Maintenance
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12 Strategies for a Trouble-Free Septic System

By Jana Voelke Studelska
Published: April 1, 2008

When it works, there’s nothing to think about. But when something goes wrong, your septic system will be in your every waking thought: no washing dishes, no flushing, no showers. Then, overshadowing all these irritating inconveniences, is the repair bill.

Like all other maintenance items, it’s much less expensive to maintain a system than to repair or replace it later. Follow these steps and you shouldn’t be plagued by septic system nightmares.

Put only human waste and moderate amounts of toilet paper down the toilet. Nothing else.

Limit water usage, as it’s the single biggest reason for septic malfunctions. Soil around the septic system absorbs the used water; if the ground is saturated, things will get ugly as the water has nowhere to go. Solutions: spread out loads of laundry over a week, don’t allow showers to be taken one after another, install water-saving showerheads and faucet aerators and repair leaking toilets.

Stay away from septic additives. They won’t extend the life of your system, nor will they help you avoid periodic pumping of sludge from your tank.

Don’t use bleach-based cleansers and anti-bacterial products that can destroy the good bacteria needed for your system.

Use liquid laundry detergents, as powdered detergents may have fillers that contribute to the early demise of your system.

Don’t use a garbage disposal or dispose of vegetables, meat, fat, oil, coffee grounds or similar types of food products in the septic system.

Reroute the water softener recharge outside of the septic or recharge the water softener as infrequently as possible.

Don’t mess with the mound or drain field. The septic system is buried just below the surface. No activities, no tree planting, no parking on the mound or drainfield. Mowing is fine.

Direct rainwater away from the mound or drainfield. Downspouts and drainage from roofs and paved areas should flow away from the septic area.

Ensure your system has inspection ports, preferably ones with a mow-over design. If it doesn’t, then have them put in by a licensed installer. Quick checks can catch a problem – such as ponding, sludge levels, pipe integrity – before it turns into a malfunction. Though licensed inspectors usually conduct these checks, rules vary by state: contact your county health department or extension office.

Have the system pumped regularly – this may be the most important thing you do. In general, pumping every two or three years, will extend the life of your system (depending on the system size and usage).

Have regularly scheduled inspections. Contact your county health department or extension office for a list of licensed professionals in your area, or for more information on system maintenance in general. This person will be the one to help you design a maintenance schedule for your specific system.

Jana Voelke Studelska has a fondness for flushing and thus is a gentle but regimented septic tank owner.  

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