Making Septic Tank Access Easier

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Old 08-27-18, 10:39 AM
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Making Septic Tank Access Easier

Everything has been working fine with my home's conventional septic system. In the interests of keeping it that way, I just had my septic tank pumped as preventative maintenance. I purchased my Indianapolis home 2 years ago and the previous homeowner did not remember the last time it was pumped.

I dug out the mostly clay soil above the 2 access lids of my 1000 gallon concrete septic tank. The lid over the outlet is only about ten inches underground, while the one over the inlet is about 18 inches down. Even though these aren't all that deep, I'm wondering about inexpensive ways to make it easier to access the 2 covers in the future.

This house was built in 1960 (not sure of the age of the septic tank, it might be original, but I don't know). Our neighborhood has municipal sewer lines at the street, although my home is not connected. I'd like to keep using my current gravity-fed septic system since connecting to the municipal sewer will be over $10,000 which includes the price of a macerator / ejector pump to flow uphill to the municipal sewer connection. However, I also confirmed with municipality that I will not be allowed a permit for any major repairs (such as replacing the septic tank or installing a new leach bed). I will be required to connect to the city sewer in this case. So this is why I'm looking at inexpensive solutions to the following:

I priced 2 complete 24" diameter riser packages from Septic Solutions and they would cost $426 combined (parts only, labor extra, although I could possibly install them myself). That seems a bit salty to me based on my not knowing how long I'll be able to keep using my septic (hopefully another 50 years, but who knows?).

So, I'm wondering, is there something I can use to fill the 2 holes over the original concrete lids to make it easier to access?

I was thinking of the following:

A: Fill holes with sand instead of clay, but not sure if the easy passage of water thru sand would lead to rain water percolating down and entering the septic tank through the concrete lids (the mating surfaces are NOT watertight). Perhaps I could use plumbers putty covered by pieces of plastic tarp laid over the access lids to block water from entering between lid and top of septic tank?

B: Fill holes with the lightest "soil" I can find at Menards / Lowes / Home Depot as I am assuming it will be easier to dig up than the clay.

C: Put plastic bags of shipping "popcorn" on top of the lids and then the bottom portion of a large plastic garbage can positioned upside down, and either covered with a thin layer of sand/soil/clay. Not sure about how much weight the trash can could support, but if I walked over it and crushed the garbage can, I would only fall into packing peanuts, so I wouldn't injure myself. And the concrete septic access lid would prevent me from falling into the septic tank anyway.

D: Cut pieces of foam board and layer them sandwich-like into the hole, then cover top portion of hole with soil or mulch or concrete pavers to mark the spots for redigging for future septic tank maintenance.

E: Cut short pieces of some sort of plastic culvert "pipe" that is say, 24 to 26 inches in diameter, and set them on top of the concrete access lids so they form risers of a sort, and have them either stick up above grade or be at grade, and then set lids on them. Then, for tank maintenance, I could pull off the lid and pull the concrete access port's lid out through the culvert pipe. Or pull the piece of culvert pipe out of the ground the next time the tank needs to be pumped.

Sorry for the long post, just wondering before I refill the holes if there is a "right" way to refill them?

Regards, Cuz.
 
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Old 08-27-18, 11:02 AM
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Mine are just pieces of 24" corrugated EPDM Culvert (12'", 18" and 24" if I remember correctly), covered by inexpensive PolyLok Covers . . . . cost probably less than $175:
 
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Old 08-27-18, 03:50 PM
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Thanks Vermont. I saw your post from back in 2010 on a thread in this forum entitled "Septic Tank Risers", and I was interested in what your setup looked like. Can you tell me where you purchased the EPDM Culvert pieces, and was that price for parts only, or did you pay to have them installed by someone?

I measured my main access lid and it is larger than 24" since it is kinda horseshoe shaped, but I figured if I could simply pull the culvert out of the hole, I could always dig out the sides each time I needed to access the tank for maintenance. There would be far less digging effort to only dig out the sides a little (and backfill them in when finished, after I have re-inserted the culvert pieces).

Do your Polylok covers somehow attach to the culvert pieces, or are they staked into the ground, or do they simply lay on top of the culvert unattached?

Here are a few images so you can see my layout:

First shows my septic in relation to my house and pool (pool installed by previous homeowner is rather close to my septic tank, but Septic pumpers thought it was fine when I asked them about it). Center hole can be disregarded, as there is no access lid into septic there (it was a "dry hole" while I was looking for main access, which is closer to the house). Land slopes away from house towards left in picture, to grassy backyard where I assume my leach bed system resides. I don't know as local municipality does not have an "as built" record for my septic system, which makes me think my system is original, as their records do not go back to the early 60's.

