AutoSeptic System Maintenance: A Homeowner’s Guide

Septic System Maintenance: A Homeowner’s Guide

Septic systems provide wastewater treatment for over 25% of homes in the United States. Regular inspection and maintenance is key to keeping your septic system running smoothly for decades to come. Neglecting simple preventative care can lead to very expensive repairs down the road. This article outlines the basic maintenance every homeowner should perform to protect their investment and prevent early system failures.

How Do Septic Systems Work?

First, let’s review what’s under the ground. A septic system consists of two main components:

  • Septic Tank – A water-tight container usually made of concrete, fiberglass or polyethylene. All wastewater from your home flows into the tank. Heavy solids settle to the bottom as sludge while grease and oils float to the top as scum. A series of baffles and outlets prevent these from exiting the tank.
  • Drain Field – The clarified water between the sludge and scum layers flows out of the tank to the drain field. This consists of a network of perforated pipes buried in gravel filled trenches within the soil. Drain fields provide further filtration and the gravel bed aids drainage so liquid can absorb into the soil.

Why Routine Maintenance Matters

Septic systems have no moving parts and passive biological and physical processes treat all of your home’s wastewater. That means no machinery to power or complicated technology to master. However, some key maintenance steps keep everything flowing properly:

  • Prevents Buildup & Clogs – Excess solids can overwhelm tanks and clog drain field pipes over time. Maintenance removes solids before they accumulate.
  • Extends System Lifespan – Regular upkeep protects against corrosion and deterioration of tanks and pipes. Catching minor leaks early also prevents field saturation.
  • Saves Money – Basic care is inexpensive compared to repairs like drain replacements or full system installations averaging over $10,000!

Inspect Annually

  • Check All Components – Note condition of tanks, lids, outlets, pumps (if present) and inspect drain field area.
  • Identify Any Leaks – Scan components and soil for wet spots or lush vegetation signaling leaks.
  • Assess Drain Field – Ensure no settling, ponding or foul odors around pipes.

Surface issues often reflect bigger problems below. Call a technician when you spot red flags for major repairs.

Pump Septic Tanks

  • Removes Accumulated Sludge – Pumping removes the solids before they overflow to drain fields.
  • Maintain Proper Capacity – Removes enough liquid so tanks can still temporarily hold peak volumes after heavy use events.
  • Frequency – Professionals recommend pumping every 3-5 years depending on tank size and household occupancy.
  • What to Expect – Technicians insert a large hose to suck contents safely to their truck for proper disposal. This usually takes 1-2 hours.

Protect Your Drain Field

This soil absorption area is the most critical part of your system. A few easy habits prevent saturated soils that render fields useless:

  • Stagger Laundry and Heavy Water Use – Spread out heavy use days to give soil time to absorb between doses.
  • No Vehicles or Livestock Over Pipes – Weight compacts soils reducing drainage and can crack pipes.
  • Manage Vegetation Properly – Don’t plant trees over pipes. Grass is great.
  • Prevent Erosion – Bare dirt leads to sediment clogs. Maintain vegetation.

Mind Your Water Use

Too much liquid overwhelms tanks and drain fields. Conserve whenever possible:

  • Fix any leaky faucets or running toilets ASAP.
  • Upgrade to high efficiency fixtures.
  • Adopt habits like only running full laundry and dishwasher loads.
  • Consider installing greywater diversion for irrigation reuse.

Don’t Flush the “Unflushables”

What drains to your septic system greatly impacts maintenance frequency:

  • Fats/Grease/Oil – Slows digestion and can clog inlet pipes when poured down drains. Scrape plates and collect cooking grease instead.
  • Chemical Cleaners – Kills helpful bacteria and some chemicals persist through the full treatment process contaminating groundwater. Use sparingly and look for safer biological options.
  • Excess Food Scraps – Okay minimally but increases solid buildup substantially over time. Avoid garbage disposals.
  • Paper Products – Toilet paper breaks down sufficiently but paper towels, wipes and tissues often don’t, clogging drain fields. Trash instead of flushing.

Do I Need Additives or Treatments?

  • Bacterial/Enzyme Additives – Unnecessary for properly functioning tanks. Naturally existing microbes already digest waste without supplements.
  • Septic Tank Degreasers – Limited evidence they provide long term benefit. Better to prevent grease entry instead via behavior change.
  • System Cleaners – Could harm populations of bacteria keeping systems running well. Avoid routinely using these treatments.
  • Yeast Treatments – Debate exists on benefits with risks of overgrowths and entry into home plumbing. Best to focus on proper solids management instead.

In most cases, additives don’t substitute for fixing underlying operation and maintenance issues in a struggling septic system. Call a professional instead of experimenting on your own.

When to Call the Professionals

Septic technicians have specialized equipment, access and expertise for:

  • Major repairs like replacements or excavations of tanks and pipes
  • Comprehensive pumping of all chambers and access ports
  • Advanced treatments beyond a homeowner’s capabilities

Home insurance and even local health codes often mandate only certified specialists can manage significant servicing needs. Budget wisely for their periodic services.

Keep Systems Running Smoothly

Avoid septic headaches with proactive operation and maintenance steps. Inspect annually and pump tanks regularly. Stagger water use and avoid overloading with excess solids or chemicals. Protect pipes from erosion, soil compaction and root intrusions. Mindful habits prevent astronomical repair bills down the road!

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