Hartford-area septic tank expert discusses cleaning and maintenance

In eighth grade, Mark Romanuk became a plumber's assistant. "I just took an early interest to it," he says. Thirty-seven years later, he's now the owner of his own septic tank company with four pump trucks and two employees. "It's been a good business."

How often should you get your septic tank cleaned?

"Every two years is the recommended length of time. A commercial setup would need it done more often. Sometimes you can detect that it needs to be cleaned by the odor. Once in a while, you might get sluggish drainage or it might start backing up. Sometimes you won't even notice, but you'll be creating a problem underground. It's important to get it cleaned."

What kind of safety precautions do you take when cleaning a septic system?

"We have pressurized tanks. It's like a big vacuum cleaner. We also carry garden hoses on the trucks, so we can wash everything down. Unfortunately, there's not much we can do about the smell. It takes an average of 45 minutes to an hour to clean a tank. Each town has its own waste-disposal facility where we take the waste. You have to pay [a fee for disposal], and that varies depending on the town and area."

What can a homeowner do between cleanings to take care of the septic system?

"They should contact their local health department. They can get guidelines about what to do and what not to do. The biggest thing is to be careful about the soap and grease you flush and the things that don't break down [in the system], like Handi Wipes. Toilet paper is made to dissolve, but some of these wipes are more durable. The best remedy is to get it cleaned on a regular basis. Some people need to get it cleaned annually. It just depends on your lifestyle."

What's the strangest thing you've ever found when cleaning a septic tank?

"I did one septic tank where the homeowners were using bread bags - like Wonder Bread bags - in the bathroom and then flushing them. When it got clogged, they called me. I couldn't even count how many plastic bags were in there."

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