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Septic Sleuth

Step one: Find the tank

Ask This Old House Crew
Photo by Matt Kalinowski

We've lived in our house for quite a while but only recently started to experience problems with our septic system. Unfortunately, we don't even know where the septic tank is. How do we find it?

— Joseph, Portland, IN


Norm Abram replies: If you can't get this information from the former owners of the house, visit your town offices. The town typically has records on the location of septic tanks, though the records don't always include houses as old as yours. You could also check local companies that pump septic tanks — they usually keep records too, and even a rough sketch will help to locate the tank. I've heard of plumbing companies flushing electronic "mice," attached to a tether, down a toilet, then using a detector outside to listen for the beeping mouse when it reaches the underground tank. Or you could try this low-tech method on your own: Look at your yard on a frosty morning. Bacterial decomposition in the tank creates enough heat to melt frost and even small amounts of snow on the soil above the tank.

Once you find the tank, let a professional septic service take care of the repairs — this isn't work for homeowners.


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