Maintenance
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TLC for Your Septic System

What you need to know today to ensure your septic system remains healthy
By Kurt Anderson
Published: August 5, 2014
septic truck system maintenance
HOW OFTEN? – Have your septic tank pumped out at least every 2–3 years. This will vary based on usage, so consult your local contractor.
Photo by Thinkstock.com
When it comes to maintaining your septic system at the cabin, you and the lake share a common interest. You don’t want the system to back up on a long summer weekend, and the lake’s critters don’t want untreated wastes to trickle into the aquifer or surface waters. Unfortunately, many people are unaware that some “tips” that were popular a generation or two ago can actually cause more harm than good.
Below are a few modern tips to ensure your septic system remains healthy:

1. Pump the tank clean at least every 2–3 years. When you have a contractor pump your septic tank, make sure they open the larger manhole cover (not the inspection port) and remove the solids as well as the liquids. You don’t need to leave the solids in as a bacterial starter (the tank is far from sterilized after being pumped). However, avoid pumping right before freezing weather, as the “clean” tank may not be able to generate sufficient heat to keep the tank from freezing for a few weeks.

2. Route all waste streams to the tank. You may not even be aware of it, but many old-time plumbers routinely directed laundry wash water, sauna drains, and other supposedly damaging waste streams directly into the drainfield – bypassing the septic tank – in an attempt to save tank bacteria from harsh chemicals. However, this can cause larger particles of waste to plug the drainfield, which is designed to treat clarified tank effluent. It’s also unnecessary with most modern water-treatment chemicals, which have been tested to ensure proper compatibility with septic tank bacteria. Check your drain lines to see if you have a bypass system in place and re-plumb if necessary.

3. Leave the additives at the store. Your septic tank will function just fine without enzymes or starter kits. Additives can upset the tank balance and cause blockage.

4. Reduce water use. It’s a no brainer: The less water you use, the more time your septic system will have to treat the tank contents and deliver clarified water to the drainfield. To reduce water entering the tank, fix leaky faucets and wash full loads of clothes and laundry. And when it’s time to replace appliances and fixtures, install low-flow shower heads and toilets and upgrade to an Energy Star-rated washing machine and/or dishwasher.

5. Nix the garbage disposal. These things can really stress out a septic tank, which is not designed to break down undigested food. The bits of food can bypass the tank treatment process and plug the drainfield.

6. Be careful with hot tub water.
Do not send chlorinated waters from a hot tub directly to the septic tank. Instead, allow the chlorinated water to sit, uncovered, for a day or two. This will allow the chlorine to off-gas, and the water can then be sent to the tank without killing the tank’s bacteria.

SEPTIC WARNING SIGNS

  • Slow draining toilets, tubs or sinks
  • Wet areas near the drainfield, or excessive vegetative growth on the lawn in that area
  • Algal blooms or excessive weed growth near shore

IMAGINE IT THIS WAY ...

Think of your septic tank as a snow globe. Yes, seriously. When your tank is functioning properly, it’s like a still snow globe: The clarified water on top goes out to the drainfield. But, when chemical additives and garbage disposals stir things up, your tank is like a shaken up snow globe: It sends disruptive “snowflakes” out into the drainfield.
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