Identify and address your property’s septic problems, and learn to maintain a healthy system long-term.
Although not the most pleasant of topics, responsible disposal of human wastes is a necessary part of everyone’s life, as consequences can be disastrous if your septic system is not properly maintained and monitored. Proper operation and maintenance of your septic system can have significant impact on how well it works and how long it lasts, and in most communities, septic system maintenance is the responsibility of the homeowner. The two purposes of a septic tank – trapping solids and encouraging microbial processing of the solids – provide direction as to how we should maintain our septic systems so that they function efficiently and inexpensively, and so they are able to continuously do their job of helping us to safely dispose of waste products.
A typical septic system has four main components: a pipe from the home, a septic tank, a drainfield and the soil. All of your household wastewater exits your home through a pipe called a building sewer, which leads to the septic tank – a buried, watertight container typically made of concrete, fiberglass or polyethylene that holds wastewater long enough to allow solids to settle out (sludge) and oil and grease to float to the surface (scum). The wastewater then exits the septic tank and is discharged into the drainfield for further treatment by the soil.
In general, septic tanks serve as the “primary” stage of sewage treatment in the on-site systems that most of us use. “Primary” sewage treatment removes solids from the “stuff” that goes down the drain, and then directs the remaining liquid on to the “secondary” stage, the drain field. In addition to trapping solids, septic tanks provide an oxygen-free environment in which microbes slowly begin to digest solid organic material from which the products of this digestion are either released to the wastewater stream as dissolved substances, or as gasses into the atmosphere out vents in our roofs. While typically designed to hold a minimum of 750-1000 gallons of sewage, the size of your septic tank may vary depending upon the number of bedrooms in your home and state and local regulatory requirements. By adhering to these simple and straightforward “do’s” and “don’ts”, septic system owners can ensure years of trouble-free operation with minimal maintenance.
- Inspect and Pump Frequently: An average septic system be inspected and pumped every three to five years by an industry professional.
- Maintain Effluent Filter Regularly: The DEP strongly recommends the use of an effluent filter to prevent sludge and scum from leaving your septic tank and flowing into your drainfield.
- Use Water Efficiently: The more water a household conserves, the less water enters the septic system which can improve the operation of the septic system and reduce the risk of failure. Methods for maintaining efficient water use in your home include:
- Using High-Efficiency Toilets
- Using Faucet Aerators and High-Efficiency Showerheads
- Monitoring Water Fixtures to Avoid/Repair Leaks
- Being Efficient when Using Washing Machines
- Watch Your Drains: What goes down the drain can have a major impact on how well your septic system works.
- Care For Your Drainfield:
- Only plant grass over/near your septic system because roots from trees or shrubs can cause clogs
- Keep roof drains, basement sump pump drains, and other rainwater or surface water drainage systems away from the drainfield.
- Avoid using septic system cleaners that contain banned substances
- Don’t use special additives that are touted to enhance the performance of your tank or system.
- Don’t flush dangerous and damaging substances into your wastewater treatment system including:
- Excessive amounts of bath or body oils
- Water softener backwash
- Flammable or toxic products
- Household cleaners (especially floor wax and rug cleaners)
- Chlorine bleach, chlorides, and pool/spa products
- Pesticides, herbicides, agricultural chemicals, or fertilizers
- Don’t ever flush the following down the drain:
- Egg shells, cantaloupe seeds, gum, coffee grounds
- Tea bags, chewing tobacco, cigarette butts
- Condoms, dental floss, sanitary napkins, diapers
- Paper towels, rags, newspapers, candy wrappers
- Large amounts of hair
- “Flushable” wipes, baby wipes, medicated wipes, cleaning wipes
- Household chemicals, gasoline, oil, pesticides, antifreeze, paint
- Don’t drive or park vehicles on any part of your septic system
- Don’t dig without knowing the location of your wastewater system
- Don’t dump RV waste into your wastewater system.
- Don’t connect rain gutters or storm drains to the sewer or allow surface water to drain into it.