Septic Tank 101: How to Care for Your Septic System
If you have an on-site sewage system, it’s essential to understand how your daily actions affect the overall health of your septic system. You need to pay attention and exercise care in flushing substances down the drain. Just as important, regular system inspection is also necessary to track down issues that may give rise to potential problems down the road.
How does it work?
Septic systems are underground structures that treat wastewater coming from bathrooms, laundry, and kitchen drains. A tightly sealed container made of concrete or fibreglass, septic tanks treat wastewater by breaking down organic matter and separating floatable substances like oils and grease. After treatment, the liquid is then discharged through perforated pipes called the leaning bed. From there, the water is released into the soil.
Well-maintained septic systems work efficiently and are safe for the community and the environment. In contrast, a malfunctioning system can harm people and their immediate surroundings. Poorly treated wastewater can contaminate soil and groundwater, or directly pollute nearby bodies of water. Repairing a damaged system is a difficult job that may involve excavation. Consult an expert if you believe your system might be leaking.
Telltale signs of a defective septic system include:
- Sinks, drains, and toilets clog up
- Foul sewage odours around the property
- Presence of green, soggy areas on the dispersal area
How can I take care of it?
Keeping your sewage system in tip-top shape doesn’t have to be difficult. Here are basic guidelines to care for your system:
For newly-constructed homes, contract a trusted septic system provider and make sure to have yours installed properly. This will help you avoid any problems that may surface along the way. Verify with inspectors if your property allows for the installation of a septic system.
Conduct regular inspections and pumping
On average, household septic systems must undergo inspection by a septic service expert at least once every three years. Some systems that have electrical switches and mechanical parts (known as alternative systems) must be checked more frequently (as frequently as once a year in some cases).
A professional septic service provider will look for possible leaks and examine the volume of sludge and scum in your septic tank. If the bottom part of the scum layer measures 12 inches of the tank’s T-shaped outlet (the part that stops the scum and sludge from being released into the drain field area), your tank needs pumping.
You should have your tank pumped regularly if you have a larger household, a bigger septic tank, or if there’s a considerable volume of solids in the wastewater. Ideally, septic tanks should be pumped every three to five years.
The average Canadian residential home uses 343 litres per person daily. Conserving water will not only reduce your utility bills; it will benefit the health of your septic tank as well. The more you reduce water use, the less water goes into the system. Increased water efficiency boosts the septic system’s operations and reduces the risk of malfunction.
The Three Rs of Water Conservation:
- Reduce – Modify your habits to save water. Being more conscious of the amount of water you are using will help remind you to use less. One change might be spreading washing machine use out across the week, rather than doing it in bulk on one day. Septic systems can take time to process wastewater and separate solid from liquid waste. By spreading the load out across the week, you will reduce stress on the system.
- Retrofit – Modify existing toilets, appliances, and taps for more efficient water usage. This can range from buying a new showerhead, to placing a brick in your toilet’s tank.
- Replace – When you have the resources, choose water- and energy-efficient water fixtures and appliances. For example, replacing your old toilet with a more efficient one which uses less water with every flush will not only save money but will also reduce the wear-and-tear on your septic system.
Dispose of waste properly
Your septic system is the final destination of everything that goes down your drains. No matter how tiny it is, what you flush down in the toilet or pour down the sink ends up in the septic tank. Whatever travels through the drains can affect the performance of your septic system.
Here’s a list of items that should never find a hiding place in your septic system as they also clog up the drain field:
- Cooking oil or grease
- Feminine hygiene products
- Baby wipes or wet wipes
- Crumpled-up papers
- Dental floss
- Cotton balls
- Coffee grounds
- Cigarette butts
- Paper towels
- Cat litter
- Chemicals like gasoline, paint, thinner, and pesticides
Protect your drain field
The drain field (also called leach fields or leach drain) is the part of the septic system that eliminates contaminants from the liquid released by the septic tank. When the drain field is affected, the overall function of your septic system can suffer. Here are a few simple tips on ways you can protect your drain field.
- Do not park – Driving or parking on your drain field may damage your septic system by crushing it. It also causes the soil surrounding your pipes to compacted which affects their absorption capacity.
- Insulate your tank – In the wintertime, snowmobiles can compress any snow that lies atop your tank. This then reduces the insulating effect of the snow on your drain field and might lead to frozen pipes. Insulating the top of your tank with polystyrene will minimize the risk of freezing during extreme winter conditions.
- Plant trees away from your tank – Plant trees and shrubs far away from the field to prevent roots from growing into your system. Roots will grow towards any water source they find, and they will damage your pipes. A septic service provider can give you advice on the proper distance that should be maintained when planting trees and shrubs.
Lessen use of cleaners
Excessive use of septic cleaners can kill microorganisms that break down the wastes in a septic tank. Use them sparingly or avoid them altogether. Household chemicals like paint thinners, motor oils, gasoline, and varnish can have negative impacts on your system. These chemicals can also pose a contamination hazard if they seep into groundwater. Make sure to store them properly in tight-lid containers before disposing of them in compliance with your hazardous waste laws.
Minimize the use of phosphate-based cleaners, soaps, and detergents; they can encourage the growth of algae in nearby bodies of water. Phosphates can affect water quality and fish habitat.
Taking good care of your septic system is simple. Deal with leakage issues, reduce your water use, and avoid flushing garbage and harmful chemicals. On top of all these preventive measures, commit to regular system checkup and pumping with a septic system professional. For future reference, keep a record of all the findings from every inspection.
When you need a professional who can address your septic tank problems in King City, New Tecumseth, Bolton, and the surrounding areas, call Plumbing Authority Inc. at (647) 992-7473. We help homes and commercial establishments keep their septic systems in good condition for years ahead.