The more you know...

Have you purchased a property with a septic tank, cesspool, or holding tank? Not sure what this means or the maintenance required to handle one? While there are similarities, each system operates differently and requires specific maintenance.

Sewer Systems

Over 75 percent of Americans run on sewer systems. A sewer system is an underground pipe or tunnel system that carries wastewater from a community of people to a sewage treatment plant or a natural body of water. Sewer systems are operated by city governments and paid for by property taxes.

There are three types of sewer systems: sanitary, storm, and combined. Sanitary sewer systems carry domestic wastewater to a sewer treatment plant. Storm sewers carry natural wastewater straight to natural bodies of water such as lakes, rivers, and oceans. Combined systems gather and handle both kinds of wastewater. Sewer systems are expensive to build and upkeep, which is why many rural areas don’t have them.  This is when homeowners start using septic tanks, cesspools, and holding tanks.

Septic Tanks

Septic tanks are part of a septic system.  A septic system is an underground treatment system that treats the wastewater from your home. The system is composed of two different parts. A septic tank and a drainfield. The tank holds the solids while discharging the wastewater into the soil through the drainfield. The septic tank stores all the solids until it is manually pumped out. The tank is made up of two separate containers. One holds the water while the solids settle into the bottom and the water moves into the second. Once in the second container, the water is slowly pumped out through pipes into a drainfield. The drainfield is a system of downward sloped pipes with holes cut in them that all originate from the septic tank and spread outward into the field away from your home.


A cesspool is similar to a septic system varying only in how the water is treated. The cesspool only has one container, usually made up of a concrete or block ring buried underground. When the wastewater fills it up, the solids sink to the bottom while the water slowly leaks out the holes into the soil. The bottom of the cesspool will have to be cleaned regularly in order for the lower holes not to be blocked, causing the system not to drain properly. Eventually, sewage will start leaking out of the cesspool due to deterioration and infect the soil around it. Cesspools will have to be replaced or relocated when this starts to happen.

Holding Tank

A holding tank is similar to a septic system but without any drainage. Everything that enters the holding tank, remains in the holding tank until it is pumped out. These tanks need to be pumped out often to keep the tank from becoming full. The average holding tank needs to be pumped out about every 6 to 8 weeks. A holding tank costs roughly $150 to $600 to pump out. But if your household uses a significant amount of water, then it will need to be pumped out more frequently. Holding tanks have an alarm to let you know when they need to be pumped out. On the plus side, there are less parts to a holding tank than a septic tank and it is significantly cheaper.

Which system is right for you?

When it comes to off-grid water treatment systems, the septic tank system is superior. It needs to be pumped out a lot less than a cesspool or holding tank and has a better drainage system. Both the cesspool and holding tank lack a proper filtering system, causing sewage to leak into the surrounding soil. Because of this, certain areas highly discourage them or even make them illegal. But if you already have a cesspool or holding tank grandfathered in, it’s not the end of the world. As long as you handle the extra maintenance and cost, having one of these systems is identical to having a septic system.   

Oftentimes, due to regulations, you will have to replace your holding tank or cesspool with a septic system. Installing a septic system can get expensive very quickly so you need to be on the lookout for what you need. A 3-or-4-bedroom home would normally use a 1000-gallon septic tank which can cost anywhere from $8,000-$15,000. While the tank itself only costs $600-$1200, it is the drain field that can cost anywhere from $5,000-$20,000. Be sure to get a professional opinion before dropping that amount on a system you may or may not need.

Sewer and septic systems have a direct correlation to your home’s plumbing. While we do not specialize in sewer or septic services, we are happy to recommend someone who can fulfill those needs upon request.For all of your home’s plumbing needs, schedule an appointment online or give us a call at 812-339-9114.

Schedule Online

Commercial Service offers 24/7 emergency services and is always happy to send over a certified technician to assess any potential problems. For non-emergency repairs, schedule an appointment with our easy Online Scheduling or by calling 812-339-9114.