If your cesspool was installed prior to 1980, click "advisory" for information on a potentially dangerous situation.

NOTE: This page is intended to be a resource for helping you to understand and maintain your septic system so that it will function at optimum efficiency and with a minimum of service.

The systems we address here are of the type commonly in use on Long Island , NY

  1. Components of a Septic System
  2. What is a Septic Tank? What is a Cesspool?
  3. How to Locate the Septic System
  4. How Often Is Service Needed?
  5. What Does Service Entail?
  6. What Does Service Cost?
  7. Symptoms of a Failing Septic System
  8. How to Keep Service Calls at a Minimum.
  9. Enzyme Treatments For System Maintenance
  10. When Service Becomes Necessary
  11. Important Notes on Older Systems (Prior to 1975)
  12. Important Phone Numbers
This page is intended to be a resource for helping you to understand and maintain your septic system so that it will function at optimum efficiency with a minimum of service.

The systems we address here are of the type commonly in use on Long Island (NY).


This will depend on the age of your home. Prior to 1973, the system will consist of a conduit, called the main line, leading from the house to one or more leaching pools (cesspools).

After 1973, "septic tanks" came into use . They are situated on the main line between the house and the leaching pools. (Click here to view diagrams)

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A septic tank is a chamber through which all waste water from the home passes. The tank collects the water and allows the heavier solids to sink to the bottom forming a "sludge". Lighter solids such as soap, grease and oil rises to the top and forms "scum". Natural bacterial action works on the solids, helping to break them down.

The tank's design keeps the solids from flowing out with the residual liquid, called "greywater", into the cesspool drainage area where it leeches into the soil.

Cesspools (or leaching pools) are pits into which concrete, brick or cement block walls have been placed. Wastewater flows into the cesspool and drains or "percolates" into the soil through perforated walls.

Cesspools which serve only as "overflow" pits from septic tanks are much more efficient than the older systems because they receive much less solid material. However, where there is no septic tank to hold the solids, the cesspool will require much more maintenance. Over time, when the drainage area around the leaching pool becomes saturated, additional pools may have to be dug to handle the volume.

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In most cases, there is a diagram of the system on your property survey; the septic tank indicated by a rectangle and the cesspool by a circle. If your home was built after 1975, there should be a copy on file with the county or town Buildings and Health Departments. In some cases, septic tank and cesspool covers are visible.

If the cesspool is buried beneath a lawn, there is often a tell-tale, circular area of deep green and luxurient growth directly over it.

The plumbing inside your house can indicate the general area in which the buried components of the system lie. Look for a large pipe (4" in diameter) that protrudes through the foundation. This is the waste or sewer line and the septic tank and / or cesspools are located somewhere along this pipe outside the house. This give you an indication as to where the system is in relation to the house. Using the following information, supplied by the Suffolk County Department of Health, you can make an educated guess as to where everything is.

  • The closest a septic tank or cesspool may be to the foundation of the house is:10 feet if the house has a cellar or 5 feet if the house is on a concrete slab.
  • The cesspool must be at least 100 feet from private wells supplying water to the house. Septic tanks must be at least 75 feet from wells.
  • Septic systems must be at least 5 feet inside the property line.
  • Septic systems must be 20 feet from swimming pools.
  • Septic systems must be at least 20 feet from storm drains.

If the exact location of you system stiil eludes you, it's a good idea to have professionals locate the system for you. In general, it''s a good idea to know where all the buried utilities on your property are located, and especially so if you are planning a project involving excavation or paving. It's also very important to take measurements and diagram the location of the utilities. It can save you a ton of money and aggrivation.

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There is no simple answer to this question as there are too many variables. However, the Suffolk County Department of health recommends cleaning the system every three to five years to prevent the septic tank from becoming overburdened with sludge and scum which will then flow out into the cesspool. If enough of these solids find their way into the cesspool, it will eventually become clogged and fail to function. For older systems without septic tanks, (cesspool only) more frequent service is usually necessary.

