Chicago-area plumbing expert discusses septic tanks
Who we talked to
Buck Stineburgison, crew lead
All American Sewer Septic & Water
P.O. Box 188
Buck Stineburgison has worked in the septic tank business for 34 years, joining All American about seven years ago. "I started working part time for a plumbing company, and I liked being outside," says Stineburgison, explaining that plumbing companies at that time handled several jobs from plumbing to septic systems, wells and HVAC systems. When he tells people what he does for a living, they usually ask him for advice. "Everybody uses the facilities," he says.
What kinds of safety precautions do you take when cleaning a septic tank?
"We wear gloves. When we do the work, people are always asking, 'Don't you get that all over yourself?' But we really don't have problems with getting dirty. We take great precautions to make sure people don't fall in, so we haven't had that happen. You just use a suction hose to suck the sewage out the tank - in virtue, it's like a big vacuum. Then when you're finished with it, you wash off the suction hose with a water hose.
"We never get used to the smell though. It's the hydrogen gas coming off the waste that causes the smell as bacteria breaks the waste down."
What can a homeowner do between cleanings to take care of the septic system?
"Putting bacterial cleaners, such as Rid-X Septic System Treatment, in the tank does help (bacteria breaks down the waste), but the biggest help is keeping grease, oils, medications and antibacterial items out of it. Antibacterial soaps and oils create a cover on top of the tank, which kills off the bacteria that's breaking down your waste because the bacteria can't get the oxygen they need.
"Homeowners should get a professional cleaning done every two to three years. The cleaning, based on the tank, can be as short as 20 minutes and as long as two hours. It's based on how much buildup there is. The tank size is based on the number of bedrooms in the house. The smallest tanks are 1,000 gallons for a one-bedroom house, while the bigger tanks are 1,250 gallons and 1,500 gallons for a two- to three-bedroom house.
"As for the waste, we'll then take it to a standard sewage treatment plant. We pump our tanker truck out into the plant's sewage vats. They have a complete system that breaks down the waste. The liquids are purified, and the water goes into lakes, ponds and streams. The separated solids are used for fertilizer."
What's the strangest thing you've ever found when cleaning a septic tank?
"We always find something that amazes us. One time we found a soccer ball. Somebody had removed the dirt, opened up the septic tank lid, threw the soccer ball down there and covered it up. They probably were trying to hide it from someone. As for usual items, we find a couple toys every once in a while that kids flush down the toilet."