Septic Tank Installer and Servicer

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Septic Tank Installer and Servicer

Education and Training: High school and on-the-job training

Salary: Median—$30,120 per year

Employment Outlook: Varies—see profile

Definition and Nature of the Work

Septic systems dispose of sewage and gray water (wastewater from showers, sinks, and washing machines) from houses that are not connected to a public sewer line. A septic system consists of a sewer line, a septic tank, distribution boxes, and a drain system. Sewage and gray water flow through the sewer line from the house to the septic tank. Bacterial action inside the septic tank dissolves some of the waste. The solid waste flows through lines from the septic tank to the distribution boxes and from the distribution boxes to the drain system, where it disperses into the surrounding gravel and soil. Septic tank installers put all the parts of the septic system in place, except for the plumbing inside the house.

These workers install septic systems according to local building codes and plans developed by the local health departments. A plan specifies the construction details of the septic system. It states whether to use a drain field or a seepage pit for drainage. It also shows the location of the septic system in relation to the house, to the well-water supply, and to the adjoining properties.

There are two groups of septic tank installers: backhoe operators and laborers. Backhoe operators oversee laborers. Usually, one backhoe operator and two laborers work on one job.

The installers use the backhoe to dig the pits for the septic tanks and the distribution boxes. They also use the backhoe to dig the ditches to the drain fields or the seepage pits. They may use shovels and picks to level and trim the ditches and pits. Then they use a level to check the final results.

Generally, the supplier brings the septic tank and the distribution boxes to the site and puts them into place. The installers may use the backhoe to put the pieces into place. After the septic tank and the distribution boxes are in place, the septic tank installers put in the sewer lines from the house to the tank and from the tank to the distribution boxes. These lines may be made of cast-iron pipe, solvent-welded plastic pipe (PVC), or other materials. The lines must be watertight to prevent the seepage of liquid waste.

Next, the installers put in drain lines from the distribution boxes to the drain field or seepage pits. These lines may be made of concrete, clay tiles, perforated plastic, or fiber pipe. They are not watertight. The tile or pipe slopes away from the distribution boxes. Waste travels along the line and seeps into the surrounding gravel. If a seepage pit is required, the installers may use cement blocks to build it. Because the liquid in the pit seeps through the blocks into the surrounding gravel, the blocks do not have to be cemented.

Before the septic tank installers backfill the excavation, an inspector checks to see that the septic system complies with the local codes and the health department's plan. If the system complies, the installers use the backhoe to put five inches of gravel over the drain lines. They place a layer of building, or resin, paper on top of the gravel to prevent soil from clogging the drain lines. Then the installers backfill the trenches, the seepage pits, and the pits containing the septic tank and the distribution boxes. They grade the land and may plant grass.

Septic tank servicers repair and clean the tanks, drains, and other parts of the system. They may have to patch the tanks, remove dirt from the pipes, or replace damaged or malfunctioning pieces. They may also operate cleaning equipment, such as plumbers' snakes and high-velocity water jets.

Education and Training Requirements

A high school diploma or its equivalent is not required for this field, but it is preferred. High school courses in mechanics, blueprint reading, engine repair, and shop will be valuable. Similar courses are available at technical schools, along with courses in concrete work and the use of surveying tools and levels.

Training companies offer instruction for heavy equipment operators. This training covers the operation, maintenance, and repair of backhoes, bulldozers, graders, and scrapers. It may also cover surveying and how to set grading stakes.

Getting the Job

Potential employers are listed in the Yellow Pages under "Sewage Disposal Systems," "Sewer Contractors," "Septic Tanks and Systems, Cleaning—Residential," and "Septic Tanks and Systems—Contractors and Dealers." Newspaper classified ads, Internet job banks, and the state employment offices are other sources of job information. City and local governments employ workers to dig trenches and connect buildings to public sewer lines. Local union offices may also have information about jobs.

Advancement Possibilities and Employment Outlook

Septic tank installers are already at the top of their trade. After developing experience, some open their own installation businesses. A septic tank installer may also serve an apprenticeship under a licensed plumber. At the end of the apprenticeship, he or she may apply for a plumber's license and become a sewage-disposal contractor.

Employment of septic tank installers depends on the state of the housing industry in areas where septic tanks are used. When the economy is good and housing construction is in demand, there are many opportunities for septic tank installers.

Working Conditions

Septic tank installers perform hard physical labor outside in all climates. They lift, bend, stoop, and kneel to do their work. They may suffer muscle strains, bruises, and cuts from handling the material and equipment associated with the job.

Installers and servicers typically work forty-hour weeks. However, the number of working hours in a week depends on the weather, completion dates, and the number of jobs under contract. They may work fewer than forty hours a week in severe cold or rainy weather. They usually earn extra pay for overtime.

Where to Go for More Information

National Onsite Wastewater Recycling Association, Inc.
P.O. Box 1270
Edgewater, MD 21037
(410) 978-1697

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Office of Wastewater Management (4204M)
1200 Pennsylvania Ave. NW
Washington, DC 20460
(202) 564-0748

Associated General Contractors of America
2300 Wilson Blvd., Ste. 400
Arlington, VA 22201
(703) 548-3118

Associated Builders and Contractors
4250 N. Fairfax Dr., Ninth Floor
Arlington, VA 22203-1607
(703) 812-2000

Laborers' International Union of North America
905 Sixteenth St. NW
Washington, DC 20006-1765
(202) 737-8320

Earnings and Benefits

The median income for septic tank installers and servicers in 2004 was $30,120 per year. These workers may receive some benefits, such as holidays, vacations, sick leave, or pensions.