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Holding Tank vs Septic Tank: The Difference You Need to Know

Buying a house with a septic holding tank can sound a lot like buying a house with a septic system. But there are some big differences when it comes to holding tanks vs septic tanks. In this article, we will explore the difference between septic tanks and holding tanks, and what you need to know before installing a holding tank or buying a house with one.


What is a holding tank?

A holding tank is a single-compartment tank that collects the wastewater and household waste from a house through an inlet valve. Everything that goes down the drain in your house (sink, toilet, washing machine, dishwasher, shower, and toilet) ends up in the holding tank, and there it stays until you get it pumped out.

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What is a septic tank?

A septic tank is also a tank that treats household wastewater from a house. There are two compartments inside the plastic septic tank to assist in the water treatment.

When the water is treated through an enzyme and biodegradable process it is pumped from an internal pump through the outlet valve and into a leach field where the treated effluent water goes back into the water table over a matter of time.

See the difference between a cesspool and a septic tank here.


What is the difference between a septic holding tank and a septic tank?

Now that we have explained what each one is, we can talk about the differences between a septic tank vs a holding tank

Septic holding tanks need to be pumped a lot

If you are wondering how often a holding tank needs to be pumped, the answer is a lot more than a septic tank. Generally a tank needs to be pumped every 6 to 8 weeks. But it can need more frequent pumping if your household uses a lot of water.

There is only one way for a sewage holding tank to get rid of its content, and that is to have a septic truck come and pump it out. This means the more water you use in your household the more frequently you will need to pump the tank. Depending on the size of the tank and the amount of water that gets used the tank can be pumped weekly or even more frequently.

Our neighborhood has several houses with holding tanks and they all get pumped weekly.


Holding tanks are more affordable to install

Installing a holding tank is going to cost less than installing a septic tank system. That is because there is no output valve to deal with. Which means there is no need to put in a drain field for the treated water to be returned to the soil.

Because there is less involved in installing a holding tank versus a septic tank in new homes, holding tanks are a more affordable option. However the cost of pumping will be substantially more than a septic tank. So if money is your prime deciding factor you need to consider how long you are going to be in this house and which one makes sense for your budget.


Holding tanks have an alarm

It’s common for new septic systems to have an alarm installed, but holding tanks have alarms installed to tell you when the tank is near it’s full capacity, which means if you hear an alarm go off you need to limit your water usage until you tank is pumped.


How long does a holding tank last?

Holding tanks can last decades if properly maintained and pumped. Our cabin has had a tank for decades and it remains in good condition because it is pumped and cleaned regularly. If the tank installation was done by a professional and not by the owner you have a better chance of it lasting a long time.


How much does it cost to pump a holding tank?

A holding tank pump can range in cost depending on several factors. The size of the tank, the distance to the disposal area, and the going rate in your area. All of these factors determine the price of pumping a holding tank. The price range can be from $150 to $600 depending on where you live in the country.


Can I install a holding tank on my property?

Depending on the regulations and requirements in the area you may be able to install a holding tank if you are building your dream home. It is best to check with the local county or municipality to see what regulations are in place. You will need to make sure you use a licensed specialist who can fill out the applications and get all of the relevant permits for installing a tank on your property. Holding tank installation is something to be left to professionals to ensure it is done properly and passes inspection.


Note of caution: Don’t assume that because your neighbors have a septic system that you are able to install the same. Things change and rules around waste disposal can change as well. When we built our neighborhood allowed septic tanks and leach fields. 5 years later the rules changed and no new systems were allowed.


Where are septic holding tanks used?

Holding tanks are used in remote rural areas that have no sewer connection. Typically holding tanks are used in cottages, and rural homes that are on smaller lots that do not have room for a full septic system (with leach field).

They are installed underground if soil conditions permit with a riser coming up to the surface so that there is an easy access point for them to be pumped. They require an application and permit process before installation and must be installed by a certified professional.

Related: How to hide septic tank lids and systems

Final thoughts on holding tanks vs septic tanks

While it may not be available a septic tank system is a better option for most homes. However, a septic holding tank isn’t a deal-breaker you just need to be aware of the implications of a house with a holding tank and the added costs and maintenance issues.


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