Other 2 images show the access ports into my septic tank.

Regards, Cuz.
 
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Old 08-27-18, 04:22 PM
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I didn't shop around for these items; I bought from a local septic tank supply house where my concrete tank originated back in 1987.

Having had my tank pumped two times in that 31 years (and each time spending tooooo much time relocating where exactly the ports were located (even though we were here when it was installed) I decided to permanently identify the locations of the Inlet, Outlet, and Cleanout Ports with these risers and covers.

My supply house also sells culvert, and for the risers, they simply pulled out a chainsaw and sawed off appropriate lengths of the material for me. This stuff is double wall . . . . smooth on the inside and corrugated with 3" ribs on the outside, So because the surface of my location is slightly sloping, they were cut in what I now think was 12", 15" and 18" lengths.

In my case, the covers are all the same 24"; but they do have 30" and 36" if needed.

I installed these myself. Not a big deal once the ports are located; and the corrugated ribs really do keep them in place. The covers can be screwed down; and they do have locking covers. I just rely on gravity to keep mine in place; and I like the idea of periodically checking the sludge level in the tank pulling my outlet filter out and hosing it down seasonally . . . . but I'm way out in the boonies, so I don't think about vandalism or people stealing my septic covers. Some day that may be a concern; but not today. Except for people on the doityourself forum, no one knows that I possess such valuables !

If you only have two ports and one of them is larger than the 24" diameter you might consider a larger size for one. Shop around because prices easily vary more than 100%.

Besides for PolyLok, I;ve seen another good cover from Tuf-Tite . . . . but the most economical will probably be the one that your local supply house deals in. Amazon has a lot to look at for familiarization, but shipping could eat you alive. Here's a selection currently on Amazon:

https://www.amazon.com/s/?ie=UTF8&ke...foad44q9_b_p38

Once you know what you want, check on eBay too; but your local supply house is probably your best bet. Meanwhile, don't cover up your ports and forget where they are located. We learned that lesson (twice) !
 

Last edited by Vermont; 08-27-18 at 04:37 PM.
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Old 08-27-18, 07:19 PM
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Thanks Vermont! I'll check with my local plumbers supply house to see what sizes of culvert they offer, as I'll probabably need the 30", and I'll see what matching covers they offer too. Also, thanks for the link to Amazon. I've got a Prime trial membership for next 30 days, so perhaps the shipping would be free (I'll check).

Regards, Cuz.
 
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Old 08-28-18, 03:12 AM
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It looks like you've already done most of the "work" associated with installation . . . . (where'd you take your soil and sod ?) Measuring the depth becomes important so that the lids do not interfere with your lawn mowing in the future, and you can go right over the lids, or next to them. I only mow around one of mine, and I had to raise the level of the turf a little to simplify my mowing . . . . the other two are surrounded by a bed of Peonies that are just supposed to be mulched. My photo is from 2014.

I would pull that "horseshoe" looking cover and measure it carefully: I doubt that you need anything larger than a 24" culvert. Once the soil is put back around the outside; it won't budge if bumped by the lid as it's being removed, even if it is a bit snug. There must be some kind of interlock on that lid, making it necessary to always put it back in the same position. Which port did the Septic Service pump the tank from recently ? And did they tell you the depth of the sludge layer before they began the cleanout ?

If you need something larger, than 24' you do pay a disproportionate amount for that additional size. And a 24" is already pretty heavy for most service people (who like smaller ones.

The smaller square lid is the one where your outlet is located, correct ?

Is there a baffle below the square lid, preventing floating debris in the scum layer from exiting the outlet before being broken down ?

Whatever your system, it sounds like it was a good design originally and has not been abused over the decades,, and treated right, will continue to perform well for you into the future.
 
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Old 08-28-18, 08:54 PM
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I wheelborrowed the spoils of my digging over to some low spots in my yard and spread out the clay "soil". Most of my backyard is a crabgrass, clover and other various weeds, so I didn't shed a tear when I dumped the clay on top of my green "grass". Getting real grass to grow in my backyard is a future project.

Yeah, I was contemplating a mulched flower bad or something around the "riser" covers, and due to the slope of my yard (I typo'd my earlier update as the ground slopes to the right, not the left in the photo, away from the house), if the cover is flush to the ground on uphill side it will be above grade an inch or two on downhill side, unless I have culvert cut at an angle, so I might just have it above grade all around, and mow / weed wack around them both.

