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How to Troubleshoot a Septic Tank Pump (and When to Call on the Pros)

How to Troubleshoot a Septic Tank Pump (and When to Call on the Pros)

Learn how to troubleshoot a septic tank pump in this guide. Plus, discover the signs you need to call in the professionals for repairs or replacements.

Keyword(s): septic tank pump


There are not too many words that are scarier when thrown together than "septic tank" and "failure". When something in your septic tank system stops working properly, it can be a major inconvenience, not to mention a whole lot of stress. Luckily, sometimes, the problem is easily solved and just takes a little know-how to do the trick. Other times, it's wiser to call in a professional. Today we're going to be talking about your septic tank pump, what to do if it's not working the way it's supposed to and what different factors could possibly be causing it to malfunction. But before we get into the nitty-gritty, the basics:

What Is a Septic Tank Pump?

There are actually a few different types of pumps your septic system can have. First, you may have a sewage pump, which can handle larger solids (up to 2" solids), which is usually used for transferring sewage from a lift station or sump in the house to the septic tank, or between two septic tanks. You may also have something called a grinder pump, which as the name suggests, grinds up wastewater from your home before it enters into your septic tank. The one we're going to be talking about today, however, is the effluent pump, also known as a lift pump or a wastewater pump.  This type of pump helps to move clarified (treated) effluent in the septic tank to the septic drain field. It is often needed when the septic field is at a higher level than the septic tank, and the wastewater needs to be moved in an upward direction through the septic system pipework. Your septic tank pump is operated by a float switch, which turns the pump on or off, depending on the amount of water in the effluent chamber. Once the water reaches a certain level, a sensor is triggered, the pump will activate and begin to pump the wastewater to the septic field.


Signs Your Septic Tank Pump Isn't Working

One of the great things about newer septic systems is that most of the time they will be equipped with an alarm system, which will alert you if your septic tank pump is failing to drain the chamber properly. If you don't have a high-level alarm, contact us and we would be happy to install one. In fact, recent changes in legislation require a high-level alarm to be installed in all septic systems in most jurisdictions. Another sign there may be something wrong with your septic tank pump is if your pump is making more noise than usual or, in severe cases, you may notice wastewater is flowing back through your septic tank pipes and into your home.

Reasons Your Septic Tank Pump Isn't Working

How easily you'll be able to fix your septic tank pump will depend on what's causing the malfunction. There could be a number of reasons your pump isn't doing its job. One of the most common reasons a septic tank pump will fail is because, over time, it has become clogged with debris or grease from the septic tank. Pumps that become clogged will cease to work. Most country homeowners know that they shouldn't flush anything down the toilet except toilet paper. However, sometimes guests don't know this and will flush feminine hygiene products, "disposable" wipes, condoms, wrappers, and other garbage which can severely damage a septic pump. Sometimes, the issue may not be with the pump itself, but with the sensors it relies on to operate. The float controls which tell your pump when to turn on and off may have become stuck or displaced somehow, or they can also fail. Finally, there's a possibility that the problem is not mechanical, but electrical. This could mean that electricity is not being delivered properly to your pump, there could be a number of reasons for this.


Troubleshooting Tips 

First, before you attempt any kind of repairs, you'll want to disconnect the power to your pump, so that you don't end up accidentally shocking yourself. Once you've done this, you can investigate to check what might be causing the issue. As we mentioned above, some problems that arise with your pump will be pretty easy to solve. For example, if you notice that one of the float controls for your septic tank pump has become restrained, or blocked by debris, simply readjust the float until it is in the correct position once again. If the pump itself has become clogged with grease or debris, it may be possible to remove it and clean it yourself, however most pumps are very heavy and the removal process is both difficult and messy. After you've disconnected it from the electricity, you should disconnect the pump from the rest of the plumbing and remove it from the tank. Check for any blockages and clean out the propellers with water to remove any remaining debris. If you don't have much experience with septic tank maintenance, this can be tricky, and you might be better off calling a professional.


When to Call the Pros

It can be tempting to try to save some time or money by performing the necessary septic tank repairs yourself. However, if you don't know what you're doing, you could end up causing far more damage than was even there in the first place. That's why we recommend that if you're not 100% sure how to fix something, it's always best to call in a professional. This is especially true when it comes to electrical issues, as it's easy for someone who is untrained to cause permanent damage to the system or, even worse, seriously injure themselves. We would advise you to use common sense and proceed with caution when it comes to any kind of DIY septic tank maintenance. Remember, never enter a septic tank. There are harmful gasses (such as H2S and methane) that can kill you in seconds.


Tips to Keep Your Septic Tank Pumping Well

Although a septic tank pump can break down at any time, for many different reasons, there are a couple of things you can do to limit the probability of this happening.

Be sure to have your septic tank inspected and serviced on a regular basis. This will keep your septic tank running smoothly and will mean any problems are likely to be caught early on before they fail. Know when to replace your pump. How long your pump lasts will depend on a number of different factors, but on average a good septic tank pump that has been maintained yearly should last between 8 to 15 years. You should keep this in mind, as a malfunctioning pump may need to be replaced, rather than repaired. Our final tip? Don't be ashamed to call in a pro! Whatever problems you're experiencing with your septic system, Soilworx can help. We offer a range of different services and specialize in septic system design, and with over 30 years of experience under our belts, you can trust your septic system is in safe hands. If you've got questions about your septic system, call us today to see how we can help.

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