Septic System Maintenance
Septic System Basics
What is a septic tank?
Your septic system contains a septic tank and a drainfield. The septic tank container is located underground and is responsible for holding solids and scum accumulated from your wastewater.
What is a drainfield?
Once wastewater exits the septic tank, it passes on to the drainfield. Part of the septic system, the drainfield is a “shallow, covered, excavation” in the soil, according to the EPA. It is sometimes referred to as a “leachfield.” If the drainfield becomes inundated with wastewater and/or outside liquid, it can flood. This can lead to a sewage backup.
Why is septic system maintenance so important?
Given how expensive it is to replace a septic system, proper maintenance is an important step to keeping your septic system (and your finances) healthy. The more proactive you are in caring for and maintaining your septic system, the longer that septic system will last. When maintaining your septic tank, the goal is to prevent the accumulation of solids, as well as any groundwater contamination.
How often should I have my septic system pumped?
The size of your household, total wastewater generated, amount of solids present and tank size will all determine how often your septic system will need to be pumped. The EPA reports that while the average septic system is pumped every three years, those with “electrical float switches, pumps or mechanical components should be inspected more often.” In general, we recommend having your septic system inspected and pumped once a year to be safe. Below is an easy four-step maintenance program, which, if followed carefully, will prevent solid build-up and ensure that your system will operate at peak efficiency for many years to come.
4 Steps to Septic System Maintenance
Step 1 – Responsible Pumping – Each household should be on a regular septic service schedule to prevent the accumulation of solids in their system. Servicing frequency varies per household, so be sure to ask your technician their opinion on how often your septic system needs to be pumped.
Step 2 – High-Pressure Water Jetting – All septic systems, regardless of responsible pumping, will accumulate solids and other debris in their drain pipes. The presence of these solids clog the pipes that connect the septic tank to the drainfield. Therefore, we recommend high-pressure water jetting every five years to eliminate and clear any debris that could prevent your system from operating efficiently.
Step 3 – Use a Bacteria Additive – Septic owners should use a live organic bacteria that breaks down the presence of unnatural substances and solids, like detergents and soaps, that sometimes enter your septic system. If these common household substances penetrate your septic system they kill off the naturally occurring bacteria that allow your system to function properly. Bacteria additives are an inexpensive insurance policy that keeps your pipes clean & clear, odor free, and your system functioning properly.
Step 4 – Clean or replace your Effluent Filter – Your filter, which prevents solids from entering into your drainfield, needs to be cleaned or replaced whenever you service your system.
Septic System Dos
Do perform regular maintenance
To keep your septic system running efficiently, we recommend having a service professional inspect your septic system every year. According to the EPA, household septic systems are pumped every three to five years. Professionals should be able to tell you how often your septic system needs to pumped. Pumping a septic system when needed will prevent it from breaking down.
Do maintain your drainfield
To maintain your drainfield, avoid planting gardens and trees nearby. This will prevent roots from growing and bumping against your septic system. You should also avoid parking cars over your drainfield.
Do limit the amount of stuff you put down your garbage disposal
The more junk you dispose of down the garbage disposal, the more likely you are to damage your septic system. To avoid clogging your system up, try not to put cooking grease, coffee grounds and fats down the disposal. Instead, dispose of these items in the trash.
Do buy high-efficiency appliances
According to the EPA, efficient water use can improve the operation of your septic system. That means that the more water you waste (via leaky toilets, excessive use of your washing machine, etc), the more water will enter your septic system. This can cause damage and potential drainfield flooding. The easiest way to prevent wasting water is by using high-efficiency appliances. Look for Energy Star appliances, which use 50 percent less water than typical appliances.
Do save inspection reports & maintenance records
Homeowners should save any and all maintenance records and inspection reports when having their septic system serviced. Inspections should include detailed reports on potential or existing leaks, as well as scum levels and possible damage. If damage is reported, then you should hire an experienced repairman to fix it as soon as possible.
Septic System Dont’s
Don’t flush items down the toilet
To prevent breaking your system, avoid flushing anything down the toilet that isn’t toilet paper. While toilet paper is designed to break down and dissolve inside of septic tanks, other items are not. Even items described as “flushable” should not be flushed down your toilet. According to the EPA, items to avoid flushing down the toilet include cooking grease or oil, flushable wipes, feminine hygiene products, dental floss, diapers, cigarette butts, coffee grounds, paper towels and cat litter – among many other non-flushable items.
Don’t pour chemicals down the drain
Whether you’re at the kitchen sink or the bathroom shower, avoid pouring chemical drain openers, oil, grease and toxic liquids down the drain. This will prevent damage to your septic system.
Don’t waste water
Conserving water is the easiest way to maintain an efficient septic system. Several easy ways to avoid wasting water include investing in Energy Star appliances, fixing leaking faucets and repairing running toilets.
Don’t put rainwater drainage systems near your drainfield
Keeping things off and away from your drainfield area should be a top priority. The EPA reports that excess rainwater from a drainage system, such as a roof drain, can cause excess water to accumulate near your drainfield. In turn, this will only slow down your septic system’s treatment process.
Household Features That Affect Your Septic System
Many homeowners aren’t aware that everyday appliances can have a negative effect on the state of their septic system. The frequent use of home features such as hot tubs, garbage disposals, washing machines, toilets and showerheads can all decrease the efficiency of your septic system.
Hot tub – Hot tub owners must be aware that draining the water all at once can damage their septic system. According to Pipeline, “hot tub water should instead be cooled and then drained onto turf or landscaped areas of your property well away from the septic tank, drainfield, and house in accordance with local regulations.”
Garbage disposal – If your home has a standalone septic system, we don’t recommend using a garbage disposal at all. Eliminating the use of a garbage disposal will drastically cut back on the number of solids and scum levels in your septic tank. If you do use a garbage disposal, you’ll most likely need to pump your septic system more often than those who do not use this home feature.
Washing machine – The EPA reports that the average single-family home uses nearly 70 gallons per individual per day. That’s a lot of water. Unfortunately, the more water your family uses, the more overloaded your septic system will be. When a septic system is overloaded, it increases the risk of failure. To prevent this from happening, those who have a septic system should limit the amount of laundry they do in a single day. They should also opt for Energy Star washing machines, which use 45 percent less water than regular washers.
Toilet – Hear your toilet running? According to the EPA, a running or leaky toilet can waste up to 200 gallons of water per day. Yikes. Not only will this increase your utility bill, but it will also increase the amount of water in your septic system. Replacing old toilets with high-efficiency toilets is an easy way to stop this from happening.
Showerhead – It might be time to switch out your old showerhead for a newer, high-efficiency one. These showerheads help to restrict the flow of water and reduce the amount of water seeping into your septic system.
Other Septic Tank Maintenance Tips
How do I know if I need to pump my septic system?
Have a professional septic system technician come to the house to inspect your tank at least once every one to three years. When the technician arrives, they will record your scum levels in the tank. These levels should indicate when and how often you’ll need to pump your septic system. The EPA reports that “if the top of the scum layer is within 12 inches of the outlet, your tank needs to be pumped.”