Septic Service guys pumped out the tank from both the inlet and outlet access ports, alternating with their long "slinky" hose. They did NOT tell me the depth of sludge or scum layers*. They did assess the condition of my septic tank before and after pumping and said everything looked good, except my INPUT into septic tank is missing a baffle (see photo below). The original concrete baffle had broken off and fallen to the bottom of the tank some time in the past. I was right there snapping photos while the guys from Powers Septic Service opened the tank, so they didn't break it.

Owen, the younger guy, said he would install a new "baffle" into the input line if I had a tee and an 18" piece of straight 4" PVC sewer pipe (which would angle the incoming flow towards the bottom of the tank, with the top of the tee facing the access lid to make future clean out of the "down pipe" easy. He offered to install it for free for me on the spot, but I didn't happen to have a tee on hand, and they were't willing to wait around while I drove to Lowes to pick one up.

Not sure how important the input baffle is, since my system is still working fine even without it. Do you have any thoughts? I did pick up a 4" tee and I have a 4 foot piece of 4 inch PVC pipe that I can cut to any length. I can either wait until next tank pump out in 3 to 6 years, or do it sooner. If I do it myself, no labor charge, other than lifting that heavy concrete lid, but since the guys just had it open, perhaps it wouldn't be too much of a pain in the back to do it now myself. Owen thought it would be $150 to have the them come back out to install it, which seems a bit pricey just to install this single item.

The output pipe to the leach bed has an intact concrete baffle and the outlet pipe has a vertical piece that goes down several feet to ensure it doesn't allow the floating scum or settled sludge to flow out to the fingers. See photos below for before and after cleaning. You are correct, the smaller access lid is over the outlet.

I've also attached a photo of each lid showing their dimensions. The inlet lid is approximately 22" in diameter, but the horseshoe interlock ("keyed") part makes the maximum portion of the opening be 25 inches, which is why I figure a 24" access won't quite allow the concrete lid to be pulled up out of it, so I'm wondering if I can find a 26", 28" or 30" dia culvert. Dang! I'm hoping these culvert sections don't weigh too much, that was part of what I'm trying to avoid, as I'm a small guy plagued with back issues...

It is supposed to rain here in Indy tomorrow, so I sprayed some DAPtex+ Foam Sealant at the joint between the concrete tank and each lid (see photo), so I'm hoping this keeps any rain out. I also have some boards over the holes, too. This should help keep from filling the tank with rainwater while I try to decide what to do.

* = Powers Septic Service told me before I hired them that they would not measure the scum & sludge layers. They said it was because they use a machine to "blend" it all up during the pump out. The blender looked like a suped-up weed wacker motor driving a propeller to stir the tank's contents together.
I'm not sure I completely understand their answer though. They could have measured the layers prior to blending. Anyway, I wanted to have tank pumped and inspected. I figure the next time I have it pumped, I may use someone else who agrees to measure the layers first, so I know if it even needs to be pumped, and when.

And I've found several web sites which give instructions on building my own measuring tools and describe the process. Another reason to want quick and easy access to my septic tank.
https://www.doh.wa.gov/Portals/1/Doc...bs/337-126.pdf
https://inspectapedia.com/septic/Sew...ring_Tools.php

Photos:

1 - Input with missing concrete baffle (the broken off piece can be seen at bottom of photo laying on bottom of tank).
2 - Outlet After Cleaning
3 - Outlet Before Cleaning
4 - Blender being used by Powers Septic Service to aid in pumping out the tank. The main (inlet) access lid is laying on the grass.
5 - Larger (Inlet) access lid's dimensions
6 - Smaller (Outlet) access lid's dimensions
7 - Spray foam sealing the concrete lid to the tank
 
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Old 08-29-18, 03:53 AM
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If you cut a riser (or culvert) at an angle, you may need an oblong (or oval) cover which would be a procurement nightmare.

It's a matter of geometry whether your horseshoe shaped cover could be maneuvered through a 24" culvert . . . . with the flat edge or keyway going down first. I see that it's located along the very edge of your tank, which must play a role its design I can't read your tape measure; but it must be close ?

You probably know that many people forego putting the concrete lids back in once they install the risers. In that case, you'd want the covers secured more than what I do relying on gravity alone . . . . maybe using those stainless steel screws.

As a Real Estate Broker these past 30 years or so, I've had Building Inspectors question the absence of the actual concrete lids, and some home buyers will question anything where parts appear to be missing . . . . and if that's a future concern, where does one temporarily store them ?

I'm not sure about what sealant does; rainwater can only add the equivalent of one handwashing's worth of water, and it will probably make it more difficult to remove the lid next time.

