Understanding how your septic system works and how to properly maintain it is the best way you can ensure that it functions problem free. With proper maintenance, a septic system can work for upwards of 30 years, and annual inspections and regular maintenance can cost anywhere from 10 to 100 times less than replacement over the life of your septic system. Maintaining your septic system is a homeowner responsibility and ensuring that it functions properly is not only going to save you money, but it is important to the health of your family, your community, and the environment. Groundwater pollution can cause the local water supply to become contaminated and bacteria from human waste can lead to severe illness. At the very least, improper maintenance can lead to strong unpleasant odors and a soggy lawn or backups.
This guide will give you a quick overview of how your septic system works, and several easy steps you can take to keep it working properly.
How Septic Systems Work
Though there are a number of different types of septic systems, there are basically 2 main parts to every septic system: the septic tank and the drain field (sometimes referred to as a leach field).
Used household water first flows into your septic tank, where it should remains for a short time. The tank is designed to work this way so that the sludge and scum can separate out of the water. The heavy solids in the wastewater will sink to the bottom, becoming what is usually referred to as the sludge. Lighter waste products, such as oil, will float to the top of the tank, forming a layer of scum. Naturally occurring bacteria in the wastewater will breakdown the scum and sludge over time, and is an important part of the overall functioning of the tank. The water layer in the middle is what is pushed out into the drain field.
The Drain Field
The drain field is the location of the treatment of the waste water and its ultimate disposal. It consists of a series of perforated pipes through which the wastewater flows. From these pipes it is drained into a layer of gravel and soil, where it is naturally absorbed and filtered. Ensuring that these pipes remain intact and free from clogs is important in order to prevent flooding both in your yard, and in your home.
Maintaining Your Septic System
In order to keep your septic system functioning properly, regular inspections and maintenance are necessary. Maintaining your septic system will not only save you money, but will help keep your family safe and the environment clean.
Regular Inspection and Pumping
It is recommended that you get your septic system professionally inspected. Naturally occurring bacteria breaks down most of the scum and sludge in your tank, but over time it can build up and will require pumping. A build-up of scum and sludge will prevent the natural filtration of solids in the tank, and will flow from the tank to clog the pipes in the drain field. This will prevent wastewater from escaping through the pipes and may lead to flooding both within your home and in your yard.
Regular inspection of your septic system can also determine if there are any additional maintenance services needed, such as water jetting, or if there are any identifiable structural problems or malfunctions. Make sure that only a professional septic system specialist does any inspection or repair work on your septic system. It will protect both you and your family, and will ensure that quality work is being done.
Septic System Maintenance Tips
- Know where your tank is located.
This will make inspections and maintenance easy and cost effective, and have a riser installed if you don’t already have one.
- Conserve Water
This will prevent flooding of your tank which will not allow for the natural separation of solids from liquids, and may clog your drain field pipes.
- Have your tank pumped regularly.
It is the single most important part of septic maintenance.
- Have your tank capacity re-evaluated if you install a garbage disposal or hot tub.
These types of appliance can add waste to your system, or excess water and mean that you will likely need a larger tank.
- Don’t dump solid waste into your septic system.
Only bathroom waste, water waste and toilet paper should be flushed into your septic tank. Avoid washing food scraps, cooking oil, or feminine hygiene products into your system.
- Don’t flush toxic or antibacterial products into your septic system.
Toxic chemicals, such as paint thinner, anti-freeze, pesticides, or pharmaceuticals can pollute local soil and water, and can affect the functioning of your septic tank.
- Never build structures or park or drive a vehicle over your septic tank or field.
Your septic system should remain free of obstructions. Driving or parking over any part of your septic system could cause significant damage.