The Do’s and Don’ts of a Septic System

A properly functioning septic system is essential for any home or property not connected to the municipal sewerage system. Around a fifth of American homes, mostly in rural areas, have a septic system, also known as an on-site wastewater treatment system. With proper maintenance, the system can last for decades without needing replacement. Plumbing experts estimate that it can last for more than 40 years.

Accordingly, septic system replacements are rare unless a home’s household capacity has exceeded the capacity of the original septic system. Essentially, septic systems are designed to cater to a specific household size. For instance, a septic system for a five-bedroom house will be bigger than for a two-bedroom house with the assumption that more people live there.

Besides increased capacity, a home may also need a new septic system if the current one is more than 40 years old. Typically, an old system is susceptible to frequent malfunctions and may need replacement. While these are practical reasons for septic system failure and the need for replacement, they are not the most common reasons for septic failure.

Improper use, poor maintenance, and lack of regular pumping are the leading reasons for septic system failure. Fortunately, you can correct these mistakes by following some do’s and don’ts. However, these do’s and don’ts are specific to different septic system functionality, and you may need to know how a septic system works to adhere to the rules adequately.

How a Septic System Functions

Most septic systems consist of three parts: a septic tank, a distribution box, and a drain field or leach field. The system is designed such that solid waste or sludge sinks to the bottom of the septic tank while scum or floatable materials remain at the top. Liquid waste or effluent remains in the middle, passing through perforated pipes to the drain field.

While the effluent is absorbed and becomes part of the groundwater through a natural filtration process, the scum and sludge in the septic tank need to be regularly pumped out. However, bacteria and other microorganisms in the septic tank consume and dissolve some of the sludge and scum. These processes only occur as they should in a properly functioning septic system.

A septic system is said to malfunction if some or all of these processes are not happening. For instance, if the septic system is not discharging effluent into the drain field, probably due to blockage or some other reason, it can cause septic issues. Similarly, if the scum and sludge are such that they are backing up into the pipes, there is a problem.

However, a homeowner can avoid most of these septic issues through proper maintenance, including regular inspections and cleaning, and observing some simple do’s and don’ts to ensure proper use of the septic system.

Maintenance Guidelines

As part of the do’s and don’ts, you need to follow recommended septic system maintenance guidelines, including:

  1. Regular inspections – you should have a licensed septic inspector inspect your system once every year. While the recommended septic inspection duration is every three to five years, it is advisable to do it more frequently to help detect avoidable emergencies and unnecessarily costly repairs.
  2. Regular pumping or cleaning – Besides inspections, you should also have a licensed septic professional clean or pump your septic tank every three to five years or as needed. Regular pump-outs are essential to avoid issues like slow drainage or sewerage backing up into your pipes.
  3. You should only remove your septic tank coverings with the direction of a qualified septic technician. You should also never enter a septic tank as it contains deadly gases. Let a licensed septic professional do these things if needed.

Rules for a Proper Functioning Septic System

  1. Don’t dispose of non-degradable materials, including paper towels, sanitary hygiene products, condoms, diapers, dental floss, cigarette butts, plastics, or other trash, through the septic system. These materials will likely overload your septic tank or clog your pipes or the drain field.
  2. Use a garbage can to dispose of all non-degradable products or materials.
  3. Don’t dispose of or pour cooking grease, coffee grounds, and leftover food into the septic system. Use a garbage can to dispose them.
  4. Limit or eliminate non-biodegradable chemicals in your septic system, including paints, detergents, bleach, fabric softeners, and other household chemicals. Avoid using septic tank additives as well. Chemicals are likely to affect the natural processes in the septic system, including eliminating microorganisms that help dissolve and consume sludge and scum in the tank.
  5. Conserve water by washing full loads of clothes or dishes, fixing leaky plumbing, and installing low-flow plumbing fixtures. The more water you pump through your septic system, the more you strain it.
  6. Similarly, do not drain swimming pools or hot tubs into your septic system.

Location Rules

  1. Know the exact location of your septic system, and keep related documentation
  2. Do not plant trees or shrubs close to your septic system, as roots can damage pipes and clog the drain field affecting its functionality. However, you can plant grass over or near the drain field.
  3. You should not drive or park on your drain field. The car’s weight can easily damage the drain lines.

These simple rules or do’s and don’ts go a long way in ensuring your septic system functions as it should and has an extended life. You effectively avoid unnecessary repairs or even a forced septic system replacement. While proper maintenance of your septic system is your responsibility, a septic technician can help you. In Tucson, Arizona, you can rely on Curtis Plumbing to help you practice proper septic system maintenance. We offer septic installation, inspection, maintenance, repair, and replacement services. We also help you schedule your septic system maintenance needs. Contact us today to schedule an appointment and learn more about our services.