Septic systems are designed to be trouble-free and with proper septic system maintenance should provide years of quality service. There are basically four steps to maintain your system. The steps are:
- Treating (Maybe)
Keep in mind that tanks are not designed to treat waste. Rather they accumulate the waste, separate it into three components and hold solid waste until it is pumped out by a licensed septic maintenance company. Inspecting the system involves verifying that there are no cracks in the tank and that all pipes delivering waste without blockage. It also means walking through the drain field and looking for signs of blocked drain lines or obstructions that could slow the effluent from passing through the lines and be drained into the soil. This is only part of the inspection process used by most septic system maintenance companies.
The most important part of septic systems maintenance is regular pumping of the solid waste; in fact, if you’ll follow a definite schedule of pumping the tank every 3 years, then you’ll have about 80% of the battle won and be better off than the majority of homeowners. Solid waste accumulates at the bottom of the tank while oil and grease settles at the top, referred to as the scum layer. When the licensed contractor comes in to pump out the tank they will pump out the sludge at the bottom as well as the scum layer as part of their services.
Besides regular pumping, simply being mindful can go a long way to maintain the septic system:
- Remember that everything put down a drain ends up in the tank, so if it’s not biodegradeable, then don’t put it in the tank.
- All the water that goes down the drain in the house must be absorbed in the drainfield outside, so keep water use to a reasonable level.
- You don’t want to overload the tank with waste that could go in the trash like cooking oil and table scraps. In other words, avoid the garbage disposal:
Regular inspections of the tank and field are suggested at the same time as pumping; some companies will include it with the pumping. Simply pumping the tank and observing the inside of the tank will go a long way toward finding maintenance issues. For example, issues with one of the tank’s baffles may cost a few hundred to fix if it’s found quickly, while it could cost several thousand to fix if solid waste isn’t stopped by the baffle and ruins the drainfield. Almost all septic issues work this way…small problems lead to bigger problems.
Treating with Septic Maintenance Products
Septic tanks rely on bacteria in the tank to digest some of the solid waste so that it doesn’t build up too fast. It’s possible for household chemicals released into the tank to kill some or all of the bacteria and when that happens, certain additives might be able to help restore bacteria levels.
Similarly, there are some additives that have been developed to help when the drain field becomes overwhelmed with solid waste. The drainfield could theoretically work forever with specific and diligent maintenance, but it’s easy for things to go wrong. Some additives on the market claim to dissolve small particles and grease inside the distribution pipes, break up clay soil (called hardpan), and kill off the biomat (helpful bacteria layer that has grown too thick). Keep in mind, for drainfield additives to be most effective, they need to be applied at the distribution box or at least the septic tank outlet riser.