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Septic Systems Dos and Don'ts

By: Mike Thomas

I've repaired, installed and pumped enough septic systems to have seen it all. In this line of work, you quickly understand how far a little common sense -- and water preservation -- can go. My customers often ask me for tips to maintain their septic tanks and reduce the likelihood of disgusting blockages or costly septic emergencies. Fortunately, I've got plenty of advice for people like them.

Water Usage and Your Septic System

The amount of water that enters your septic tank on a daily basis can also affect performance. Generally, you don't want to use more than 50 gallons of water daily. This is easy if you live alone or with a single person, but it becomes more difficult when you have a large family. For his reason, septic systems aren't ideal for every family or building, but you can reuse water to reduce the amount of water that enters the system.

Avoid These Material

Avoid filling your septic system with other materials. Never flush or dump materials down your sinks or toilets. This might mean restricting the use of your garbage disposal and composting biodegradable remains, instead. Don't drain chemicals into your system, either. They can mix in or cause damage to the septic system or even flow into the surrounding soil. This also includes grease and cooking oil, which solidify when they harden and clog pipes leading in and out of your tank.

Pass on anti-bacterial dish and hand soaps because they can kill the bacteria that your septic system requires to keep running correctly. Fortunately, more soap is septic friendly, so you can pick up something that's safe to pour down your drain. Just look for a notice on the label that states the product is septic-friendly.

Cleaners Aren't Necessary

While you'll see septic tank cleaners on the market, these products aren't necessary. Either they use chemicals or natural agents to "clean" your tank, but they're not going to change the fact that you need to have your tank pumped. In fact, these chemicals may contaminate wells or soil if they're near to your septic tank.

Pumping Your Septic Tank

Periodic pumping to remove physical debris is required, but reducing the amount of debris that enters your system to begin with can reduce the pumping frequency. Smaller pumps may need pumping multiple times per year if 8 or more people use them, while a 1,500 gallon septic tank can last almost twenty years without pumping if only two people use the system. Of course, when it's time to pump the septic tank, it's easier if you know exactly where it's located. Make a diagram of your yard and system so that you can easily find it without having to dig up your entire yard in the process.

Drainfield Maintenance

There are a few steps you should take to maintain the drainfield around your septic tank as well. First, make sure there's enough plant coverage over the drainfield. Some people install a concrete "rise" over the field for easier access, too. Keeping waters from the surface from rain, sprinklers or a hose from the surface of your drainfield keeps it in peak performance, too. Don't park or place anything over the location of the drainfield as this can prevent it from clearing bacteria from drain water.


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†Average repair and replacement costs as reported in a nationwide survey: A Study of Homeowners Appliance and Home System Service Experiences Decision Analyst (2011) and reprinted with their written permission.

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