Reactivating an Old Septic Tank

Written by tom raley
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Reactivating an Old Septic Tank
Uncover your septic tank. (construction worker image by Greg Pickens from

A septic tank requires little maintenance and can sit idle for long periods with no ill effects. If you are reactivating an idle septic system--perhaps by moving into a home that has been vacant for several months or years--you will want to take some precautions to be certain your septic tank is in good operating condition.

Skill level:

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Things you need

  • Shovel
  • Flashlight
  • Pry bar
  • Broom

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  1. 1

    Locate your septic tank. If moving into a home with a septic tank, just locating the tank can sometimes be a major challenge. Most local codes require the tank to be located a minimum of 10 feet from the foundation of the house. A major clue to the tank's location can be the exit point for the main house drain. Normally the drain will leave the home and go directly into the septic tank. Locate the drain and follow an imaginary line out from the house 10 to 12 feet.

  2. 2

    Dig a test hole to locate the septic tank. Most tanks will be buried at a depth of 24 inches or less. The maximum should be 4 feet, but this will be the exception. Once the tank is discovered, remove enough dirt to reveal the access hatch or hatches. Depending on the age of the tank it may have a single hatch on the centre or an access hatch on each end of the lid. Use the broom to sweep away excess dirt to prevent it from entering the tank when the hatch is opened.

  3. 3

    Have the septic tank pumped out. While the tank may not be full, it is a good idea to have the tank pumped out if you're reactivating an old tank. This gives you a fresh start, removes any problems in the tank and allows you the opportunity to properly inspect the tank and its components.

  4. 4

    Inspect the interior of the tank for any signs of damage or cracks. Also carefully check the baffles on each end of the tank. If the baffles are missing or damaged, they should be repaired or replaced before the system is used. You should never operate a septic tank without the baffles.

  5. 5

    While the tank is open, run a large amount of water through it from the house. Check to make certain the water drains into the tank properly. If the water doesn't reach the tank, there is a clog in the drain line which will need to be cleared before the tank can be used.

Tips and warnings

  • You should wear eye and hand protection while working in or near the septic tank.
  • Do not enter the septic tank. The fumes inside are toxic and the low oxygen levels in the tank can suffocate you quickly.

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