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The technicians will locate the system and if necessary, excavate the soil over the access covers. Typically, they will then run a line from the truck into your septic tank or cesspools and using powerful vacuum pumps, remove greywater and other loose substances. Where the sludge has solidified, it will be broken up and then pumped out. We also recommend aeration (forcing compressed air into the soil and sludge on the bottom) to further help breaking up of solidified sludge. Where indicated, chemicals may also be used. You can click the link at the bottom to learn more about cesspool service.

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Again, there are many too variables to answer this question with any degree of accuracy. Some of the factors determining the cost of service are:

  • The amount of excavation needed to locate and service the system.
  • The amount of waste we are required to pump.
  • Additional service such as clearing blockages in the lines, repairs to any part of the system.
  • Materials used for repairs or building up of the access covers, etc.

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  • Slow drainage when flushing toilets.
  • Water backing up into sinks, toilets, tubs and washing machines.
  • Unusual "gurgling" sounds when running water or flushing toilets.
  • Areas of grass of a deeper green color than the surrounding grass on your lawn.
  • Noticeably soggy areas of the lawn or soil.
  • Depressions forming in the soil.
  • Unpleasant odors in, or around the house.

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The first and foremost thing you can do is to conserve water. Excessive water introduced into the system will overload it and cause it to fail. Don't do too many loads of laundry on one day. Spread the loads out over a period of several days. Too many consecutive loads overburden systems. Fix leaky faucets and "running" toilets as soon as possible. A seemingly innocuous drip can introduce hundreds of gallons into the system in a deceptively short time and a toilet that runs can cause a failure inside of a month. Avoid the use of harsh detergents or other chemicals as they deplete the amount of beneficial bacteria your system relies on to "digest" solid waste. Try to minimize the amount paper products going into the system. Paper towels, tissue, feminine hygiene products and trash take much longer to decompose and tend to clog the system. Do not allow run-off from leaders and gutters to drain into the system. Divert them into dry wells. Keep heavy equipment from passing over the system as it can cause structural damage. Consider the regular use of enzyme treatments to replenish beneficial bacteria, and reduce odors and clogs.

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Enzyme treatments promote the growth of beneficial bacteria in your system. According to the Long Island Liquid Waste Association, "Natural bacteria generated by the solid waste partially decomposes the waste in the system and can reduce the amount of solid material by as much as sixty percent." However, the daily infusion of harsh chemicals and detergents into the system can cause the bacteria to become depleted. By introducing enzyme preparations into your drains at regular intervals, you promote the healthy growth of these organisms thereby cutting down on solids, considerably. The enzymes are also effective at reducing odors. More information about enzymes can be found on the enzyme page of this site or by calling our office at: 283-0604. Enzymes purchased through us will be delivered.

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At Emil Norsic & Son we pride ourselves on our rapid response to cesspool emergencies. If your problem is serious, we can usually have a service team at your property within two hours of receiving the call. In any case, we will try to schedule the service at a time most convenient to you. Call (631) 283-0604 - (800) 451-6875

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If your septic system was installed prior to 1975, it is likely that the cesspool(s) are constructed of cement blocks and / or brick. This type of construction is problematic as cesspool walls can weaken over time, leading to possible collapse.

To avoid problems you should:

  • Know the location of your cesspool(s) and limit foot traffic in these areas. Children and pets should be discouraged from playing above or around the cesspool.
  • Close these areas to all vehicular traffic. Do not park heavy equipment, boats etc. in these locations.
  • Note any changes in the ground above or near the cesspool. A sudden change in grade (settling), unusual puddling or wetness, odors or sinkholes are all symptomatic of a collapse or other problems. Take all necessary precautions to keep people away from the area and call reputable cesspool service company immediately. At Norsic, we give such calls top priority.
  • Consider replacing older systems with modern components that are less suseptible to problems and far more safe. If you are planning a project involving excavation on your property, try to replace the cesspool at the same time. It can save significant time and money.

For further information call us at 283-0604, Extension 114.

Suffolk County Consumer Affairs License #033-W
Sufolk County Scavenger Waste License #1A-557

Other resources:
Long Island Liquid Waste Association (631) 585-0448
Suffolk County Department of Health (631) 852-2100

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