For measuring sludge, I have a long " rod that I can periodically insert into the tank to "feel" how deep that layer has become. They say you should consider having the tank pumped when gets to be more than 12 or 18"; but mine has been holding at about 8", and that has been true for over 5 years. I guess we're y careful with what goes down drain, and a lot of organic material goes out to our Compost Pile(s).

As an aside, I once sold a place with a "working" 500 gallon metal septic tank which had to be inspected, and when they lifted the metal cover (which was the entire top of the tank, it was loaded with dry sludge except for the perimeter . . . . you could walk across it. ! That tank was abandoned in place and a new one installed. (I understand that you won't have that option, so you don't want to go there).

Thinking about that missing Inlet Baffle on your tank, it helps to guarantee that anything which could float will be forced to submerge first. Your tank seems to be functioning well without that baffle . . . . because you're not flushing a lot of floating debris.

Anyway, you're on your way to saving quite a bit of money . . . . even more if they would only give us a discount for making it so easy to pump tanks with risers !
 
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Old 08-31-18, 08:37 PM
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Yeah, I don't think I'll cut the culvert at an angle for just that reason. I think having a level lid just looks nicer!

I was a bit concerned when I first realized how close my access lids are to the tank's outer walls, but that was obviously the design. It made me realize a round riser wouldn't mate up perfectly to the concrete top of the tank, as a portion of the round riser would have to jut out beyond the outer wall of the septic tank, with only dirt beneath it. I assume that isn't a problem as I've seen both square and round tank adapter rings to connect between concrete tanks and plastic risers, such as these which I was looking at from Septic Solutions:
https://www.septicsolutions.com/sept...a-24-riser-kit

I was wondering if it is possible for the septic pumper guys to finagle that horseshoe concrete lid up through a 24" round riser, and perhaps it is. Sorry, the tape measures are a bit unreadable. I should have put the dimensions in my text to go along with the photo:
Vertical Tape reads 22"
Horizontal Tape reads 22.5"
Diagonal Tape reads 24.5"

I'm not sure I could maneuver the concrete lid thru a 24" riser by myself, though. Which is part of reason I am delaying doing anything while I mull it over.

Yeah, if I removed the concrete lids, then I'd want strong risers (and lids), and I'd use the butyl sealant tape to adhere the riser to my tank, but I'd skip using the concrete anchor bolts, as I'm too nervous I'd damage the concrete septic tank cover. The guys from Powers said they felt the tape provided a pretty decent anchor all by itself, and it was pretty well sealed too.

I can see the advantage to eliminating the concrete lids, as it takes a lot less muscle to remove the plastic riser lid. But then I get back into the cost for nice risers... That's why I'm leaning more towards filling the 2 holes with bags full of shipping popcorn or multiple layers of foam boards cut in 2' x 2' squares, and then covering with a decorate large diameter patio paver over each to mark the location and an inch or two of dirt or mulch (just sufficient to cover the foam), with the concrete tank lids still in place.

As far as the DAPtext sealant I added, I'm not sure if it will stand up to a heavy rain anyway, as it is pretty flimsy stuff. I think it is made for filling gaps around windows and doors, not sealing concrete lids. I haven't tried it yet, but it looks like it will be very easy to remove. I agree with you that rain won't add much of a load. I probably load it more when I take an extra long shower.

I plan on building similar tools and measuring the scum & sludge levels by removing the outlet lid only (after all it is closer to grade level, and weighs a lot less), so I can see if the layers build up at the rate requiring my tank to be pumped at the average timeframe (almost 6 years for a 1000 gallon tank and a household of 2 people). We don't have a garbage disposal, and we wipe down our pans & dishes with paper towels (which go into the trash can) to prevent grease and fats from entering our septic system. And I have a filter on my washing machine to trap most of the lint from the machine's waste water to prevent it from going into the septic tank. But our water softener's recharge waste water and basement perimeter drain system both go into our single sump, and that is pumped into the septic tank, so that may increase the pump-out frequency.

I need to start a compost pile to divert most of our organic waste; however, most of that doesn't go down the drain but into the trash can. I'm pretty careful here, after having plugged up the drains in a previous house (on municipal sewer) when I ran the disposal after peeling some potatoes and it formed a solid plug deep in the drain lines. I had to snake that out from the air stack on the roof!

Haha, I love the story of the metal tank. Good thing it was inspected, as I can only imagine the kind of plumbing backup which could have resulted. I wonder how much of that sludge was forced into the leach bed as the tank filled completely up? Guess that was part of the "new system": a new tank and a new finger system!

