Here in Northeast Ohio, every season brings with it particular challenges for our septic systems, and none so potentially significant as those brought in the spring. After even a mild winter, the ground is often saturated and waterlogged before spring’s heavy rains begin. Because of this, spring tends to be the time of year when septic systems most often fail, with heavy rains overwhelming already stressed systems. Here are the most common septic complications in the spring and how to help prevent them from happening to you.
Excess Rain and Potential Septic Complications
Coming off of winter, the ground begins to thaw, making way for the snow to sink deep into the ground. Winter’s thaw coupled with spring’s heavy rains causes the water table to rise, which means there is less filtration space for the water coming out of the drainfield. Though Ohio has set standards for the depths of filtration space at the peak of the seasonal water table, these standards are based on a measure of typical precipitation for our climate. However, when we see intense spring rains, as we did in 2019 when we had 10 inches more rain than we usually do, the water table will rise to levels that may compromise even minimally overwhelmed septic systems. If the drainfield becomes flooded, effluent will not be able to flow out of your septic tank. As your septic tank becomes overwhelmed, wastewater will have nowhere else to go but back into your home.
Springtime and Your Septic System’s Bacterium
The health of any septic system depends largely on the health of the bacteria living within the septic tank. These bacteria break down the solids in the tank, and without them, the system would quickly become overwhelmed with solids and begin backing up into your house. While the septic bacterium is a perfectly self-contained eco-system (as long as we do not flush things that will kill them off), they do thrive best in an environment that is above 50°F. If their environment dips below that, they tend to become less efficient and do not reproduce as readily. Here in Northeast Ohio, our average temperature is less than the ideal temperature for nearly six months out of the year, which means that for six months our septic bacterium is under additional strain. They are moving slower and there are fewer of them. Unfortunately, our septic systems come off of this six-month period of lower temperatures and head into the wettest season of the year. The impulse may be to “help out” the bacteria in your septic system by using an additive like Rid-X that claims to be able to boost bacteria activity levels. However, we strongly advise against this. The bacteria in these additives are far more aggressive than those naturally found within your system, and they have the ability to completely destroy your system’s bacterium. Beyond that, these more aggressive bacteria break down the solids within your tank too far, allowing solid particles to filter out into your drainfield, which can quickly lead to a whole-system failure.
Springtime Septic Maintenance
While the complications springtime can bring create the potential for major headaches for septic owners, the good news is, armed with this knowledge, you are able to help prevent these issues. Given the additional strains on your septic system in the springtime, be particularly mindful of what is being flushed into your system.
As always, we advocate for water conservation, and the more we can do in the springtime the better off our septic systems will be. Spread out “water heavy” chores (like laundry, running the dishwasher, etc.) throughout the week, rather than doing them all in one day. Shorten the length of showers, limit how frequently you flush the toilet, and be mindful of not letting the water run while you’re doing other tasks (like brushing your teeth or working in the kitchen).
While spring cleaning is a time-honored tradition, especially this year, be particularly careful about what and how much household cleaners you put down the drains. Remember that whatever kills bacteria inside your home will also kill bacteria inside your septic tank. We encourage the use of natural cleaners, those that do not contain lye or bleach, and products that are “septic-safe.” Also avoid putting the liquid waste from springtime home improvement projects down the drain. Paint and joint compound are septic killers and should be disposed of carefully and far away from your septic system.
Finally, schedule a routine septic maintenance visit to ensure all components of your septic system are functioning properly. Temperature fluctuations throughout even a mild winter will cause things to shift and move or will cause system components to fail altogether. Make sure your septic system is in full working order to be able to handle the additional strain springtime brings. Contact us today to schedule your springtime septic checkup!