Frequently Asked Questions

drainfield failure


i just moved into a home that was vacant for years. i have no idea when the septic system was serviced last. should i have the septic tank pumped out?

Yes! It's recommend to have the septic tank pumped out sooner rather than later. Since most people don't know how often to maintain their septic systems, many times we find that systems have been neglected for a very long time. Even though a home has been vacant for months or even years, this does not mean the solids in the septic tank have disappeared. Although some of the liquid may evaporate if the home is left vacant for a long period of time, the solids are still in the tank and need to be removed. It's better to be safe than sorry!

i don't know where my septic tank is. can your company locate it?

Yes, definitely without a doubt! There hasn't been a septic tank yet that we could not locate! We normally can locate it with a T-probe. For more difficult-to-find systems we have a special video camera that can help us to locate your system. 

I've never had any problems with my septic system. why does it need to be pumped out?

There are several reasons why you need to keep your septic tank pumped out on a routine basis, but the most common one is to prevent your system from failing. Just like changing the oil in your vehicle, you would never expect your car to last for years without the preventative maintenance so why would you expect your septic system to last without the proper preventative maintenance? Many people think that just because they haven't "seen" any problems with their system, they assume there aren't any problems. The truth is you won't likely see any problems until it is too late. When water begins to surface in your yard or when the system starts to back up into the house, this could be a sign/symptom of system failure. Don't wait until the system starts to fail to begin your preventative maintenance!

how often should my septic tank be pumped out?

It is recommended to have your septic tank pumped out approximately every 2-3 years. This is not only recommended by our company, but also by your local environmental health department. Many people assume that the time to pump out their septic tank is when it backs up into the home or when liquid starts to surface in the yard. NEVER wait for your system to back up to start maintaining it. Waiting too long in-between pump outs could result in major damage to the system and could cost you thousands in repairs or replacement.

i live in north carolina and i've had my septic tank pumped out before, but no one has ever told me that my septic tank has two separate compartments! are you sure this is accurate?

We literally hear this multiple times per day from new customers because many companies lack the knowledge for proper maintenance. 99% of all septic tanks installed in North Carolina have (2) separate compartments - even the hand-built cinder block septic tanks that were installed back in the 1930's.

If you live in South Carolina, your septic tank probably only has one compartment and this is normal.

do i need a permit for a major repair to my septic system?

Most major repairs do require a repair permit from your local environmental health department, such as drainfield replacement, adding drain lines, and tank replacement. If anyone ever offers to install, repair, or replace your septic system without a permit, be very cautious! It is in your best interest to get your permits to ensure you are getting the right kind of work you need.

can my septic tank be pumped out of the pvc pipe that i see sticking out of the ground?

If you see a piece of PVC pipe sticking up out of the ground, this may either be a clean out cap for access to removing clogs or a locator for your septic tank. The septic tank cannot be pumped out of this pipe efficiently. Your septic tank lids are at least 20" x 20" each. If anyone tells you they can pump your septic tank out of that small PVC pipe, they will not likely be able to remove the solids, clean the filter, or check the inside of the tank.

what are the signs of drainfield failure?

  • Gurgling toilets/drains
  • Foul odor in the yard
  • Greener grass over the drainfield than the rest of the yard
  • Plumbing backups
  • Wet or mushy ground over the drainfield
  • Water surfacing in the yard

what is the proper way to have my septic tank pumped out and serviced?

If you reside in North Carolina, your tank should have (2) lids with (2) separate compartments/chambers. There is a baffle wall inside the tank making it a two-compartment tank. After opening the tank lids, everything including the liquid, sludge, and solids should be pumped out of both compartments. You should be able to see the bottom of your septic tank in both compartments after the tank is pumped out. We understand that most people do not care to watch this process, but if you are not using a reputable company to perform the work, you may not be getting what you "think" you are paying for! If a company tells you they are going to pump out the "whole" tank, make sure they clarify if this means both compartments or just one compartment. Only pumping one compartment is not only misleading you as a consumer, but it can cost you thousands of dollars down the road. Your outlet tee condition needs to be checked along with the baffle wall, structural integrity of the tank, and clogs/leaks in your inlet pipe. If clogs are present in the inlet pipe, they should be cleared out immediately to avoid a backup into your home. If leaks are present, they need to be corrected immediately to avoid overloading your system with additional water. Your septic tank should be covered back up once your service is complete (if digging was necessary). There are several things that need to be checked during a pump out. Just pumping the septic tank without checking over your system could result in a minor issue turning into a major, costly one. Even a small leak coming from your house could put your system into failure! You may be able to prevent costly repairs or replacement if problems are detected early. 

