A septic system represents a significant part of the investment in a property. THE SYSTEM MAY BE YOU’RE MOST OVERLOOKED AND UNDERVALUED UTILITY.
A properly designed, installed and maintained septic system (onsite wastewater treatment system) can be expected to provide many years of service. However, lack of proper care and maintenance and/or abuse of the system can result in problems or premature failure. Repairs and or replacement can be expensive….
- BE AWARE: A malfunctioning (or inadequate) septic system can negatively affect your property’s value.
- THE CARE AND MAINTENANCE OF YOUR SEPTIC SYSTEM IS YOUR RESPONSIBILITY…. At stake are your economic best interests, your family’s health as well as protection of our groundwater and the environment.
GENERAL OVERVIEW OF A SEPTIC SYSTEM
A septic system is an onsite sewage treatment and disposal facility. It consists of three main parts: the septic tank, the drain field and the soil under and around the drain field. A septic system should effectively accept and treat liquid wastes from your home. Its ultimate purpose is to prevent contaminants from entering the groundwater and nearby wells, lakes and streams.
Savvy homeowners understand that system problems are cheaper and easier to prevent than they are to correct. They are also aware that a well maintained system can enhance the value and enjoyment of their property.
SYSTEM RECORDS: Your property record file should include copies of your system’s documents and plot plan. These documents will be a valuable reference to help you better understand the components and location of your system.
The septic tank provides the first step in treatment using natural processes to partially treat the wastewater. Its primary purpose is to protect the drain field and the receiving soil from being clogged by suspended solids in the effluent.
The wastewater discharged from the home flows into the tank where heavier solids settle to the bottom to form a sludge layer. Lighter materials such as soaps, fats, grease, ect., float to the top forming a scum layer.
Microorganisms (naturally occurring bacteria in the waste stream) digest or break down the waste solids helping to reduce the volume of sludge and scum. This biological process usually reduces only about 40% of the sludge and scum.
The tank must be pumped regularly to remove the accumulated solids. This will prevent them from being washed out into the drain field where they can clog the soil and create potential system failure.
A septic tank is a large watertight container buried in the ground outside of the home. It provides the primary level of wastewater treatment. Tanks are usually constructed of concrete, fiberglass, polyethylene or plastic. Tank size (in gallons) will vary depending on the system’s design requirements.
RISERS: These are watertight, tube-like extensions installed on top of a septic tank to permit easier access to the manhole(s) and/or access ports. Risers are required for new systems if the tank lids are more than 6” below finished grade. They can also be retrofitted to older systems – highly recommended. Risers save time (and $$) for inspections and pumping. They can also minimize disruption to your landscaping.
A septic system’s drain field (disposal works or leach field) delivers the sewage effluent to the soil for final treatment and disposal. The drain field can be configured in a bed, rock and pipe trench (es) or chamber trench (es). The effluent flows by gravity out of the tank through the outlet baffle/tee (or filter, if installed), into perforated pipe in the drain field trenches. The effluent passes through holes in the pipe, and then trickles through gravel (or other media) to the soil. The soil acts as a biological filter to remove nearly all harmful substances including disease-causing bacteria, viruses and toxic organic materials. A drain filed can consist of a single trench or multiple trenches, as illustrated, depending upon design requirements.
If the drainfield is overloaded with too much effluent in a short period of time (e.g. running consecutive loads of laundry, draining a garden bathtub, ect), it can cause sewage to ooze up to the ground surface or it can result in backups in the home. Not only is this an unpleasant condition, it is also a health hazard.
Replace older toilets & clothes washers with high efficiency models. Investigate possible rebate/incentive programs.
Install faucet aerators & shower head restrictors to further reduce water use;
Use common sense water conserving practices (e.g. limit shower & bath time, minimize water use when brushing teeth or shaving, & operate clothes washer only for a full load); and closely monitor and repair leaky toilets and faucets.
TANK PUMPING & INSPECTIONS
“Out of sight, out of mind. . . as long as the toilets flush and drains drain, everything’s O.K.” Some homeowners assume that their onsite system will work forever without maintenance. They often wait until the system has problems before having the system inspected and the tank pumped – not a good decision.
WHAT DOES AN MAINTENANCE INSPECTION INCLUDE?
- Locate septic system
- Uncover & inspect manhole covers
- Check level of tank contents
- Measure scum & sludge layers
- Check Inlet & Outlet Tees
- Check Water Flow Into Tank
- Water Test Drainfield
- Check for Roots
- Pump & Clean Tank If Necessary
4. Keep surface water away from your leachfield
Rainfall and snowfall generate surface water. Care must be taken to grade the area around your leachfield to facilitate surface runoff. When water is allowed to stand or pond above your leachfield, the field’s soil can become saturated and will limit your leachfield’s ability to absorb and treat your wastewater.
- Route roof discharge drains away from your leachfield. Same thing with the sump-pump discharge water.
- You should be equally cautious about any water that is being directed over your septic tanks themselves. If the water table is allowed to rise above the tank seals, the risk of a seal breach increases. If the seal is breached and water enters the tanks from the seals, the leachfield will become overloaded and clogged leading to premature system failure.
5. Take care when planting trees and shrubs
Trees and shrubs that use a lot of water generate a deep and dense root structure. These types of vegetation need to be kept well away from your leachfield. If they are already present, they should be removed without disturbing the existing root structure. Deep rooted trees and shrubs can penetrate your leachfield pipes and chambers and strangulate the discharge flow.
- Avoid deep rooted trees, as well as water loving trees. These include willows, cottonwoods, poplars, beeches, elms, red and silver maples.
- Shallow rooted trees are better choices when planted no closer to drains than the potential drip line of the tree when it reaches maturity. These include cherries, crabapples, dogwoods, hemlock, oaks, pines, sourwoods, hollies, cedars and boxwoods.
- Grasses and perennial flowers are the best choices for direct cover of leachfields.
6. Avoid compacting your leachfield
You will want to avoid building driveways across your leachfield to prevent the leachfield from becoming compacted. Similarly, you will want to avoid allowing heavy machinery or trucks to cross your leachfield as they will contribute to soil compaction and will reduce your field’s ability to process wastewater.
- Keep earthmoving equipment off your leachfield
- Don’t park or drive over your leachfield
- Don’t build patios, tennis courts, or other waterproof surfaces over any part of your leachfield