Your Septic System is your responsibility!
Did you know that as a homeowner you’re responsible for maintaining your septic system? Did you know that maintaining your septic system protects your investment in your home? Did you know that you should periodically inspect your system and pump out your septic tank?
If properly designed, constructed and maintained, your septic system can provide long-term, effective treatment of household wastewater. If your septic system isn’t maintained, you might need to replace it, costing you thousands of dollars.
This guide will help you care for your septic system and help you understand how your system works and what steps you can take as a homeowner to ensure your system will work properly for as long as possible.
What is a Septic Tank & How Does It Work?
A typical septic system has four main components: a pipe from the home and the grease arrestor, a septic tank, a drainfield / trenches, and the soil.
The septic tank is a buried, watertight container typically made of concrete, fibre glass, or polyethylene. They have 3 lids and two small inspection holes either side of the main lid in the middle of the tank. It holds the wastewater long enough to allow partial decomposition by bacteria of the solid materials.
The main tank compartments and a T-Shaped outlet in the septic tank prevent the sludge and scum from leaving the tank and travelling into the drainfield / trenches area.
Drainfield / Absorption Trenches
The wastewater exits the septic tank and is discharged into the drainfield / trenches for further treatment by the soil. The partially treated wastewater is pushed along into the drainfield for further treatment every time new wastewater enters the tank.
Septic tank wastewater flows to the drainfield / trenches, where it percolates into the soil, which provides final treatment by removing harmful bacteria, viruses, and nutrients. Suitable soil is necessary for successful wastewater treatment.
Because many areas don’t have soils suitable for typical septic systems, you might have or need an alternative system. You might also have or need an alternative system if they are too close to groundwater or surface waters. Alternative septic systems which could include extra tanks after the septic tank for eg: Holding Tank, Pump Tank or a different system eg: Treatment Plant facility.
Why should I maintain my septic system?
When septic systems are properly designed, constructed, and maintained, they effectively reduce or eliminate most human health or environmental threats posed by pollutants in household wastewater. However, they require regular maintenance or they can fail. Septic systems need to be monitored to ensure that they work properly throughout their service lives.
A key reason to maintain your septic system is to save money! Failing septic systems are expensive to repair or replace, and poor maintenance is often the culprit. Inspecting your septic system regularly is a bargain when you consider the cost of replacing the entire system. Your system will need periodic pumping depending on how many people live in the house and the size of the system. An unusable septic system or one in disrepair will lower your property value and could pose a legal liability.
Protecting health and the environment
Other good reasons for safe treatment of sewage include preventing the spread of infection and disease, and protecting water resources. Typical pollutants in household wastewater are nitrogen, phosphorus, and disease causing bacteria and viruses. If a septic system is working properly, it will effectively remove most of these pollutants.
How do I maintain my septic system?
Inspect and pump frequently
You should have a typical septic system pumped generally every 3 to 5 years. Four major factors influence the frequency of pumping; the number of people in your household, the amount of wastewater generated (based on the number of people in the household and the amount of water used), the volume of solids in the wastewater, and septic tank size.
Some makers of septic tank additives claim that their products break down the sludge in septic tanks so the tanks never need to be pumped. Not everyone agrees on the effectiveness of additives. In fact septic tanks already contain the microbes they need for effective treatment. Periodic pumping is a much better way to ensure that septic systems work properly and provide many years of service.
Things to inspect frequently to help ensure your system is running to its full potential:
- The toilet is flushing correctly, check for signs of back up, leaks around the tank & trenches / drainfield.
- Measuring scum and sludge layers; if the bottom of the scum layer is within 6 inches of the bottom of the outlet tee or the top of the sludge layer is within 12 inches of the outlet tee, your tank needs to be pumped.
This information will help you decide how often pumping is necessary. Inspections can also be done by certified plumbers. Alternative systems with electrical float switches, pumps, or mechanical components need to be inspected and pumped more often.
Septic System Do's and Don’ts
- Use water efficiently to avoid overloading the septic system, be sure to repair leaky taps and toilets. Use high-efficiency fixtures. (eg: water saving shower heads, dual flush toilets etc.)
- Use commercial bathroom cleaners and laundry detergents in moderation. Many people prefer to clean their toilets, sinks, showers and tubs with a mild detergent, baking soda or septic specific products.
- Keep records of repairs, pumping, inspections, permits issued and other system maintenance activities.
- Learn the location of your septic system including the drainfield/trenches, pipe work.
- Have your septic system inspected and pumped regularly by a licensed inspector/contractor such as Suttons Cleaning Service .
- Plant only grass over and near your septic system. Roots from nearby trees or shrubs might clog and damage the drainfield/trenches.
- Your septic system is not a rubbish bin. Don’t put dental floss, feminine hygiene products, condoms, nappies, cotton swabs, cigarette butts, coffee grounds, cat litter, paper towels, latex paint, pesticides, or other hazardous chemicals into your system.
- Don’t use caustic drain openers for a clogged drain, instead, use boiling water or a drain snake/eel to open clogs.
- Don’t drive or park vehicles on any part of your septic system. Doing so can compact the soil in your drainfield/trenches or damage the pipes, tank, or other septic system components.
What can make my system fail?
If the amount of wastewater entering the system is more than the system can handle, the wastewater can back up into the house or yard and creates a health hazard.
You can suspect a system failure not only when a foul odour is emitted but also when partially treated wastewater flows up to the ground surface. By the time you can smell or see a problem, the damage may already be done.
By limiting your water use can reduce the amount of wastewater your system must treat. When you have your system inspected and pumped as needed, you reduce the chance of system failure.
A system installed in unsuitable soils can also fail. Other failure risks include tanks that are inaccessible for maintenance, drainfield / trenches that are paved or parked on, and tree roots that interfere with the treatment process.
For the most part, your septic system’s bacteria should recover quickly after small amounts of household cleaning products have entered the system. Of course, some cleaning products are less toxic to your system than others. Labels can help alert you to the potential toxicity of various products. Regardless of the type of product, use it only in the amounts shown on the label instructions and minimize the amount discharged into your septic system.
To prevent build-up, sludge and floating scum needs to be removed through periodic pumping of the septic tank. Regular inspections and pumping are the best and cheapest way to keep your septic system in good working order.
* Please note this information is provided as a general guide. If you require any further information we recommend you contact us or a qualified plumber.