If you reside in South Carolina, your septic tank should be a one compartment/chamber tank because there is no baffle wall present in most of the tanks in your state. There is a lid on each end of the septic tank. Sometimes only one lid needs to be opened depending on the situation. South Carolina tanks should be able to be pumped out efficiently from only one lid.  

what payment options does your company accept?

  • Cash
  • Check
  • Visa
  • Master Card
  • Discover
  • Debit Card

what is sub-surface operation maintenance?

Sub-surface operation is manual operation and maintenance required for certain types of septic systems. There are many different types of systems. Maintenance and operation may include but not be limited to the following:

  • Evaluate and inspect the components of the septic system
  • Flush lines
  • Adjust head pressures
  • Exercise and adjust valves

how can i prevent my septic system from backing up into my home?

Backups can be VERY inconvenient, VERY expensive, VERY embarrassing, and they usually happen at the most inopportune time - like when you're entertaining a large number of people in your home. 

  • Have your septic tank pumped out about every 2-3 years.
  • Have an effluent filter installed in your septic tank.
  • Use Bio-One or Lenzyme monthly additives. Never use additives that could potentially damage your drainfield.
  • Avoid using a garbage disposal if you have one.
  • Don't flush anything in the toilet other than toilet paper.
  • Never flush baby wipes or any other type of wipes that claim to be "flushable."
  • Don't over-use bleach or any other household cleaner/chemical

These are the most common things that you can do to help prevent a backup.

why are household leaks bad for my septic system?

Household leaks can cause big problems in your septic system. A leaking toilet can put up to 2,000 gallons of water in your system within a 24-hour period which will over-saturate the drainfield and cause problems. We recommend checking your toilets and fixtures for leaks about every 6 months. Toilets are the most common thing when it comes to leaks so we're going to let you in on a little secret. You don't need a plumber to check your potentially leaking toilets- you can do it yourself! All you need is some food coloring or Easter egg dye. Take the lid off of the tank of the toilet. Drop about 15 drops of food coloring or a dye tablet into the tank of the toilet. Do not flush. Wait about 60 minutes. If you observe any color/dye in the toilet bowl, this means your toilet is leaking. Usually, you can fix this by replacing the flapper. We recommend getting a good quality flapper. After you have replaced the flapper, do the dye test again just to be sure this has corrected the problem.

what are access risers and why are they so important?

Access risers are an important asset to a septic system. Almost all new septic tanks include an extension that brings access to your septic tank to ground level and up to code. Of course the real advantage of this is that you no longer have to pay for having your lawn dug up to gain access to pump out the septic tank or to check the system if a problem arises. Trying to locate an underground septic tank can be difficult, labor intensive, and costly. Access risers can solve this problem once and for all. This above ground access point can be an excellent investment for your home and can save lots of time, money, and aggravation. Imagine your septic tank backing up into your home and the tank is unable to be located in order to pump it out. This means no water, no showers, no laundry, etc. and it could last for days until your tank is able to be properly located and uncovered! 

is it true, i can't use bleach?

Bleach kills bacteria and your septic system needs to have a healthy supply of bacteria in order to help eat away at the sludge in your tank. Many products we use in our homes today are anti-bacterial, so it is important to REPLACE that bacteria by using our bacterial additives. You may order Bio-One or Lenzyme by calling our office at 704-447-5500. For more information on these products, visit our Products page.

i would like to add more bedrooms to my home. does my septic system need to be upgraded?

The answer to this question needs to be answered by your local environmental health department. It is likely that they will require an upgrade to your system. If you add bedrooms to a home, this usually means there will be more people living in the home and more water usage. You definitely want to make sure your system is sufficient for the larger amount of water usage than it was originally installed for. If you have more people in the home than the system can handle, your drainfield will eventually fail. It's not a matter of "IF" the drainfield fails, but a matter of "WHEN!" Another point you want to look at is the resale value of your home. For instance, if the system was originally permitted for a 3 bedroom home and you have either added bedrooms or turned a bonus room, office, etc. into a bedroom (and never upgraded the system), it is very possible you may only be able to sell your home as a 3-bedroom home unless you upgrade the system.

where can i find the records for my septic system?

