Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Homeowners’ Guide to Septic Systems

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. A malfunctioning system can contaminate groundwater that might be a source of drinking water. And if you sell your home, your septic system must be in good working order.

Top Four Things You Can Do To Protect Your Septic System

  • Inspect your system (every 3 years) and pump your tank as necessary (generally every 3 to 5 years).
  • Use water efficiently.
  • Don’t dispose of household hazardous wastes in sinks or toilets.
  • Care for your drain field.

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.

Saving Money

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. Having your septic system inspected regularly (at least every 3 years) is a bargain when you consider the cost of replacing the entire system. Your system will need pumping (generally every 3 to 5 years), 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 is working properly, it will effectively remove most of these pollutants.

With one-fourth of U.S. homes using septic systems, more than 4 billion gallons of wastewater per day is dispersed below the ground’s surface. Inadequately treated sewage from septic systems can be a cause of groundwater contamination. It poses a significant threat to drinking water and human health because it can contaminate drinking water wells and cause diseases and infections in people and animals. Improperly treated sewage that contaminates nearby surface waters also increases the chance of swimmers contracting a variety of infectious diseases. These range from eye and ear infections to acute gastrointestinal illness and diseases like hepatitis.

How do I maintain my septic system?

Inspect and Pump Frequently

You should have your septic system inspected at least every 3 years by a professional and your tank pumped as recommended by the inspector (generally every 3 to 5 years). Systems with electrical float switches, pumps, or mechanical components need to be inspected more often. Your service provider should inspect for leaks and look at the scum and sludge layers in your septic tank. If the bottom of the scum layer is within 6 inches of the bottom of the outlet tee or the top the sludge layer is within 12 inches of the outlet tee, your tank needs to be pumped. Remember to note the sludge and scum levels determined by your service provider in your operation and maintenance records. This information will help you decide how often pumping is necessary.

What Does an Inspection Include?

  • Locating the system
  • Uncovering access holes
  • Flushing the toilets
  • Checking for signs of backup
  • Measuring scum and sludge layers
  • Identifying any leaks
  • Inspecting mechanical components
  • Pumping the tank if necessary

Use Water Efficiently

  • Install high efficiency showerheads
  • Fill the bathtub with only as much water as you need
  • Turn off faucets while shaving or brushing your teeth
  • Run the dishwasher and clothes washer only when they’re full
  • Use toilets to flush sanitary waste only (not kitty litter, diapers or other trash)
  • Make sure all faucets are completely turned off when not in use
  • Maintain your plumbing to eliminate leaks
  • Install aerators in the faucets in your kitchen and bathroom
  • Replace old dishwashers, toilets, and clothes washers with new, high-efficiency models

Common Causes of Septic System Failure

Household Toxics:

Oil based paints, solvents, and large volumes of toxic cleaners should not enter your septic system.

Household Cleaners:

Any cleaners labeled with the words “danger” or “poison” are highly hazardous to your septic system.

Garbage Disposals:

Using a garbage disposal frequently can significantly increase the accumulation of sludge and scum in your septic tank, resulting in the need for more frequent pumping.

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