If you’re moving into a new home with a septic system, you may have some questions about how septic systems (and their care) differ from living in a home that relies on public sewers. Maybe you grew up on a property that relied on a septic system and remember some of the ins and outs or maybe you are brand new to the world of septic systems. Either way, this article will catch you up to speed on how septic systems work, offering advice on caring for your septic system and the first things you should do after moving into a home with a septic system.
How Septic Systems Work
Though they should, most people who rely on public sewers do not give much thought to what gets washed down the sink or flushed down the toilet. Septic owners, on the other hand, pay particular attention because flushing the wrong things—or pushing too much water into their system—can cause significant problems.
Septic systems are brilliant, eco-friendly designs for treating your household wastewater. The sewage pipes leading from your home empty into the septic holding tank, where solids settle to the bottom, forming what is known as the layer of sludge, while fats, oils, and greases (FOGs) rise to the surface, forming the layer of scum. A relatively clear layer of effluent forms in between, where anaerobic and aerobic bacteria work to break down the solids suspended in this layer of water. Some septic systems also rely on aerators to increase aerobic activity within the septic tank. As household wastewater flows from the house into the septic tank, effluent flows through the outlet baffle to find its way to a secondary treatment system known as the drainfield. Here, effluent flows into a buried system of perforated pipes, designed to purify the effluent of any pathogens or contaminants as it filters through the ground and finally finds its way to the water table.
While simple in design, septic systems rely on a healthy ecosystem of bacteria to break down the solids in your home’s wastewater. Septic owners need to be careful not to flush anything into the system that may harm or interfere with this bacterial environment. In addition to this, a septic system does not have many parts, but it is important these parts function properly. So, septic owners need to be careful not to flush items into the system which may causes clogs or otherwise prevent the septic system from doing its job.
How to Care for Your Septic System
Septic systems are a lot like indoor plants. For the most part, you can leave them alone, being careful not to over or under water them, and they will thrive. But just as you wouldn’t pour certain things into your favorite hanging plant, you should also be careful to avoid flushing things that may inadvertently kill your septic system. In an ideal world, the only things that would be flushed into your septic system would be human waste and toilet paper (not flushable wipes!). But a septic system is connected to all of your home’s pipes, so other wastewater also typically finds its way into your system. Here’s a list of quick tips for properly caring for your septic system.
1. Remember your septic system is not a trash can.
The only item that you should flush into your system, other than human waste, is toilet paper. Never flush feminine hygiene products, paper towels, tissues, into your septic system. Not only can these items create clogs, but they also do not break down in your septic tank, which adds significantly to your layer of sludge. This can limit your septic tank’s capacity, reducing the amount of wastewater your system can treat and increase how frequently you need to have your tank pumped.
2. Never flush harsh chemicals or additives, like Rid-X, into your system.
New septic owners are often surprised to learn they need to be careful about the type of cleaning products they use around their home. But the truth is chemicals designed to eliminate bacteria around your home have a similar effect inside your septic system. The bacteria within your septic system serve an integral role in treating your household wastewater. If these bacteria are destroyed, it can lead to catastrophic problems for your septic system, your household, and the environment. Avoid flushing any sort of harsh chemicals, including lawn treatments, gasoline, paint and paint thinners.
Because they advertise improved septic functioning, many people believe additives, like Rid-X, are important for maintaining a healthy septic system. In fact, some septic owners are not as careful as they should be about protecting their septic bacteria and “make up for it” by flushing additives meant to stimulate bacterial growth within the system. The problem is these additives introduce massive numbers of highly aggressive bacteria into your septic system, which upsets the ecological balance and can cause your healthy bacteria to die off. We never recommend using septic tank additives, but instead encourage septic owners to be careful to protect the bacteria already living within their septic system.
3. Protect your drainfield.
Because it’s hidden away with no obvious above-ground indicators, many people completely forget about their septic drainfield. They often see a wide-open space and envision intricate landscaping designs or use it as spare parking during family gatherings. However, your drainfield is fairly delicate and can be crushed by vehicles driving overhead or seriously damaged by the invasive roots of certain plants. One of the most important aspects of septic care is protecting your drainfield from damage. This includes preventing people from driving on it as well as conserving water to avoid overwhelming your system.
4. Practice water conservation.
One of the biggest differences between living in a home that relies on a septic system versus one that relies on public sewers is the need to practice water conservation. If you rely on public sewers, you can turn every faucet on in your home and let them run indefinitely without significant consequence. You water bill will be pretty painful, but, for the most part (unless everybody did this), you wouldn’t significantly impact the sewage treatment plant. Septic systems, on the other hand, have a more limited capacity. Limit long showers and stagger water-heavy chores, like laundry and the dishes, throughout the week to avoid overwhelming your system, which can cause solids from the septic tank to flow back into your home or out into the drainfield where they can catastrophically damage the pipes.
5. Regularly service your system.
In 2015, Ohio updated its septic regulations and began requiring all systems be on an operation and maintenance plan with a licensed septic provider. Though requirements vary from county to county, the crux of the new regulations is that regular service visits are necessary for maintaining properly functioning septic systems. Most septic systems need regular service visits at least once a year to ensure all septic components are properly functioning. Some systems, particularly those that rely on aerators, require more frequent service visits. In addition to this, most septic tanks need to be pumped every 2-3 years, depending on household usage. Regular service visits not only keep your system running smoothly, but they also allow you to get ahead of any issues that may be brewing and tackle them before they become a problem.
First Steps: Moving into a New Home with a Septic System
One big aspect of settling into your new home should include taking some first steps to get to know your septic system and make sure it is in working order. If the system was not inspected before you moved in, the first order of business is having a thorough septic inspection completed. A septic inspection will give you as complete a history on your system as is possible, including installation, repair, and maintenance records. A septic inspection also provides a layout of your system’s major components and an evaluation of the health of your system. If any part of your system is malfunctioning, you’ll want to remedy the issue as soon as you move in.
It’s also important to educate your family on the importance of proper septic care as soon as you can after you move in. Make sure all household members are aware of what you can and cannot flush into the system and discuss water conservation methods that will help prevent overwhelming your system.
Finally, schedule your first service visit and set up an operation & maintenance plan with an approved septic provider. One of the most effective ways to keep your septic system running smoothly is to maintain a regular service schedule.
Supeck Septic is Northeast Ohio’s Trust Septic Provider
Supeck Septic has been Northeast Ohio’s most trusted septic provider since 1968. We are an approved service provider for all makes and styles of septic and aeration systems, regardless of age or complexity. We are licensed, bonded, and insured to provide you exceptional inspections and routine or emergency septic care. Contact us today!