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Septic System Care


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How to Care for a Septic System

Households not served by public sewers usually depend on septic tank systems to treat and dispose of wastewater. A well-designed, installed, and maintained septic system can provide years of reliable low-cost service. Unfortunately, when these systems fail to operate effectively, property damage, groundwater and surface water pollution, and disease outbreaks can occur. Taking a moment to understand and care for your septic system could save you money long term.

There are many different types of septic tank systems to fit a wide range of soil and site conditions. The following information will help you understand a conventional gravity-flow septic system and keep it operating safely at the lowest possible cost. A conventional septic tank system has three working parts:

  1. The septic tank.
  2. The drainfield with its replacement area.
  3. The surrounding soil.

The typical septic tank is a large buried rectangular, or cylindrical container made of concrete, fiberglass, or polyethylene, Wastewater from any home fixture flows into the tank. Heavy solids settle to the bottom where bacterial action works to decompose them to digested sludge and gases. Solids that are not decomposed remain in the tank. Most septic tanks need to be pumped every 3-5 years, depending on the size of the tank. If not pumped, solids will accumulate until they eventually overflow the drainfield.

Most of the lighter solids, such as fats and grease, rise to the top and form a scum layer. Septic tanks may have one or two compartments. Tees or baffles are provided in the tank's inlet and outlet pipes. The inlet tee slows the incoming wastes and reduces disturbance of the settled sludge. The outlet tee keeps the solids or scum in the tank. All tanks should have accessible covers for checking the condition of the baffles and for pumping both compartments. If risers extend from the tank to or above the ground surface, they should be secure to prevent accidental entry into the tank. The wastewater leaving the septic tank is a liquid called effluent. Effluent has been partially treated but still contains disease-causing bacteria and other pollutants.

The Drainfield

Septic tank effluent is deposited into the drainfield. The drainfield is a network of perforated pipes laid in gravel-filled trenches (2-3 feet wide), or beds (over 3 feet wide) in the soil. Wastewater trickles out of the pipes, through the gravel layer, and into the soil. The size and type of drainfield varies based on the estimated daily wastewater flow andsoil conditions. New drainfields are required to have a designated replacement area. It must be maintained should the existing system need additional repair.

Typical Conventional Drainfield System:

The Soil

The soil below the drainfield provides the final treatment and disposal of the septic tank effluent. After the effluent has passed into the soil, most of it percolates downward and outward, eventually entering the groundwater. A small percentage is taken up by plants through their roots, or evaporates from the soil. The soil filters effluent as it passes through the pore spaces. Chemical and biological processes treat the effluent before it reaches groundwater, or a restrictive layer, such as hardpan, bedrock, or clay soils. These processes work best with dry, permeable soil containing plenty of oxygen for several feet below the drainfield. Warning signs of a failure:

-odors, surfacing sewage, wet spots, and/or lush vegetation in the drainfield area.

-plumbing or septic tank backups

-slow draining fixtures

-gurgling sounds in the plumbing fixtures

If you notice any of these signs or if you suspect your septic tank%u2028 system may be having problems, contact Mr. Rooter immediately.

Caring for Your System:

1. Practice water conservation. The more wastewater you produce, the more the soil must be treated an disposed of. You can extend the life of the drainfield, decrease the possibility of system failure, and avoid costly repairs by simply reducing and balancing your water use. 

2. Keep accurate records. Know where your septic tank system is located and keep a diagram of it's size and location (available at your local health department). Also, keep a record of maintenance on the system. This will be helpful if problems arise, and will be valuable to the next owner of your home.

3. Inspect your system once each year. A Mr. Rooter technician will come out to check the sludge and scum levels inside your septic tank and check the tank to see if the baffles and tees are in good condition. It's always wise to inspect the drainfield and downslope areas for odors, wet spots, or surfacing sewage. If your drainfield has inspection pipes, check them to see if there is a liquid level continually over 6 inches. This may indicate an early problem in your system.

4. Pump your septic tank when needed. Routine pumping can prevent failures, such as clogging of the drainfield and sewage back-up into the home. Houses with garbage disposals require more frequent pumping since more solids enter the tank.

5. Never flush harmful materials into the septic tank. Chemicals such as solvents, oils, paint, and pesticides are harmful to the system's proper operation and may pollute groundwater. Grease, cooking fats, newspapers, paper towels, rags, coffee grounds, sanitary napkins and cigarettes cannot easily decompose in the tank.

6. Keep all runoff away from your system. Water from hard surfaces such as roofs, driveways, or patios should be diverted away from the septic tank and drainfield area.

7. Protect your system from damage. Keep vehicles, heavy equipment, and livestock off your drain field or replacement area. Pressure can compact the soil and/or damage the pipes. Always check on the location of you system before you plant a garden, construct a building, or install a pool.

8. Landscape your system properly. Grass is the best cover for your system so avoid placing impermeable materials over your drainfield or replacement area. Materials, such as concrete or plastic reduce evaporation and the supply of oxygen to the soil for proper effluent treatment. They can also hinder access to the system for pumping, inspection, or repair.

9. Never enter any septic tank. Poisonous gasses or the lack of oxygen can be fatal. Any work on the tank must be done from the outside.

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At Mr. Rooter there is never an extra charge for plumbing on nights and weekends. We are proud that our professional, clean plumbers will fix it right the first time and will tell you the price before any plumbing work is performed. 

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