If your home uses a septic system, maintenance may seem like a daunting task. Performing regular maintenance, however, can save you time, money, and headache in the long run. While maintaining a septic system may sound complicated, it can be achieved by setting a regular schedule. Below you can find information on how to maintain a septic tank, what not to do when performing maintenance, and how to avoid problems with your system.
What is a septic system?
A septic system manages all wastewater exiting a house not connected to a city sewage system. It contains a drain line, a tank that the drain line feeds into, and a drainfield (or leach field) where wastewater is dispersed into soil. Septic systems allow water to filter naturally before entering groundwater, preventing contamination and diseases from polluting the environment. If installed and maintained properly, a septic system can last upwards of 40 years while being more environmentally friendly than a city sewer system.
A septic tank is the largest and most important piece of a septic system to maintain. It contains bacteria that break down solids into sludge and liquid waste. This liquid then enters the drainfield, where it filters through gravel and soil before entering groundwater. Should a tank become cracked or overwhelmed, this filtration process is put in jeopardy, and this failure can cause harm to your home and the environment. Because septic tank failure is such a hassle, maintaining your septic system to prevent these malfunctions is crucial.
Learn more: What Is a Septic Tank and How Does It Work?
Septic System Dos and Don’ts
To care for your septic system, do:
Set up a regular effluent pump cleaning and tank pumping schedule.
Having your tank pumped is the most critical maintenance you will perform on your system. If your tank is not pumped enough, the solid waste will build up and diminish the holding capacity of the tank. This can cause your tank to overflow and pollute the soil and groundwater with harmful waste. A septic tank should be pumped about once every 2 to 5 years. How often your tank needs to be pumped depends on how large your tank is and how many people live in your home.
Inspect the system for cracks and leaks.
Regularly inspect the ground around a septic system for evidence of leaks. If a tank is leaking, grass will grow thick and lush from the supply of nutrients reaching it from the tank. You may also notice foul odors coming from the tank.
Aside from personal external inspection, set up an inspection every 1 to 3 years with a professional contractor. A contractor will ensure that your system is being pumped often enough and spot signs of failure before they wreak havoc on your home.
Maintain the drainfield
The drainfield contains a series of pipes that slowly disperse water into the soil. To avoid problems with these pipes, avoid parking vehicles or placing a large amount of weight above the leach field. Clearly marking the drainfield when your system is installed can help you avoid placing excessive weight above it.
Limit household water usage
Too much wastewater can overwhelm a septic system and cause it to malfunction. This problem can be avoided by limiting water usage in a home or choosing an appropriately sized tank before installation. If you often have guests, for example, you will want to purchase a larger tank than if you do not entertain guests regularly. Before you purchase a tank, measure how many gallons of wastewater your home disposes of in a day. Multiply that number times 1.5 to find the ideal septic tank size for your system.
Direct rainwater runoff away from the drainfield
Because your drainfield is busy dispersing wastewater from the septic tank into soil, you should redirect rainwater runoff away from the leach field. A flooded drainfield can lead to issues such as slow drains in the home, toilets struggling to flush, and backup in floor drains.
To prevent problems with your septic system, don’t:
Use a garbage disposal
Continuously putting food in a tank reduces the efficiency of a septic system by eliminating necessary bacteria. These bacteria prevent sludge levels from rising too high by breaking it down. Without these bacteria, the sludge level increases and, as a result, the capacity of the tank decreases. A garbage disposal can be used sparingly, but it may necessitate more frequent pumping of your septic tank.
Put chemicals down the drain
Chemicals, much like food in a garbage disposal, break down bacteria necessary for a healthy septic tank. If these chemicals reach your septic tank, sludge levels may rise and cause the tank to malfunction. If you wish to unclog your drains, a baking soda and vinegar mixture can help break up buildup while not harming bacteria levels in your septic system.
Park vehicles on top of your septic tank or drainfield
No matter what material your septic tank is made of, parking a vehicle or placing other excessive weight above the tank or drainfield can wreak havoc on the system. When weight pushes down on soil, it can shift and put stress on a tank or pipes in a leach field. When installing your tank and drainfield, locate it away from where you want to park your vehicles. You should also avoid large gatherings of people above your system, particularly when the ground is wet. Wet soil has a greater chance to shift than dry soil.
