Unfortunately, in far too many cases, septic systems are installed and largely forgotten – until problems arise. That old saying ‘out of sight, out of mind.’
FREQUENCY OF PUMPING
Four major factors influence the frequency of septic pumping, household size, total wastewater generated, volume of solids in wastewater, septic tank size. Household septic tanks are typically pumped every three to five years.
CONSERVE WATER & SPREAD OUT WATER USAGE
Conserving water to reduce the amount of wastewater that needs to be treated and distributing water flow to the septic tank over an extended period of time will extend the life of a system. Wastewater should remain in the septic tank long enough, at least 24 hours, for heavy solids to settle out, forming sludge, and light solids to float to the top, forming scum. Except for the period immediately after pumping, however, a septic tank contains wastewater to its full capacity at all times. As a gallon of wastewater flows into the tank from the house, a gallon of effluent flows out of the tank into the drain field. If wastewater moves in and out of the tank too rapidly, due to constant flow for extended periods, or heavy water flow at any time, solids remain suspended in the wastewater. This means they may move with the effluent out of the tank and into the drain field. Solids can clog a drain field, decreasing its ability to treat wastewater. This can lead to costly repairs or even replacement. Conserve water and spread out water usage by following these suggestions:
- Do not flush cigarettes, diapers, feminine hygiene products, paper toweling, facial tissue, or “wipes.” They may not break down readily and will contribute to the scum or sludge layers. Dispose of these items with other solid waste.
- Do not overuse the garbage disposal. It grinds up food products that settle out in the tank, adding considerably to the sludge buildup and the amount of organic matter that needs treatment.
- Do not put grease or oils down the drain. Grease and oils from cooking, frying, and skin lotions increase the scum layer in the septic tank.
- Use liquid detergents instead of powdered detergents. Powdered detergents have “fillers” in them that add to the sludge layer.
- Use toilet tissue that breaks down rapidly. Test by placing a tissue sample in a jar of water, covering the jar opening, and shaking vigorously. The toilet paper should fall apart rapidly when the jar is shaken.
- Do not dump unwanted pesticides such as herbicides, fungicides, or insecticides down the drain.
- Do not dump paints, thinners, or solvents down the drain.
- Do not dump excess medications down the drain.
- Do not overuse cleaning products, including bleach and drain cleaners, and do not dump excess cleaning products down the drain. A septic system can handle typical amounts used for routine cleaning, as well as normal-use amounts of anti-bacterial soaps.
- Avoid using automatic toilet cleaning dispensers that release bleach with every flush. This can reduce populations of bacteria in the septic tank that break down waste.
- Do not use septic system starters, additives, or feeders. These upset the natural balance of your system by killing off the good bacteria and you will need to pump your tank sooner.
PROTECT THE DRAIN FIELD
- Divert surface water runoff from roofs, downspouts and such to areas away from the drain field.
- Do not add large amounts of water to the drain field by using automatic irrigation systems. You should only water as necessary to maintain the grass cover.
- Do not drive vehicles or agricultural equipment over the drain field.
- Do not site dog kennels or other animal confinement units over the drain field.
- Do not construct driveways, parking lots, sidewalks, patios, or buildings over the septic tank or drain field.
- Maintain all required setback distances when adding buildings or other improvements to the property.
- Do not place additional soil over the drain field other than to fill slight depressions. A slight mounding will ensure runoff of surface water.
- Keep rodents and other burrowing animals out of the drain field area.
- Take care when planting trees or other deep-rooted plants. Determine the distance from the trunk to the drip line (outermost edges of branch tips of mature plant). Plant the tree or shrub at least twice that distance from the drain field. Do not plant trees with invasive root systems, such as cottonwoods or silver maples, as they may clog or damage pipes.
- Establish and maintain grass over the drain field. Do not plant vegetables or other annuals that require digging in the soil due to potential contact with pathogens. In addition, the soil will be bare at times, reducing evaporation of water to the air.
- Mow grass frequently to encourage growth.
- Reserve a replacement drain field area and manage it the same as the present drain field.