How to Properly Care for Your Septic System

To save on maintenance costs, extend the life of your on-site sewage system, and protect water quality.

The average US household consumes over 85,000 gallons of wastewater annually, 250-300 gallons per day! A septic tank is a living filter that separates scum and solids while treating wastewater before it reaches the drain-field for final purification. It’s a 24 to 48-hour process. Without proper care, your septic system may become a health hazard causing pollution and property damage. Let’s examine how to properly maintain your septic system.

Your Septic Tank

CAUTION: Bacteria at Work!

The septic tank, a large, underground, watertight container, receives all the wastewater from your home. Heavy solids settle at the bottom, where bacteria reduce them to sludge and gasses. Lighter solids, such as grease, rise to the top forming a layer of scum. That which does not decompose remains in the tank and solids must be removed periodically, via pumping. We recommend pumping every 3-5 years. An annual inspection will ensure that solids don’t build up and eventually overflow the tank, causing extensive damage.

Septic Tank System with Drain Field Diagram

The Drain Field

The wastewater that leaves the septic tank is called effluent. The soil in the drain field provides final treatment of the effluent and a grid of perforated pipes laid in gravel-filled trenches allows the effluent to trickle out into the soil.

Typical Septic Tank

We recommend pumping when solids reach 25% to 33% in the first compartment or main tank.

A Look Inside Your Septic Tank

Alternative systems such as grinder pump systems, step systems, and many other septic systems have different tank configurations than shown here.

When to Pump Your Septic Tank

  1. When the scum is within 3 inches of the bottom of the outlet device, the tank should be pumped. To measure scum accumulation, nail a 3-inch square block to a 6-foot pole and poke the block through the scum layer. Carefully move the pole up and down to feel the resistance as you move the block up against the bottom of the scum layer. Mark that place on the pole that is level with the ground. Then feel around for the bottom of the outlet pipe and mark that level on the pole, if the two marks are 3″ or less apart, your tank needs to be pumped.
  2. When the top of the sludge layer is within 12 inches of the bottom of the outlet, the tank should be pumped. To check the sludge level, wrap a rag around the bottom 3 feet of the 6-foot pole and fasten it with tape. Push the towel down to the bottom of the tank and spin it around. Mark the pole at ground level. Pull it out after a few minutes and measure the difference between the top of the sludge layer (the top of the black material on the towel) and the bottom of the outlet pipe (marked when you checked the sludge level). If this distance is 12″ or less, have your tank pumped.

System Failure

Please contact a professional septic company immediately for assistance if you witness any of these warning signs:

  1. Surfacing sewage, odors, wet spots or lush vegetation growth in the drain field area.
  2. Backups in the Plumbing or septic tank.
  3. Gurgling sounds in the plumbing system.
  4. Slow draining fixtures.

Once solids have flowed into the drain field, the damage is done. Pumping the septic tank will not bring a failed drain field back to life.

Septic System Reminders

To extend the life of your on-site septic system, save on maintenance costs and protect water quality:

  1. Inspect your system once each year.
    Inspection, by you or a professional, may reveal the need to pump more or less often. Regular pumping ensures solids will not flow from the septic tank into the drain field.
  2. Pump your septic tank as needed.
    Generally, septic tanks should be pumped every three to five years. Don’t wait until you have a problem. Routine pumping can prevent system failures. If you can’t remember when your tank was last pumped, it’s time for an inspection!
  3. Keep accurate records.
    Keep a diagram of your system’s location and a record of system maintenance for future owners.
  4. Practice water conservation.
    The less wastewater you produce, the less strain on your septic system. By reducing water use, you can extend the life of your system and decrease the possibility of system failure.
  5. Check with a certified septic technician for assistance with any system problems.

More Tips

  1. Keep these OUT of your septic system:
    • Fats or grease
    • Motor oils or fuels
    • Coffee grounds, egg shells, nut shells
    • Filter tip cigarettes
    • Disposable diapers
    • Sanitary napkins, tampons or condoms
    • Paper towels or rags
    • Paints or chemicals
  2. Keep traffic off your drain field
    No vehicles, heavy equipment or livestock because the pressure can compact the soil or damage the system pipes. Do not plant a garden; construct a building or a pool near the septic system without checking with the health department first.
  3. The best coverage option for your septic system is grass
    Do not place impermeable materials over your drain field. Concrete, asphalt, and plastic prevent oxygen from getting into the soil. Oxygen is necessary for bacteria to break down the sewage.
  4. DO NOT poison your septic tank
    Drain cleaners, floor cleaners, toilet bowl cleaners, paint solvents, waxes, polishes, coating or strippers may destroy the bacteria in the septic tank and contaminate ground and surface water.
  5. No garbage disposal
    Garbage disposals add solids and grease to the system. If a garbage disposal is used, more frequent cleaning of the septic tank will be required.
  6. DO NOT dispose of water from hot tubs or spas in the system
    The large volume of water will overload the system and the disinfectant in the spa water can destroy important bacteria in the system.
  7. Keep runoff out of your system
    Water from roofs, driveways, and patios could overwhelm the drain field, causing irreversible damage.
  8. NEVER enter any septic tank
    Poisonous gases and/or lack of oxygen can be fatal. Any work to the tank should be done from the outside.
  9. Additives are not recommended for use in the septic system
    Additives may provide short-term benefits but create long-term problems. If used continually, these products do not reduce the need for routine pumping.

The Pump Chamber

The pump chamber (a concrete, fiberglass or polyethylene container) collects the effluent. The chamber contains a pump, pump control floats, and a high water alarm float. The control floats are adjustable and are set for pumping a specific volume of effluent. When the effluent rises to the level of the “ON” float, the pump begins delivering the effluent to the disposal area. Once the effluent level is reduced to the level of the “OFF” float, the pump stops. The high water alarm float in the pump chamber initiates an alarm, warning of any pump/system malfunction. The alarm should consist of a buzzer and easily visible light. It should be on an electrical circuit separate from the pump.

For easy removal of the pump, the discharge pipe should have a union or other quick disconnect coupling. A piece of nylon rope or other non-corrodible material should be attached to the pump for taking the pump in and out of the chamber.

Proper Care Includes: Checking the pump chamber, pump and floats every year and replacing or repairing worn or broken parts. Pump maintenance follows the manufacturers’ guidelines.  Electrical parts and conduits should be inspected for corrosion. If the alarm panel has a “push-to-test” button, it should be tested regularly.

Installing a septic tank effluent filter or pump screen, if your system does not have one. Screening or filtering the septic tank effluent provides an effective way of preventing solids from clogging the pump and pipes. Inspecting a screen or filter and cleaning when necessary is quick and easy and prevents costly damage from solids entering the disposal system.

Taking action to protect the disposal area after a prolonged power outage or pump failure. Effluent will continue to collect in the chamber until the pump resumes operation. With additional effluent in the pump chamber, the pump may deliver volume greater than the disposal system or drain field can handle. If all of the reserve storage inside the chamber is used, the plumbing in your home may back up.

If the pump is off for 6 hours or more, to help protect the drain field:

  • Reduce your water use
  • Turn off the pump at the control panel or exterior switch

Contact us today for a site visits which will include quotes between $195 to $295! 214-675-4447