Flush anything abnormal down your toilet
Toilet paper is the only safe item to flush down a toilet when using a septic system. Disposable wipes, feminine products, tissues, paper towels, and other items will not break down in a septic tank and increase clogging risk. These items should be disposed of in the garbage to benefit the health of your system.
Use more water than necessary
Excessive water use presents a bigger threat the smaller your tank is. If you use too much water at once, your drainfield can become overwhelmed. When a leach field floods, a home’s drains can slow down and even back up if the flooding is abundant enough. Before purchasing a septic tank, you should measure the amount of water used in your home in a day. To avoid drainfield flooding, you need to purchase a tank large enough to accommodate your daily water use.
What is a septic tank inspection?
A septic tank inspection is a checkup on your septic system that should be performed by a professional contractor every 1 to 3 years. Septic tanks can easily be forgotten when they work properly. However, when they fail, they can be a nightmare to correct.
What will a contractor check in a septic inspection?
When the tank was last pumped
A contractor will ensure that the tank is on a regular pumping schedule. This involves opening the lid and checking the tank’s sludge levels with a calibrated rod.
The tank’s sludge levels
The tank’s sludge levels indicate how well the bacteria is breaking down solids and how soon the tank needs to be pumped. Sludge levels should not fill over one-third of the tank’s capacity. If they do, the tank must be pumped, and it may need more bacteria introduced to increase the efficiency of breaking down waste.
Overflowing liquid from the tank
Overflowing liquid from the tank signifies that too much water is being introduced into the tank at once. When contractors test your tank, they will run multiple faucets in your home at once to ensure the tank’s levels do not rise above a certain point. If wastewater enters soil directly from the tank, it can contaminate groundwater before it can be naturally filtered appropriately.
Cracks in the tank
Cracks in a septic tank enable waste to leak into the soil and contaminate groundwater. Cracks are a sign of excessive stress placed on the outside of a tank. Not allowing vehicles to park on a tank or large groups of people to loiter in a tank’s area can prevent cracks from forming.
Security of the tank’s inlet and outlet baffles
The inlet and outlet baffles regulate waste as it enters and exits the tank. The inlet baffle ensures too much waste does not enter a tank at once. This gives solids a time to settle before more solids are introduced. The outlet baffle prevents solids from entering the drainfield. This prevents clogging in the leach field lines and ensures liquid waste can be expelled continuously from the tank.
What is a perc test?
A perc test, or percolation test, is a step to ensure soil is suitable for a septic system. A perc test involves checking the levels of percolation, how long water takes to drop, in soil where a septic system may be installed. The soil’s percolation must meet lie between a minimum and maximum threshold to ensure that water does not drop through the soil too quickly or cause flooding by dropping too slowly. If soil meets this standard, a septic system can be installed. If the soil should fail, a system cannot be installed under the current conditions. Soil with too low of a percolation risks oversaturation that can lead to backed up drains in a home. Soil with high percolation, on the other hand, cannot filter wastewater appropriately before it reaches groundwater.
Can I clean a septic tank myself?
While you can clean a septic tank yourself, doing so may damage your tank if cleaned incorrectly. Professionals have access to proper equipment, cleaning tools, and experience to prevent damage in the components of your tank. They can also dispose of a tank’s waste properly and eliminate the risk of environmental pollution. Causing harm to your tank through a DIY approach costs much more than simply having a tank pumped and cleaned by a professional.
How much does septic maintenance cost?
A septic inspection should occur every 1 to 3 years and costs anywhere from $100 to $900. The factors that manipulate inspection costs include the age of the system, how easily accessible the system is, and the size of the home and system. Prices for septic tank pumping range from about $300 to $600. The average inspection cost is around $300, while the average pumping cost sits just above $400. Overall, you can expect to spend up to $1000 every few years to maintain your septic system. If something malfunctions in your septic system, repairs cost thousands of dollars, so maintaining your system is much cheaper than allowing it to fail.