Portland septic tank expert discusses cleaning and maintenance
Who we talked to
For Aloha Sanitary Services, business is a family affair. Bernard "Bud" Pickar started Aloha in 1962 after losing an eye and hand in a logging accident in Minnesota. Aloha currently features several Pickars, including Dave, his twin brother, Don, and his younger brother, Doug. "In this industry, it's tough to find someone willing to do the job the way you want it done," Dave Pickar says. "We rely on family. That way, the job gets done right."
How often should you clean your septic tank?
"The state of Oregon recommends you pump every 2.7 years for a 1,000-gallon septic tank that's being used moderately by three to five people. I disagree. I think every three to five years is good. Many can get by longer without pumping."
Are there warnings signs?
"If it's working correctly, there shouldn't be any signs. Set your calendar and make sure you get it pumped when that date comes up. If it's not working, you'll know. Water will back into the lowest point of your home, or a pool or puddle will form near the tank."
Do you wear gear?
"It's not hazardous waste. I've heard a few septic [companies] wear the [protective] white gear and masks, but it's not needed and is an added cost to the client. By Oregon law, you're not supposed to enter the tank without gear, but it isn't required to simply pump out the sludge."
How long does a cleaning take?
"Depending on how thick the earth is above the tank, about a half hour to an hour. You need to get the tank lid exposed. I recently did one job where it took me several hours just to get to the tank. Then we pump out the sludge, if it isn't too thick. If it's thick - I had one where you could stand on the sludge - then we need to get some water down there to break it up before pumping it out. Typically, pumping a 1,000-gallon tank will run $370."
What should a homeowner do between cleanings?
"It's what they don't put down there that matters most. The biggest problems I see are when an owner puts grease, egg shells or coffee grounds down their sink. The grease clogs the pipes, and coffee grounds and egg shells don't break down."
What's the strangest thing you've ever found?
"I found three $10,000 diamond rings once. Yes, that's $30,000 worth of diamond rings. I guess this guy's parents went through a divorce and his mother flushed the rings down the toilet. The guy inherited the house, remembered the rings, and had me find them. He gave them to his wife, and they divorced six months later."