By Tracy Green and Charmaine Simmons
When you think about the maintenance of the systems in your home your first thoughts are probably HVAC, electrical and plumbing. However, one overlooked and undervalued system in your home is actually outside your home, the septic system. As with all the systems in your home, if you properly maintain your septic system you can avoid costly repairs.
First, understanding how a septic system works will help you maintain it. The wastewater from your home leaves through a pipe and goes to the septic tank. The waste separates into solid waste (sludge) that sinks to the bottom and oil and grease (scum) rises to the top. There are bacteria in the septic tank that helps to breakdown the sludge. The wastewater then exits the septic tank and goes into the drainage field. The wastewater is released into the soil which removes harmful bacteria, viruses and nutrients.
So one thing you have to watch is what you put down your drains (that goes into your septic tank). Everything that goes down your drains should be biodegradable and septic safe. Flushing things like dental floss, feminine products, paper towels, coffee grounds and other kitchen and bathroom products can clog the tank and drain field. Also, household chemicals, paint, oils and grease can kill the good bacteria in your septic tank. If you have a garbage disposal, you will want to use it sparingly as it will increase the accumulation of sludge and scum.
Another thing to be aware of when you have a septic system is how much water you are using. Per the EPA, the average single-home family uses 70 gallons of indoor water per person per day. Leaking faucets and running toilets can waste as much as 200 gallons per day. Faucet aerators and high efficiency toilets and showerheads can help reduce excess water usage. Many people like the convenience of washing all their laundry in one day, but with a septic system you need to give your tank time to recover. So it’s recommended to spread your washing, otherwise you risk flooding your drainage field.
Knowing where your septic tank and drainage field are is also very important. You don’t’ want to put anything heavy like a shed, parked car or RV, cement or pool in this area as it can damage the tank and pipes as well as compromise the drainage field. Another thing that can damage your septic system are large trees and shrubs. Roots, especially aggressive roots that come with Willows, can damage pipes and the tank.
Having your tank pumped regularly is part of proper maintenance. Professionals typically charge between $200-$300 for this service, however, it can vary by region. Keep in mind that if they have to dig to find your septic tank that will incur additional fees. When your tank is pumped they should also inspect the tank to make sure everything is in good working condition. The frequency of pumpings varies between owners. No matter the size of your family, if you have a garbage disposal it is recommended that you pump your system annually. If you are a family of four with no garbage disposal, it’s recommended every 2-3 years. If you are a family of two with no garbage disposal, it’s recommended every 4-5 years.
Every few months using a septic tank system treatment, like Rid-X®, by pouring into your toilet can add the bacteria necessary to keep your septic tank performing optimally. For those of you who like homemade treatments, you can pour a liter of spoiled buttermilk down the toilet every few months, as it too is a great source of bacteria. If you notice anything that seems off with your septic system, it is best to contact a professional immediately to address any issues as early as possible.
While this system doesn’t need constant supervision, remembering these key things will help prolong the life of your septic system.