Septic system records are kept on file with your local environmental health department. You will need to contact them to locate the files. Be prepared to provide them with some information. Each county may require different information to locate the files, for example, address, year home was built, parcel ID number, lot number, original purchaser's name.

what additives should i be using and why are they important?

If you use household cleaners, soap, shampoo, conditioner, laundry detergent, or other products that can kill the good bacteria in your septic system we recommend using Bio-One or Lenzyme. Some additives can damage your drainfield so be sure whatever you use is safe for your system. Bio-One and Lenzyme are both safe for your system, your family, your pets, it works great, and both are very affordable. To purchase either product please contact our office at 704-447-5500.


  1. Is your company a full service septic company so that if my system requires additional work such as repairs, can this service be provided?
  2. How many lids can I expect your company to dig up and open on my septic tank?
  3. How many chambers/compartments will your company empty out of my tank? (Hint: If you reside in NC, the answer should almost always be 2! This means 2 lids will have to be opened/uncovered.
  4. Will your technicians remove all of the black sludge from the bottom of my tank? If the answer is no, then ask why! (We'll give you a little hint – if anyone tells you the good bacteria needs to be left in the bottom of your tank - be very cautious!
  5. Is disposal included in the pricing?
  6. Will I be charged with a dispatching or arrival fee?
  7. Will I be charged with an environmental/energy fee?
  8. Will I be charged with a fuel surcharge fee?
  9. Is your company locally owned?
  10. Does your company subcontract any of the work and if so what is the name of the company who will be working on my property?

is your company qualified to work on alternative septic systems?

Yes! We specialize in maintaining, repairing, and installing all types of septic systems that have been approved for North Carolina and South Carolina.

how do i know if my septic system requires sub-surface operation maintenance?

Contact your local environmental health department. They will be able to look up the type of system you have and determine if your system requires sub-surface operations.

what is an effluent filter and why is it important?

In NC, any septic tank permitted after 1999 is required by law to have an effluent filter installed inside. This cartridge-style filter prevents solids and sludge from leaving your septic tank and potentially clogging up your drainfield. It is recommended to have an effluent filter installed in your septic tank if one is not present. It is a very affordable component and may prolong the life of your system.


i'm in the market to purchase a home. how important is a septic inspection?

The real question is this: Are you prepared to spend $4,000 - $12,000 (or more) to replace a septic system or connect to city sewer? If the answer is No, then your septic inspection is one of your most important inspections. If a septic system is failing, many times you won't see any signs above ground. A failing septic system may be a deal-breaker or a negotiating point for many people who are trying to purchase a home.

north carolina septic tank diagram

should i have my septic system located before building or placing any type of structure in my yard?

Yes, absolutely! If you plan to build or put anything in your yard, for example, concrete walkway, shed, swimming pool, deck or patio, and even trees and shrubs you absolutely need to have all of the components in your septic system located beforehand. Time and time again, we visit properties frequently who are having septic issues but the septic tank is not accessible because something is covering it. The only way to access the septic tank is to remove the structure over the system. This could be a huge disappointment, especially for that brand new deck you just hand-built yourself. Never put anything over any component of your septic system.

what is terralift?

Terralift is a technological breakthrough in soil restoration. It solves a number of soil problems including compaction, saturation, and improper drainage, without disturbing the ground surface. Terralift provides a fast solution to many ground water problems. Terralift uses a long, narrow probe and an integral pneumatic hammer to penetrate the soil to depths of from 3 to 6 feet. It then forces air into the soil at a controllable rate, fracturing the soil, and creating an aerobic condition. If you are having drainfield issues/failure, Terralift may be an alternative to doing a major repair. Contact us for more information. 

does your company offer emergency service?

1st Choice Service, Inc. offers emergency service after 5:00 pm Monday through Friday, on weekends, and holidays.

i've had other septic companies tell me that the solids in my septic tank could not be pumped out, but only the liquid. can your company remove the solids?

