Care of Your Septic System

Care and Maintenance of your Septic System

What is Coming Out of Your House?

Your septic system is designed to handle human waste and toilet paper, plus water from plumbing fixtures such as toilets, baths, and sinks. Household cleaners, detergents and bleach will not damage your system if used in moderation. If you are putting anything else down the drain your septic system function may be impaired. Never pour oil, cooking grease, paint, or insecticides into your plumbing system. These items can inhibit the bacteria which are so critical to the proper functioning of your system or plug the pores of your system.

Non-degradable paper products, such as diapers, sanitary napkins or tampons, and paper towels are harmful to your system. Also refrain from introducing any other non-biodegradable substances such as condoms, plastic baggies or plastic filmwrap, or cigarette butts. These items can cause serious clogging problems. A garbage disposal can be used if your septic system was designed for it; however, you should have your tank pumped more frequently.

The Small Flows Quarterly publication from the National Small Flows Clearinghouse at West Virginia University states that “Claims made on the effectiveness of additives to either eliminate pumping of a septic tank or restore permeability of the soil absorption system are unsubstantiated. No product will allow a homeowner to escape a regular septic tank pumping and maintenance schedule.” Also visit the Septic Information Website for more information and references on why septic tank additives are not indicated. Further opposition is offered by the Environmental Protection Agency Fact Sheet 1 which states that “Because of the presence of significant numbers and types of bacteria, enzymes, yeasts, and other fungi and microorganisms in typical residential and commercial wastewaters, the use of septic system additives containing these or any other ingredients is not recommended. The benefits of consumer products sold as septic system cleaners, degraders, decomposers, deodorizers, organic digesters, or enhancers are not significant or have not been demonstrated conclusively, depending on the product. Some of these products can actually interfere with treatment processes, affect biological decomposition of wastes, contribute to system clogging, and contaminate ground water.

How Much is Coming Out of Your House?

Your system is designed to handle a certain volume of water. If you consistently overload your septic system you cause premature failure. A frequent source of overload is leaking plumbing fixtures. This can amount to hundreds of extra gallons of water going into your septic system. Repair leaks immediately, especially running toilets.

Reduce the wastewater flow by installing water-saving devices in your shower heads and faucets. Lower the amount of water hitting the system from the laundry by spreading your weekly washing over several days rather than doing it all in one day.

Pumpouts & Maintenance of Your Septic Tank:

Why get your tank pumped and how often should you have it done? When too much solid material accumulates in the tank over a period of years, it begins to wash out of the tank and into the drainfield with the normal liquid effluent. The solids clog the drainfield so that not as much effluent can be absorbed. As more solids flow from the tank the drainfield will eventually not be able to absorb the liquid effluent and the drainfield will have failed. This is the most common cause of drainfield failure.

septic-pump-out-chart

 

TABLE 1 Estimated septic tank pumping frequencies in years
(for year-round residences)

Note: More frequent pumping is needed if a garbage disposal is used.
Generally the indicated frequency will vary with the
volume of solids (+20% for high volume, -20% for low volume).

Getting your septic tank pumped has been likened to having the oil changed in your car. It is a good idea to change your oil regularly. If you wait until your engine breaks down, it is too late to fix it with an oil change. Pumping your tank regularly can greatly prolong the life of your septic system, but when the drainfield has failed a pump out will not fix the problem. It is suggested that you have your tank pumped every 3 to 5 years on a regular maintenance schedule. Multichambered tanks, which are now required by law in Florida, need a more frequent pumpout schedule than the older single chamber tanks.

The bacteria that thrive in a septic tank are called “anaerobic bacteria” because they do not require oxygen. These bacteria are essential to the proper functioning of a septic system as they degrade and decompose the solids.

If you suspect that your drainfield may be failing, have a reputable and licensed Septic Tank Contractor evaluate your system before having it pumped. Pumping your tank after the drainfield has failed will offer only temporary relief until the tank fills up again. Most contractors have to sent out a separate septic engineer to diagnose any problems at a costly additional charge, but Apalachee Septic sends a licensed septic installer to every pump out so we can diagnose any problems that may cause your septic tank to back up while we pump the tank to get your system flowing again.

Table I lists estimated pumping frequency according to septic tank capacity and household size. The frequencies were calculated to provide a minimum of 24 hours of wastewater retention assuming 50 percent digestion of the retained solids.

Under current Florida law a 900 gallon septic tank is the minimum size that must be used for a home with three bedrooms or less. If six people reside in a three-bedroom house, the tank should be pumped every 1.3 years. If the same system serves a family of two, the tank would be ready for pumping every 5.2 years. Systems installed before the current rules and regulations were implemented may need to be pumped more often, perhaps every year or less.

As indicated in the footnote to Table 1, garbage disposals will increase the frequency of pumping. For example, if this same three bedroom house with six residents had a garbage disposal and was generally producing a higher volume of wastewater, the pumping frequency would be calculated as follows:
1.3 years – [(0.2) x 1.3 years] = 1.0 year

Proper Care of the Drainfield Area:

The drainfield is ideally located in a sunny open area for maximum evaporation. Trees and shrubs should not be planted near the drainfield as root intrusion may impair the drainfield. Any plants that do not have deep roots can be planted over a drainfield. Grasses and ground cover provide the highest level of evapo-transpiration (the cycle of plants taking moisture from the soil by their root systems and giving it off to the atmosphere using the sun’s energy) without the complication of root systems clogging drainpipes and gravel beds. Mulched areas of flower beds do hold moisture and decrease drainfield efficiency.

Walkways, patios, parking areas, decks or other permanent structures should not be constructed over either the septic tank or the drainfield.

Vehicles should not drive over the drainfield on a regular basis and heavy trucks and equipment should be kept off the drainfield area.

Rainwater or other drainage water should be diverted from the drainfield area. The drainfield size is designed for the amount of water coming from the house. Adding extra water from poor drainage may cause problems.