Septic System Guide

A Homeowner’s Guide to Septic Systems

It is so easy to forget...about your septic system! It IS underground you know, much of a problem can it be!

Do you know what you should or should not put down the drain?

How about how often you should inspect it or have it pumped?

Here is some information you should know and consider about that hidden, underground system so vital to you and your home.

As a homeowner, you are responsible for maintaining your septic system. Did you know that maintaining your septic system protects your investment in your home? If properly designed, constructed and maintained your septic system can provide long-term, effective treatment of household wastewater. If your septic system is not 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. Moreover, if you sell your home, your septic system must be in good working order.

A typical septic system has four main components: a pipe from the home, a septic tank, a drain field and the soil. Microbes in the soil digest or remove most contaminants from wastewater before it eventually reached groundwater.

The septic tan is a buried, watertight container typically made of concrete, fiberglass or polyethylene. It holds the wastewater long enough to allow solids to settle out (forming a sludge) and cooking oil and grease to float to the surface (as a scum). It also allows partial decomposition of the solid materials. Compartments and a T-shaped outlet in the septic tank prevent the sludge and scum from leaving the tank and traveling into the drain field area. Screens are also recommended to keep solids from entering the drain field.

The wastewater exits the septic tank and is discharged into the drain field for further treatment by the soil. Microorganisms in the soil provide final treatment by removing harmful bacteria, viruses and nutrients.

You should have your septic system inspected at least every 3 years by a professional and have your tank pumped as necessary, generally every 3 to 5 years.

Average indoor water use in the typical single-family home is almost 70 gallons per person per day.

Dripping faucets can waste about 2,000 gallons of water each year. Leaky toilets can waste as much as 200 gallons each day! The more water a household conserves the less water enters the septic system.

Dental floss, feminine hygiene products, condoms, diapers, cotton swabs, cigarette butts, coffee grounds, cat litter, paper towels and other kitchen and bathroom items can clog and potentially damage septic system components.

Flushing household chemicals, gasoline, oil, pesticides, antifreeze, and paint can stress or destroy the biological treatment taking place in the system or might contaminate surface waters and groundwater.

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, at least every three years, is a bargain when you consider the cost to replacing the entire system.

Your system will need pumping 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’s value and could pose a legal liability.

Another good reason for safe treatment of sewage includes 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.

Nitrogen and phosphorus are aquatic plant nutrients that can cause unsightly algae blooms. Excessive nitrate-nitrogen in drinking water can cause pregnancy complication. If a septic system is working properly, it will effectively remove most of these pollutants.

For more information that is useful and some handy material on keeping your septic system in working order, you can contact the EPA to download a copy of the publication “A Homeowner’s Guide to Septic Systems