Absolutely! Some companies claim they offer an aeration service because it breaks up the solids and enables them to pump out the septic tank but this process can take weeks. If you're having a backup in your home, there's no time to wait. Our technicians are equipped with the right tools and knowledge to do the job all in the same day.

do i need a repair permit for a terralift?

No, a permit is not required for performing a terralift. Terralift is state-approved and is considered maintenance.

what are your hours of operation?


why does my system require sub-surface operation maintenance but my next door neighbor's system does not?

Every septic system is different because the soil varies on each piece of property. Your soil may be completely different than that of your nextdoor neighbor. As of July 1, 1992, there are certain types of systems that require additional maintenance per the state of North Carolina. If you have the type of system that requires additional maintenance, and if your system was installed prior to this date, it is not required by law to have this maintenance performed. However, if you do not have this maintenance done on a regular basis, your system will not last as long as it should. This maintenance, if done properly, should prolong the life of your system. 

we hope that you have found our frequently asked questions to be helpful. if you would like to see anything else on this page or have a recommendation for our website please contact us via email:

video inspection camera

$10 Discount For Septic Pumping Services Available for Seniors, Military, Law Enforcement, & Disabled!

Excludes Inspection Services

how do i get a permit for repair or replacement of my septic system?

You will need to contact your local environmental health department for a permit.

what is an outlet tee & why is it important to have it checked routinely?

Outlet tees almost always deteriorate and fall off. In our experience, most outlet tees have anywhere from a 5-20 year lifespan. The outlet tee needs to be checked each time the tank is pumped out to be sure there is not any deterioration or damage. The outlet tee serves as protection for your drainfield, but it does not protect your system as well as an effluent filter. We can easily add an effluent filter!

Before contacting a Septic, Sewer, or Plumbing company check out this list of helpful questions to ask below:


The cost for a septic repair, upgrade, expansion, or a new system will be contingent upon the requirements permitted by your local environmental health department, which is normally based on a soil evaluation. If you have a permit for your project, we can provide a quote according to the details and design on your permit.


i have an alarm with a buzzer and a red light on my septic system that is alerting me. what should i do?

if you ever have an alarm sounding, a red light flashing, or both call us ASAP! This is an indication that something is wrong with your system and it needs to be corrected as soon as possible.

why do septic systems fail?

There are several different reasons why septic systems fail. The #1 cause of septic system failure is neglect. Septic systems need to be maintained by having the proper preventative maintenance done on a regular basis to prevent failure. Below is a list of other common reasons for septic system failure:

  • Outlet tee becoming damaged
  • Effluent filter not being present in the tank
  • High volume of water usage in the home for an extended period of time, i.e. more people living in the home than the system can handle or leaks coming from the home.
  • Tree roots
  • Driving/parking over the septic system
  • Flushing foreign objects down the toilets/drains
  • Putting large amounts of kitchen grease down your drains
  • Poor installation/design of the system
  • Poor drainage over the system due to rain water not flowing away from system
  • Salt from water softeners



  • Baby Wipes
  • Cat litter
  • Fats, oils, or kitchen grease
  • Any kind of food
  • Cigarette butts
  • Contraceptives
  • Paint
  • Bleach and household cleaners that contain harmful chemicals
  • Dental floss
  • Medications
  • Paper towels
  • Pesticides
  • Sanitary feminine napkins

what services does your company offer?

We offer a wide variety of septic, sewer, grease, and trenchless pipe lining (aka CIPP) services to include maintenance, installs, and repairs, regardless of the size, type or project. Please visit our services page for a detailed list here:

Our Services

where can i find the contact information for my local environmental health department?

Below is a list of some of the counties that we service with their telephone numbers:

  • Mecklenburg county 704-336-5103
  • Union county 704-283-3553
  • Lincoln county 704-736-8426
  • Gaston county 704-853-5200
  • Cleveland county 704-484-5130
  • Catawba county 828-465-8270
  • Burke county 828-438-5430
  • Cabarrus county 704-935-1000
  • Rowan county 704-216-8525 
  • Iredell county - Mooresville office 704-664-5281
  • Iredell county - Statesville office 704-878-5305
  • South Carolina - DHEC 803-898-3432