April 22, 2024
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Septic Solutions: Maintaining a Healthy Septic System

A home’s septic system is one of its most important yet overlooked elements. A properly functioning septic system is essential for protecting home value, public health, and the environment. However, many homeowners do not fully understand how their septic system works or what is required to keep it running smoothly. This article will provide an overview of septic systems, common issues that can arise, and key steps for ensuring a healthy septic system.

What is a Septic System?

Every home that is not connected to a municipal sewer system relies on an onsite septic system, also known as a septic tank system, to treat and dispose of wastewater. A basic septic system has four key components:

1. Pipe from Home: Wastewater flows from the home’s drains and toilets into the septic tank through an underground pipe.

2. Septic Tank: The tank is typically concrete or fiberglass and holds wastewater long enough for solids to separate from liquids. Solids settle to the bottom forming sludge while oils and greases float to the top as scum.

3. Drainfield/Leachfield: The liquid wastewater exits the tank and disperses into a network of perforated pipes in the drainfield/leachfield. Gravel-filled trenches allow the wastewater to percolate through the soil, where microbes in the soil further treat the water before it enters groundwater.

4. Soil: The final stage of a septic system relies on several feet of suitable soil beneath the drainfield to provide final treatment before water reaches the groundwater table.

Proper Maintenance is Key

When functioning correctly, a Septic System is a robust and sustainable method for onsite wastewater treatment. However, like any system, septic systems require regular maintenance to operate effectively over time. Neglecting routine maintenance is one of the most common reasons for septic system failures. Failing septic systems release untreated wastewater, pose public health risks, and often require expensive repairs or replacement. Here are a few key reasons to maintain a septic system:

Prevent Clogging and Backups: Solids that build up in the septic tank must be periodically pumped out by a septic service company. If solids are allowed to accumulate unchecked, they will eventually be discharged into the drainfield, clogging pipes and causing wastewater backups into the home. Pumping frequency varies but generally every 3 to 5 years is recommended.

Protect Drainfield Infrastructure: The drainfield relies on good drainage and oxygenated soil conditions to treat wastewater. Over time, continuous wastewater flow can compact soil in the drainfield and cause premature failure. Pumping the tank regularly protects the soil by preventing excessive solids from entering the drainfield.

Prevent Contamination: If wastewater backs up or a drainfield becomes saturated and fails, untreated sewage can contaminate nearby wells, streams or lakes. Improper septic system operation poses public health risks by allowing contact with human pathogens and exposure to harmful bacteria and viruses. Regular maintenance helps prevent contamination.

Sustain System Lifespan: With preventative care like routine pumping and following manufacturer guidelines, a typical septic system can last 20-30 years before requiring major repairs. Without proper maintenance, drainfields and system components may need replacement in as little as 5-10 years.

Additional Septic Do’s and Don’ts

Beyond periodic pumping, here are some additional tips for maintaining a healthy septic system:

– Do have your tank measured during pumping to track sludge/scum layer buildup and determine if the tank needs to be pumped more frequently.

– Don’t use commercial septic tank additives, which usually contain microbial ingredients and claim to improve function. These products are not necessary for properly maintained tanks.

– Do conserve water to avoid overloading the drainfield. Large volumes of wastewater can saturate drainfield soils.

– Don’t flush anything besides human waste and toilet paper. Don’t flush items like grease, oils, flushable wipes, feminine products, paper towels or diapers.

– Do inspect and maintain other system components like baffles, lids and effluent filters as needed. Replace worn or failed parts as needed.

– Don’t plant trees or large shrubs near the drainfield that could damage pipes or roots clog soil. Maintain proper vegetative cover for soil stability.

– Do contact a licensed septic professional if odors, backups, surfacing sewage or wet, spongy ground is noticed over the drainfield. These could indicate a clogged or failed system.

When Maintenance Isn’t Enough

While routine maintenance keeps most systems running effectively for decades, some require repairs or replacement parts due to age, heavy use or unsuitable site conditions. Common problems include corroded tanks, broken pipes, clogged distribution boxes or soil that has lost its ability to naturally treat wastewater due to soil damage or compaction. When ongoing maintenance cannot improve function, professional inspections or upgrading parts may be needed. In some cases, an entirely new drainage system may need to be installed. Septic professionals can determine the appropriate solutions when repairs or replacement is warranted.

Although homeowners sometimes neglect or avoid dealing with their septic systems, proper maintenance ensures public health protections, environmental stewardship and maximizes the lifespan of an important home system. With periodic septic service and following basic do’s and don’ts, household wastewater can continue to be sustainably treated onsite. By keeping septic tanks pumping regularly and avoiding items that can clog pipes, today’s more environmentally-conscious homeowners can feel good that their homes are operating self-sufficient wastewater systems responsibly for many decades to come. Remember, a little maintenance goes a long way in protecting home value and water resources going forward.

1. Source: Coherent Market Insights, Public sources, Desk research
2. We have leveraged AI tools to mine information and compile it