Septic System Maintenance 101

September 21, 2015

Today is the first day of SepticSmart Week, September 21-25, an initiative the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to inform homeowners about septic system maintenance by getting SepticSmart. A few small, simple septic system care and maintenance steps can lead to a big pay off in keeping you and your family healthy and protecting the environment. For homeowners, proper septic system maintenance can also prevent costly repairs or replacement of systems, protect property values, and save water. Keeping a healthy home and protecting the environment is a daily mission for most of us. Sometimes the home systems that are not in plain site get forgotten in this quest. In recognition of SepticSmart Week, Dennis Hallahan, Technical Director of Infiltrator Water Technologies, shares some tips on septic system maintenance that could save you money and lots of headaches.

Septic System 101: The Basics
We’ve all heard the nightmare stories. A family just finishes home renovations and extensive landscaping and then it happens . . . a smelly, messy, and costly waste backup, all because a critical component of the household operating plant —  septic system maintenance — was overlooked. Sure, the contractor should have suggested to have it checked before proceeding. But he didn’t.  And, after all, the homeowner wasn’t even sure where it was located.  This is a scenario that is easily avoided with just a few minor steps that will not only save you headaches and money, but will protect your family’s health.

10686760_10153171069789125_4419892356386040668_nAccording to the US EPA website, one in five households in the United States use a septic system onsite to process household waste consisting of blackwater (toilet waste) and greywater (kitchen and laundry waste).  The septic system naturally treats and purifies this wastewater and returns it safely to the environment to recharge groundwater supplies.  Sometimes, it’s even incorporated into a reuse system for irrigation, saving even more money for the savvy homeowner.  Today’s septic systems are safe, efficient, and cost effective. They can be basic or they can be designed with special features and components for homes with high water use or those in environmentally sensitive areas.

What Makes Up A Septic System?
Each septic system has two basic components: A septic tank and a leachfield (sometimes called a drainfield).  Wastewater travels from the home through the waste pipe and into the septic tank. Primary wastewater treatment occurs in this tank where bacteria digests organic materials in the wastewater.  The effluent then flows into the leachfield for secondary treatment.  Here, bacteria complete the digestion and purification process as the wastewater slowly leaches back into the soil.

Why Do I Need To Know This?
A septic system may be out of sight, but it definitely should not be out of mind.  Just as you need to have your furnace serviced and keep the oil changed in your car, proper septic system maintenance and awareness of your daily living habits and your system’s operation will improve the life and health of your system, protecting your home investment and your family.

How Do I Operate a Healthy Septic System?
Conserve water. Large volumes of water entering the system over a short period of time will flush untreated solids out of the tank before this pretreatment process is complete.

  • Turn off the faucet while brushing your teeth
  • Spread out heavy water use such as washing clothes and showers
  • Repair leaky faucets
  • Replace old toilets with new  low flow or dual flush models

Keep drains clean.  If it’s not biodegradable, it doesn’t belong in the system.

  • No cat litter, coffee grounds, cotton swabs, diapers, cigarettes, or sanitary products
  • No paints, oils, chemical drain cleaners, solvents, poisons or pesticides
  • No grease or cooking oils
  • Go easy with the garbage disposal
  • Reduce use of disinfectants, antibacterial soaps, commercial cleaning products and bleach.

Schedule Regular Septic System Maintenance.  Most septic tanks need pumping every three to five years.  High water usage may result in the need for more frequent service.

  • Hire a septic system contractor to inspect your tank
  • Keep a regular maintenance schedule and record

Keep surface water away.

  • Divert water from downspouts, roofs, driveways, and sump pumps away
  • Landscape your yard to channel rainwater away from your septic system
  • Do not install sprinkler systems over the drainfield

Encourage the right plants.

  • Grow grass or ground cover over the septic system to prevent soil erosion
  • Plant beneficial evergreens, such as pines, near the leachfield to absorb water
  • Avoid planting water-loving trees such as willow, poplar, swamp maple, or cypress

 Avoid physical damage.

  • Don’t drive over your septic system
  • Don’t dig in the leachfield, or cover it with a structure, concrete or blacktop

If I Suspect A Problem, What Should I Do?
Have a specific question about septic system maintenance? Contact a professional septic contractor for help.  Should a repair or replacement be necessary, review your options carefully.  Ask about the options for advanced and environmentally superior technologies for your septic system.

What Kinds Of Records Should I Keep?
Keeping a septic system location map and septic system maintenance log is an important step in understanding and managing your septic system.  Click here for a free homeowner’s Guide to Septic Systems Care and Maintenance.

The US EPA also offers additional information on septic system maintenance and the causes of septic system failure here.

Photo credits:
SepticSmart Week-US EPA
Septic System Graphic-Infiltrator Water Technologies

About Infiltrator Water Technologies
Infiltrator offers a total approach to onsite water quality and is the largest provider of innovative technologies in the septic and stormwater retention/detention industries. Through its subsidiary Champion Polymer Recycling, it is a leading purchaser of “green materials” including post-consumer and post-industrial recycled plastics used in the production of Infiltrator products at their ISO-9002 certified manufacturing facility in Winchester, Kentucky.

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