6 things you need to know about your septic system

If you live in an area that’s not on a municipal sanitary sewer you have a septic system or onsite wastewater treatment system somewhere on your property. To keep it working properly and ensure you do not experience a “sewage disaster” you need to understand your system. Knowing your system will save you money and maintain your property value and prevent you from experiencing an icky stinky costly mess.

1. Get to know your system. If you don’t know where your system is or for that matter whether it’s a simple septic system of something more complex like a wastewater treatment plant you can’t take care of it and it can’t take care of you. Records of your system can often be found at regulatory authorities such as building departments or health authorities. If you can’t find records, contact a local contractor to find your system and identify its components. It money well spent!

2. Learn how to use your system.  Your system was designed to accept all the domestic wastewater from your home. This includes toilet waste, showers, laundry, and dishwashing and any normal use of cleaners, soaps and care products. Unless your system is specially designed it should not receive anything else. Your system should never be overloaded. In general this means that you should not do multiple loads of laundry in a day or empty jet tubs and do laundry on the same day. As a general rule a system for a three bedroom home should not receive more than 150-200 gallons per day (880-910L)

3. Watch your system. Keeping an eye on things will prevent unpleasant surprises. Has the household drainage slowed? Is the field area soft during dry weather? These are signs of system stress and if left unattended will result in bad things happening, now’s the time to call in your friendly septic service company to inspect the system and identify the problem. Slow drainage could be just a clogged effluent filter, or a tank that needs pumping. Soft areas in the field could mean your distribution box is out of alignment, you may have a broken pipe or your field is reaching the end of its useful life.

4. It won’t work without Maintenance. Just like your car, if you don’t maintain your system its life span will be shortened and when it stops working it will cost you more money (sometimes 10s of thousands).  A simple septic tank system should be inspected at least once every three years. If you have an effluent filter (which you should) it should be cleaned ever year (or a recommended by the product supplier) Septic tanks should be pumped out if the solids and scum accumulations fill more than one half of the tank volume. Wastewater treatment plant should be maintained at least once a year or as recommended by the manufacturer. Some complex system should be assessed ever six months. Remember point number 1.

5. It probably won’t last forever.  A properly designed system that’s well maintained and used properly should last the lifetime of the home. However, a system that has not been maintained or used properly or is an older design will only last so long and will at some point need upgrading or replacing. Its best to have a financial plan for this inevitability as systems can cost thousand or even tens of thousands of dollars to replace. In some cases you can extend the life of the system by adding add-ons such as aeration devices, or by flushing the field distribution lines. This may buy you a little time but will not last forever. Chemical additives are not recommended and may cause additional problems

6. What do I do now! Repairing or replacing a system is a headache, but not so much if you are as knowledgeable as possible. Start by finding out what your local regulations, codes or legislations are related to your repair or replacement. Regulatory agencies often have lots of useful information on their websites. Contact at least three septic companies for quotes, do not accept a quote unless the company visits and asses your problem. Remember, the cheapest quote may not get you what you need, make sure you invest wisely. Seek help from the local wastewater association. Local associations can offer you unbiased help when you’re seeking information. Finally, once you have chosen a septic company to do your work ensure you have a CONTRACT that clearly outlines what is and is not included in the price. Hand shake deals are often way more expensive than a proper contract.

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