Yeah, I've pretty much decided against installing the inlet baffle, at this point. My system does seem to be working fine without it. More importantly, it seems like a clog point to add a down pipe to force the incoming sewage to dive down. Wouldn't most of the toilet paper and other "floaties" build up in the baffle and begin to force the incoming stream to backup?

But yep, I am thinking we should ask for a break on the price since it is so easy to access the lids! It only took the pumpers 45 minutes to pump out my tank, since I had located them and dug them both up!

Thanks again for all your comments and pointers! I'll post some fotos of whatever I decide to do ("official" riser, culvert and lid, bags of shipping popcorn or layers of 1" foam board crowned with pretty patio pavers).

Regards, Cuz.
 
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Old 09-01-18, 04:33 AM
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You're not is a rush, and right now, you just want to keep the (shallow) sides of your excavated turf walls from collapsing while you think about this.

Maybe there's an inexpensive storage container that could be re-purposed to perform that role ?

If you could make a coil (circle) of old linoleum or formica to encircle the lids and you could add a top to keep the water out . . . . I'm thinking Garbage Can Lid.

I once went Spelunking near Bloomington, Indiana and the Vagabond Club took us out to a Farmer's Field where they lifted some garbage can covers and we descended down into miles of limestone caves where we got lost for 16 hours. That's a different story; but the garbage can lids must have been pretty big in diameter to allow the passage of young (stupid) adults down into those multilevel caverns !

Maybe something like this with the bottom cut off at an appropriate height:

https://www.ebay.com/itm/Very-Big-Tr...UAAOSw5CNbdymB
 

Last edited by Vermont; 09-01-18 at 05:01 AM. Reason: Added Link
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Old 09-02-18, 12:25 PM
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Yep, I'm thinking of using foam boards over the outlet access port since that isn't very deep, and the bottom portion of a large plastic trash can with foam packing peanuts in several bags underneath. And probably drape some plastic sheeting over them to reduce the moisture and dirt getting to the concrete access lids, then back-fill with dirt/mulch.

I'm checking now on Craigslist and Freecycle to see if anyone has any extra stryofoam peanuts I can have. Seems like a pretty cheap solution.

And if it doesn't work, I'm not out much cash, and I can always just fill in the holes with gardening soil.

I'm off to Menards / Lowes / HD to check their trash can offerings. That one mentioned in your URL looks pretty good too. It will be the standard to compare against the big box stores' offerings.

Thanks again!
Cuz.
 
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Old 09-27-18, 07:08 PM
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Ok, I finished "filling in" the spots above my 2 access ports. I've attached a few photos to show what I did.

Both access ports still have their original concrete lids installed, so my aim was only to make it easier to get to them again, in the future, without having to dig out as much dirt.

Over the outlet access, I purchased a single 1" thick 4' x 8' foam board from Menards for about $16 which I cut into 2' x 2' squares, so I could stack them like pancakes. The top 2 foam boards are smaller, something like 2' by 18 inches and 2' by 6 inches, resulting in a sloped surface to match the overall contour of the land. For the first 2 boards, I cut a slit to match the wire grab handle in the concrete access lid. I put a heavy bubble-wrap under the foam boards, and several empty plastic bags over them in an attempt to divert rain water away from the access lid.

I didn't get photos of my backfilling with the lightest-weight dirt I could find at Menards (80% sphagnum peat moss which is nice and light when dry, though I'm not sure if it will really be any lighter next time I have to dig it out, which might be after a heavy rain), covering with weed-control cloth and then adding mulch on top of that, due to it getting dark and my battling mosquitoes to get it finished.

A few days later, I did the inlet access port. For it, I cut off the bottom of a Rubbermaid Brute 32 gallon plastic trash bucket, filled it with the air pillows used for shipping (inside of a giant ziplock bag) in case I happen to fall through the bucket some day, hopefully the pillows will cushion my fall the 16 inches to the concrete lid. I put the cutoff bucket bottom, inverted over a piece of plastic (actually several empty mulch bags), and then I covered the bucket with a sheet of plastic and several more empty mulch bags (again to try to divert rain around the bucket and access lid). Then I backfilled the hole with "Lawn Soil" from Menards, and weed-control landscape fabric and mulch.

For the final touch, I put one of those old lawn irrigation "tractors" on top of each mulch patch, partly to keep people from walking on top of the bucket / foam boards, and also in hopes the weight of each tractor will help keep the foam boards or bucket from popping out if the lawn really gets saturated after a heavy rain. We'll see how that works...

I think it looks ok, and I will sure remember where to dig to access those lids.
 
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