your system, to recommend how often you should pump the tank.

Do I really save money by maintaining my system?

Yes. Pumping your system costs between $400 and $500, and an inspection could cost $100-$300. Replacing an improperly maintained system could cost up to $40,000.

Do your technicians need to dig up my lawn to pump?

Not necessarily. If you already have access to at least the inlet and outlet lids of your septic tank, digging up your lawn will not be necessary. If there is no access to the lid of the septic tank, some digging may be necessary to expose the ports, so that the hose can be inserted to remove the septic material. If the digging is a problem, the next time pumping is required would be a good opportunity to install risers so that digging will no longer be necessary.

Why do they need to see the baffles when they pump?

The most important inspection that must be done during a pump-out is checking the inlet fitting and outlet fitting to be sure they are not damaged or clogged. The baffle wall that prevents solids from entering the second compartment allows the clear effluent water to flow to your leach field is by far the most important. This baffle wall must be intact, structurally solid and free from any debris, so it can be relied on to hold back any solids that might flow into the leach field prior to proper breakdown.

How much does a pump-out cost?

The cost of pumping varies depending on a number of factors: size of the tank and the number of gallons of material removed; the difficulty to uncover a tank if there are no access ports available, and current cost-per-gallon charged by the receiving facility in your area for the pumping company to dispose of your material.

When do I need an emergency pump-out?

Emergency pumping is needed when you hear strange noises or smell unusual odors coming from your house plumbing. Hopefully, you get the emergency pump-out before a backup of nasty septic material into your home. If not, you still need the emergency pumping, but then also have the unpleasant job and cost of cleaning up a mess that could have been avoided.

What exactly is a leach field?

A leach (or drain) field is any method of leaking the discharge water from the septic tank into the ground. This discharge is from final stage processing from the last outlet of the last septic tank (sometimes there is more than one tank). The most common leach field is the type where trenches are dug in the ground in a branching pattern, to allow the treated effluent water from the septic tank to be distributed and absorbed. 

Gravel or stone form a bed in the trenches for the perforated pipes that connect to the septic tank. Again, this is the most common, but not necessarily the best way to leach the water. Cost and cost to the environment need to be considered. Proper pretreatment of the wastewater benefits the environment and ensures a long life for the leach field.

Are all leach fields built the same way?

No. Depending on the percolation tests of the area, a determination is made on the best design for each specific location. Some leach fields are simple, rock-filled trench fields dug into the existing ground. Other leach fields are plastic chamber systems taking the place of rock and pipe to allow both evaporation and absorption of effluent water.

Where would I find my leach field?

If you do not have access to building plans or records of a septic contractor’s installation or repair of the leach field, you might have a difficult time guessing where the entire field is located. Sometimes the lay of the land helps identify where it is located. Ask your septic contractor for help with locating your leach field.
Are all leach fields the same size?

No. Depending on the size of the area available to design the field, obstacles such as buildings, trees, rocks or existing water, well location and slope of the land, each field may be unique.
Why does a leach field fail?

The main reason for the failure of a leach field is plugging of its drain pipes and/or surrounding soil caused by a septic tank that is too small for the amount of sewage discharged from the home, or one that has failed. Particles of non-decomposed septic solids escape the septic tank outlet fitting and decrease the porous nature of the leach field earth. Over time, the effluent water may seek relief by bubbling up to the surface since it can no longer be absorbed properly downward into the ground. In such a case, offensive odors and dangerous bacteria in the surface water can be identified. 

Solving the problem of the failed septic tank is the first way to correct this problem. Extending the leach field without addressing the septic tank’s problem will only result in extending the clog, which will eventually happen again. The best way find the extent of the failure is to ask a trained professional.

What can I do if my leach field is always wet?

Usually, this indicates that the leach field has failed and needs immediate attention. Septic bacteria is unsafe for people and pets. The cause for the failure must be determined. Plugged leach field lines, groundwater flooding, leaking house water, a failed septic tank, or damage done to the field by excavation or settling all contribute to such failures.

Can I drive over my leach field?

It is inadvisable, but limited driving of light vehicles on dry ground should not harm a properly installed leach field. Under wet conditions, however, any heavy packing of the earth over the leach lines will have a negative impact on effectiveness. Avoid having very heavy vehicles—such as those used for oil deliveries, pool water filling, cement delivery, etc.—ride directly over the field.

Can I build on top of the leach field?

No, this is not recommended.

Can I plant anything over my leach field?

Again, this is not recommended. However, if you must, planting should be limited to lawn or grass, small fruit trees, annuals, and shallow-rooted decorative bushes. Larger bushes or trees may send long root systems into the leach lines and have even been known to grow all the way back and sometimes into the septic tank! Clearly, the best approach is simply to avoid planting anything but grass there.

