Septic Tanks: Frequently Asked Questions

No. In fact, additives or treatments may do more harm to your system than good and even hasten system failure. Some states have banned their use altogether.

  • Additives do not eliminate the need for regularly pumping and maintaining your septic tank , despite some advertising claims. Some products may simply push solids, grease, and scum in your tank out into the drainfield - where they can cause the most damage by clogging up the air spaces around gravel and soil particles and slowing and eventually stopping the cleansing of wastewater.
  • Biological additives are not needed to restore a septic tank's bacterial balance, since bacteria already reside in human feces.
  • Contrary to myth, never add yeast, dead animals or raw meat to your tank.
  • Never add chemical additives, such as caustic hydroxides and sulfuric acid - they destroy the tank's bacteria, change the ability of the drainfield to absorb or treat liquids, and may even contaminate water below ground.

No, we haven't used these tests since the late 1970's because they are not very accurate in evaluating sites for septic system. Perc tests tell you how fast water poured into a hole will drain out of the hole. A site may pass a perc test during a dry season but fail a perc test during a rainy stretch, when the water table is closer to the ground surface. In the past, some sites in South Carolina passed perc tests but ended up with septic systems that failed to work properly during rainy seasons.

Learn how DHEC more accurately evaluates soil and sites today to determine property suitability for a septic system.

No, you'll need to hire a licensed septic system pro to inspect your system. However, our trained staff can answer many of your questions and perhaps offer some helpful technical advice.

While S.C. law does not require property owners to have existing systems inspected, some towns have passed ordinances that require their local residents to have their septic systems inspected regularly (See next question). If you live in an area that does not have a local inspection ordinance in place, the only time you would be required to have your septic system inspected is when you're building a new home that will use a septic system. DHEC must evaluate the home building site before issuing you a permit to construct the septic system. Without this permit, you cannot obtain a county building permit.

Local ordinances vary, and some require more of septic tank owners than others. For instance, some local ordinances require an inspection if you want to change the home's size or designated usage in a way that could potentially place greater stress on the septic system. An example would be if you are renovating your two-bedroom home to become a four-bedroom home, or connecting your home to a system originally designed for a limited use office building.

Regular inspections catch problems early so you can fix them before they harm your family's health, become much more expensive to repair, damage the environment, and possibly create a legal liability for you.

Alternative systems use newer technology. Some use sand, peat or plastic instead of soil to treat wastewater. Others use wetlands, lagoons, aerators, or disinfection devices. Float switches, pumps, and other electrical or mechanical components are often used in alternative systems. Alternative systems require more frequent and careful maintenance, but they can sometimes allow you to install a septic tank on land that lacks soils suitable for traditional septic systems or where the under groundwater level is too high for a traditional system. DHEC considers the use of alternative systems on a case-by-case basis.

Toilets account for one-fourth to one-third of household water use. Most traditional toilets in older homes use 3.5 to 5 gallons per flush. Modern, high efficiency toilets use 1.6 gallons of water or less per flush. If you have problems with your septic system being flooded with household water, a high efficiency toilet could help. You can also lower the volume of water per flush in older toilet by placing a brick in the toilet tank.

To become licensed as a septic system installer, you will need to pass an examination with a score of 80% or better. The examination covers topics found in Regulation 61-56, Onsite Wastewater Systems. Study the regulation, and once you are ready to take the examination, you should contact your local Environmental Affairs (EA) office to schedule an appointment. Once you pass the examination, please submit an application to your local EA office and pay the $100.00 licensing fee.

To become licensed as a septic system pumper/hauler, please submit an application to your local EA office, pay the $100.00 licensing fee, and submit an approval letter from the dumping facility you plan to utilize for waste disposal. Within the first 30 days of becoming licensed as a septic system pumper/hauler, you will need to have your pump vehicle inspected by your local EA office.

For more information on the licensing of septic system installers and pumper/haulers, please review Regulation 61-56.1, License to Construct or Clean Onsite Sewage Treatment and Disposal Systems and Self-Contained Toilets and visit the Permits, Licenses, and Reports webpage, or contact your local EA office.

To become licensed as a master contractor, you will need to have been licensed as a septic system installer and actively installing for 3 years with no pending onsite wastewater system enforcement actions. If you are licensed as a septic system installer in another state, please supply the Department with affidavits from the regulatory authority supporting five (5) years of experience with no pending septic tank contracting disciplinary actions. Master contractors need to be insured and bonded. Bond amounts should be enough to cover your most expensive project.

You will need to pass an examination with a score of 80% or better. The examination covers topics found in Regulation 61-56, Onsite Wastewater Systems. Once you are ready to take the examination, you should contact your local EA office to schedule an appointment. Once you pass the examination, please submit an application, provide proof of insurance and bond, and pay the $75 application fee and $200.00 licensing fee.

For more information on the licensing of master contractors, please review Regulation 61-56.2, Licensing of Onsite Wastewater Master Contractors and visit the Permits, Licenses, and Reports webpage, or contact your local EA office.

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