Do you ever think about your septic system and whether it is working as it should? Most people simply flush and forget it. But—like your heating and air conditioning system—if you don’t maintain it, it will fail, leading to expensive repairs. Your septic system is perhaps the most important and expensive appliance in your home. And problems with a septic system can be a shock not only to your checkbook, but to your senses as well!
Some of the more offensive clues that your septic system is failing include sewage backing up into your house; foul sewage odors; and, wet, spongy areas near your tank or drainfield (sometimes accompanied by excessive vegetation growth). The worst possible sign of trouble is if a family member or household guest experiences an intestinal disorder. Less unpleasant warning signs include slow draining sinks, and, possibly, alarm warnings if you have an advanced treatment system (like a BAT unit). All of these signs indicate that your tank is overfilling and your drainfield is clogging, which causes drains to backup and soggy spots in your yard.
More importantly, all of these situations are a hazard to your health, and requires immediate attention. If you are experiencing any of these signs of trouble, you should contact your local county environmental health office and a septic professional to identify what’s causing the failure and discuss a solution.
As with most things, the best approach is to avoid problems in the first place. Our most important recommendation for septic maintenance is to pump your tank every three to five years, sometimes more depending on your tank size and the number of people living in your house. We also recommend you follow these easy maintenance practices:
- Use water efficiently—space out showers, laundry, and dishwashing; and fix leaking toilets and sinks.
- Use green cleaners—conventional household chemicals (cleaners, paints, etc.) can kill the beneficial bacteria in your system.
- Direct rain water drainage and hot tub water away from the tank and drainfield.
- Don’t use a garbage disposal.
- Don’t flush any products other than toilet paper.
If you have a well, and your septic system has failed, the sewage could be contaminating your drinking water, which could then cause gastrointestinal issues amongst family members and guests. If you’re concerned about your drinking water quality, you should work with a state-certified lab to test your well water for bacteria and nitrates—which we recommend you do annually anyways.
Maintaining your septic system will not only protect your family’s health, but a little attention to your system will also go a long way in keeping it operational and lasting for many years.