What exactly is a septic tank?

The septic tank is a large container usually buried near the home that receives all of the wastewater. Solids settle to the bottom and grease and lighter solids float on the top. Healthy bacteria continually break down these materials and allow effluent water to leave the tank to be dispersed through the leach field. If the water has sludge present, the system is in shut-down mode (failure).

Where is my septic tank located?

The septic tank is usually buried near your house and connected by a sewer pipe to your indoor plumbing. A water probe or a flushable transmitter can be used by your pump company to locate your septic tank.

Are all septic tanks the same size?

No. Septic tanks are sold in a number of sizes for various applications. If you do not have accurate building or installation records, the tank needs to be uncovered and measured to ascertain its size. Or, your professional pumping contractor can give you a good estimate.

Are all septic tanks made of the same material?

No. Septic tanks can be made of steel, concrete, or special long-lasting polymer plastic. Steel has no guarantee and deteriorates over time from wastewater, salts and acids. Concrete septic tanks are by far the most durable, although they usually only have a one-year maximum factory guarantee and also deteriorate over time from wastewater, salts and acids. 

The newer polymer septic tanks are guaranteed for many years and are not subject to the deterioration effects of wastewater, salts or acids, but are rarely installed correctly. Because of this, the vast majority will become distorted from ground pressure. Always select a system that gets you the manufacturer’s guarantee that will last the longest when properly installed.

Do septic tanks last forever?

No. Deterioration of both the steel and concrete type of septic tank begins immediately. Polymer tanks last the longest and without physical abuse should serve you well for many, many years. Concrete is porous and cracks by nature. Salts and chemicals are the major factors in deterioration of concrete and metal tanks.

What should go into my septic tank?

The best situation for a long, happy septic tank life would be that only human wastewater enters the tank. This includes bathroom sink waste and proper toilet tissue (single-ply breaks down most easily and taxes your system the least). This however, is seldom the case. People often put anything and everything down sinks, drains and toilets. In moderation, a properly working septic tank can handle some biodegradable detergents, laundry soaps, kitchen wastes and biodegradable household chemicals. 

In large amounts, any and all of these things can limit the digestive properties of your septic tank. A good rule of thumb: “If you didn’t, couldn’t or wouldn’t eat it, don’t put it in the septic tank!”

What should not go into my septic tank?

Things like prescription drugs, cigarette butts, disposable diapers, sanitary napkins, plastics, any other trash, or large amounts of cleaning agents or chemicals create problems for your septic tank. Some things kill the good bacteria the septic tank needs to break down human waste. Other items do not readily decompose and more importantly, may clog the inlet and outlet fittings and prevent proper fluid flow inside the septic tank. Basically, non-biodegradable products are non-septic-friendly products.

How can you tell if my septic tank is working?

Visual inspection of your backyard for standing wastewater where the leach field should be, or unusual odors might indicate a problem. Otherwise, visual inspection of the septic tank is the first means of checking. Clarity of the effluent water leaving the outlet fitting is most important. Checking and measuring the depths of the sludge, liquid center and top scum level is also important. Risers on the ports of the lid allow for frequent inspection.

Should there be access to the top of my septic tank?

Yes. In order to inspect and maintain your septic tank, access to the inlet and outlet ports is a must. Risers and childproof access lids can be easily installed to ground level, to provide for easy access without digging.

Can I build over my septic tank?

It is not recommended ever to build over the septic tank. Access to the tank is necessary for inspection and maintenance. Anything built over the tank would have to be removed for pumping and repairs. Additionally, the weight of anything built over a septic tank could damage the unit. The gasses that might escape are very harmful to people and in a worst case scenario could actually be explosive, causing damage to the house and foundation.

Can a septic system be repaired?

Yes. Depending upon the problem, many times a repair is possible. Some examples of a repair would be: to fix a crushed or collapsed pipe; to replace a broken outlet or inlet fitting or baffle wall that has allowed solids into the leach field; to replace a cracked or collapsed septic tank lid, etc.

Will a septic system repair solve my septic problems?

Yes and No. Yes, the repair will address an immediate problem that must be taken care of, but no, the repair may not solve larger septic problems that may have been present before the specific problem that required repair. It also would not necessarily reverse any secondary problems caused by the original problem. Every situation is unique, so consult with a trained septic professional to help you find the most valuable and cost-effective solution to all your septic problems.
Call 760-751-2293
anytime for a FREE 
onsite estimate
24-hour emergency service is available. Call anytime you need service. Se habla español.
Share by: