Photo of a woman wearing a plaid shirt and jeans, sitting on the floor of her kitchen, with her sink cabinet open that is leaking while she is on the phone.

Do I Need a Plumber or a Septic Service?

When met with a clogged drain in the house, it’s easy for a homeowner to assume the worst! After all, no one likes having the shower water engulfing your feet or that awful gurgling sound a toilet can make after you flush.

Many homeowners know signs like this mean there is an issue, but not all can determine immediately whether a septic service or a plumber is required.

A plumber and a septic service have different specialties and disciplines:

White icon of leaking pipe against a striped background of salmon, magenta, red, orange and yellow.

Plumber: A plumber specializes in interior clogs that don’t affect the septic system. Rudimentary tools like a snake can often help unclog the hair, dirt, and grease clogging an interior pipe.

Septic Service: A septic service is required if a blockage has occurred in the septic tank or drain field, both on the home’s exterior. These companies possess the ability to access the septic tank and fix the problem.

How do I know which service to call?

A clog could be a minor problem in the plumbing, or it could mean massive problems in the septic system. From a clogged shower drain, it might be hard to tell. However, homeowners should go through a series of checks to help them better understand the appropriate course of action.

After all, calling out a plumber costs money, and calling out a septic service costs money. You don’t want to duplicate your costs by calling the wrong service, only for that professional to tell you they can’t help you with your problem.

So, before you call anyone, ask yourself a few questions:

  1. How old is the septic system?
  2. How often does the septic system get maintained? 

If you have been diligent about proactive septic system maintenance, you may get away with just a plumber. If you don’t know the answer to those questions above, you may be on the verge of a septic emergency requiring immediate attention from a trusted Tampa septic service like ACE.

Before opening up the phone book and calling around Tampa, here is a five-point test you can implement to see whether you need to call a plumber or a septic service.

Step 1:

Check if more than one drain is backing up in your house. Multiple drains backing up is usually a sign of septic-related problems. 

ACTION: If only one drain is clogged, it’s a good indicator that you might just need to call a plumber. However, to be safe, let’s go through the remaining checks.

Step 2:

If you’ve determined that multiple drains are clogged, don’t call anyone just yet. There are still a few tests to do that will help you gather the information that will be helpful to your eventual plumber or septic service provider.

ACTION: Locate the septic system on your property. The septic system will always be on the opposite side of the house from where the well is.

Step 3:

Once you’ve found the septic tank, open it up and look! You should notice two lids, also known as the inspection pipes. Open up the outlet lid on the back of the tank and determine where the wastewater level is. Ideally, it should be 8-10 inches from the top of the inspection pipe. If that water level exceeds the top of the output baffle leading to the drain field, you have a septic problem. 

ACTION: If you determine that the wastewater level is less than 8 inches from the top of the pipe, stop what you’re doing, and call ACE Septic & Waste. They need to come out to empty and clean the tank immediately. 

Step 4:

If the water level is normal (8-10 inches from the top of the inspection lid), your problem might still be with the septic system. The next check is to open the inlet lid at the front of the tank and look to see if an abundance of buildup is plugging the inlet. When too many elements enter the tank’s front, it can clog up the inlet baffle. Visually, it should be pretty straightforward if this is happening because toilet paper and other solids can build-up, effectively blocking the input baffle. A homeowner can take a shovel, or crowbar, to try and physically remove the blockage. This blockage removal can sometimes help alleviate the issue, evidenced by a big rush of water coming into the tank once the blockage gets removed. 

ACTION: Check with a tool to see if physically removing the blockage from the inlet baffle helps restore proper drainage. While this may help provide temporary relief, you’ll still want to call ACE to come to clean the tank as soon as possible.

Another thing you don’t want to see in there is a buildup of yellow or white sludge. This buildup usually results from grease getting poured down the garbage disposal and acting as a sealant between the input baffle and the front of the tank.

ACTION: If you notice yellow or white grease in the front inspection pipe, call ACE immediately. You need to have your tank cleaned.

Step 5:

If you’ve determined that your water levels are appropriate and there is no grease buildup, then you’re more than likely to need a plumber to come and snake a drain that leads out into the main pipe. 

ACTION: Call a plumber, and explain the multi-point check you did to ensure your septic system was functioning appropriately.


As a homeowner, your goal is to keep everything running smoothly without breaking the bank. That mindset is why our five-point inspection checklist can help homeowners determine the best professional to call. Septic and plumbing-related issues are sometimes troublesome, even for the most experienced professionals. However, offering forward information that you’ve done the five-point inspection and can conclude the inlet baffle isn’t blocked, sludge isn’t backing up, and one or more drains are backed-up in the house is valuable information.

Remember that the best strategy is to avoid septic disasters altogether. The ACE team urges residents in the greater Tampa area to be proactive in their septic system maintenance. One easy way to stay proactive is to commit to a condition-based maintenance strategy for your septic system.

For more information, or to receive a free exprestimate from ACE, get in touch with us.

Graphic with purple background, and ACE Septic & Waste text next to a flat retro illustration of a septic truck filling a septic tank in front of a sunset and house silhouette. The text "inspect, maintain, repair, install" and "Call 813-971-8770" underneath.

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