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Septic Systems

The Septic System Program reviews construction plans, analyzes soil reports and conducts site evaluations for new commercial and residential systems. It approves and issues permits, evaluates new and repaired systems, and investigates complaints of failing systems. The program also issues permits for septage (waste) removal and inspects septage removal vehicles.

Many viruses, parasites, and bacteria can cause illness, including gastrointestinal problems. They can be transmitted by fecal contamination that’s due to the improper disposal of human waste. By regulating septic systems, we promote a healthy environment.

This page covers:

Choosing a certified contractor
Installing, modifying or repairing a septic system
Requesting a certification letter
Maintaining a septic system
Frequently asked questions
Helpful links


Choosing a certified contractor

You must use a certified contractor to install, modify or repair your septic system or to pump out the tank. The Georgia Department of Public Health certifies septic system installers, septic tank pumpers, and related businesses. For the list of certified contractors, click here.


Installing, modifying, or repairing a septic system

We must permit a new septic system, a new drain line, or a repair to an existing system prior to the work being done by a contractor.

The contractor must complete the Construction Permit and Site Approval application form and the OSSMS Engineered Site Plan Checklist. The forms can be submitted either:

  • Via email to Put “Sewage system permit application” in the subject line.
  • In-person to Environmental Health
    445 Winn Way, Suite 320
    Decatur, Ga. 30030

Requesting a certification letter

A property owner may need an evaluation and a certification letter on a septic system to apply for a loan or refinancing, or to become a foster or adoptive parent. The letter documents that the system appeared to be functioning properly at the time of the evaluation.

To request a certification letter, click here.


Maintaining a septic system

Household practices

To prevent problems, don’t put the following in the wastewater system:

  • Oil, fat or grease
  • Coffee grounds
  • Paper towels
  • Cigarette butts
  • Plastics
  • Medications, especially antibiotics
  • Condoms
  • Feminine hygiene products
  • Paints or solvents
  • Industrial cleaners
  • Large amounts of cleaning products
  • Automobile fluids such as gas, oil, antifreeze or transmission fluid

Also, be mindful of your water use. For each occupant, your system is designed to process a maximum of 4,500 gallons per month (150 gallons per day). However, you should try to use less than the maximum. See the chart below.


Tank Volume per Month (in gallons)


Number of occupants












Design maximum






Routine pumping

A septic system has two main components:

  • A septic tank provides storage for solids and primary treatment of the sewage.
  • An absorption field provides secondary treatment of the effluent by dispersing it underground to filter through the soil.

Proper tank maintenance will prolong the life of the system. Tanks should be routinely pumped out as shown below.


Recommended Pumping Frequency

Tank size

Number of occupants







Every 12 years

Every  6 years

Every 3½ years

Every 2½ years

Every 2 years


Every 19 years

Every 9 years

Every 6 years

Every 4 years

Every 3½ years

If you use a garbage disposal, more frequent pumping is needed.


Working with a Contractor

Before signing a contract with a certified septic tank pumper company, obtain a detailed quote for pumping charges and any surcharges* that might be added.

The contractor should:

  1. Obtain a copy of the system’s most recent inspection report.
  2. Use the report to locate the tank.
  3. Uncover the tank’s inlet and outlet ends and remove the lids.
  4. Remove all contents from the tank, including the liquid, sludge and scum.
  5. Check T-shaped parts called “T’s” that direct septage flow inside the tank. Clean out blocked T’s and replace missing or damaged ones.
  6. Clean the effluent filter in a 2-compartment tank.
  7. Properly replace lids on both ends of the tank.
  8. Replace excavated dirt.
  9. Dispose of the septage at an approved processing facility.
  10. Provide written documentation on the tank’s condition (including any damage or missing components) to the owner and us.


*A contractor might plan to add a surcharge:

  • For each hose section needed to reach from the pump truck to the septic tank.
  • To reach the tank if it’s deeper than expected. Approved risers can be installed to bring the tank to within 12” of ground level to prevent this surcharge.
  • To open both ends of the tank.
  • To create a hole in the tank lid to facilitate servicing it. However, a hole should not be made in the lid.
  • If the tank contains more septage than it’s designed to hold.
  • To clean or replace the effluent filter in a 2-compartment tank.
  • To add additives. However, the benefit of additives has not been established and is not recommended.
  • To “jet” the absorption field. This forces high-pressure water into the field to break up the soil or to troubleshoot. However, this is not recommended since it can flood the field and damage old pipes.
  • To replace a damaged or missing T’s.


Frequently asked questions

System components
How do I find out the capacity of my septic tank?

Your contractor may be able to determine this. Or, we may have a copy of the installation inspection report.


What exactly is a “T”?

A T is a structure on both ends of the tank that directs the flow of septage. On the inlet end, it prevents the disturbance of the tank contents. On the outlet end, it prevents solids from flowing into the absorption field.


Should every septic tank have an effluent filter?

No. An effluent filter is required on the outlet end of only a 2-compartment tank. If your tank has just one compartment, a filter is not required.


Does a contractor need a permit to pump out my septic tank?

No. A contractor does not need a permit to pump out a septic tank.


Should the lids on both ends of the tank be removed to pump it out?

Yes, both lids should be removed:

    • To ensure that nothing is clogging the two T’s and that they are in good repair.
    • For a 2-compartment tank, to clean the effluent filter in the outlet T.
The contractor said that I had to make a repair or you will condemn my home. Is this true?

If your system is causing an imminent health hazard, we will instruct you to repair it. There may be legal consequences if you choose not to.