If you are new to septic systems or just want to get more information, we try to keep things pretty simple. For consistency, we follow most, if not all, EPA regulations are they are generally implemented by state and local agencies shortly after they are implemented by the EPA. This makes things a whole lot simpler for everybody and also provides the most consistent resource for information.
An excellent starting point for those not familiar with how septic systems work is an interactive animation provided online by the Guadalupe-Blanco River Authority in Texas. This animation is available at http://www.gbra.org/septic.swf. (currently not working) This animation gives a basic visual explanation of how septic systems work. Most people do not have aerobic septic systems installed in this area. While this is definitely the ideal system to have, if you have no idea what an aerobic septic system is and you weren’t told one is installed at your house, you probably don’t have one. Just check out the conventional system unless you know you have an aerobic one.
If you want us to check to see if your septic needs pumped, just let us know. There is no charge for us to check it. If it doesn’t need done, we will tell you that and, if possible, give an estimate of when we think it might need pumped. So you know what we are looking at to determine if it needs pumped, here are a few things that are simple to check. First thing, we check the “scum” (oils, greases and fats) on top. If it is thick enough to go down to within 6″ of the bottom of the outlet pip, it needs pumped. Second, we check the “sludge” (actual solid waste) on the bottom. If it is thick enough to come up to within 12″ below the bottom of the outlet pipe, it needs pumped.
Regular maintenance of a septic system is fairly simple. Pump it out every few years and keep an eye on it to make sure nothing is going wrong. If you think about the cost of pumping your septic every few years at $180 (which works out to $5 per month for the average family of four), to the cost of being connected to sewer in the Midwest at an average of $40 per month for the same average family of four, the difference is staggering. Obviously, the frequency of pumping depends on a number of factors, including household size, amount and quality of wastewater and the size of the septic tank.
For the average family of four, in an average house, under average circumstances, the EPA recommends having a septic tank pumped every three years. If there are more people, a higher wastewater volume, an older system or a smaller tank, it will need pumped more often. The opposite is also true, but it is recommended that pumping be not less than at least every five years. The longer you wait to have it pumped out, the greater the chance of having solids flow out in to the drain field. This can cause permanent, expensive damage to the system and also backups in to the house.
There are many things you can do to help extend the life of your septic system. Some simple ways include using water efficiently, not using any “additives”, not flushing inappropriate materials, regulate usage of garbage disposals and limit dumping of chemicals including bleach, etc. Basically, if it seems like it should be flushed, then it shouldn’t be flushed. Your septic system functions by organisms living in the waste. If products are flushed or dumped down the drain that can upset the balance of the septic system environment, these bacterial organisms are killed off so the system no longer functions properly.
Things you don’t want to send to your septic include, but are not limited to, cooking oils, feminine products, condoms, cigarette butts, paper towels, baby wipes, cat litter, prescriptions and chemicals. If it is a chemical or doesn’t break down in a reasonable amount of time, don’t flush it. If it isn’t organic(ish), don’t flush it. If it kills bacteria, don’t flush it.
Your septic system’s drain field is where the treated water re-enters the environment for final treatment. This is one of the biggest failure points in a septic system mainly because the tank itself was not maintained properly, including flushing inappropriate items and not having it pumped as often as it should be. Other things that damage your drain field are driving and/or parking on top of it planting trees too close and water runoff saturating the soil around it.
Simply put, if you maintain your septic system properly, it will last you a lifetime or more. If you don’t maintain it properly, you are looking at replacing it for $3,000 – $7,000 or more. The monthly savings of being on a septic system compared to connected to sewer can quite literally go right down the drain if you don’t maintain your system properly.