Understanding how your septic system works and maintaining it will save you time and money, and most importantly, help protect the environment. Feel free to ask our professional technicians questions what we do and why.
How does a conventional septic system work?
Conventional septic systems are the most common type of septic system. The others are innovative/alternative I/A systems and cesspools. A conventional system includes a septic tank, distribution box, and drain field. The septic tank separates the solid and liquid wastes and the drainfield provides additional treatment before distributing the wastewater to the ground
First, wastewater from your toilet, sink, tub, etc. flows into your septic tank. Once in the tank, the heavy solids settle to the bottom from sheer gravity, forming a layer of sludge. The lighter solids, such as grease, float to the top of the tank forming a scum layer.
As more wastewater enters the septic tank from the house, the separated wastewater in the middle layer of the tank either flows out or may be pumped into the leaching field (see diagram). Microorganisms living within the drain field consume leftover particles and harmful germs and viruses.
The sludge and scum layers remain in the tank where naturally occurring bacteria work to break them down. Since the bacteria cannot completely decompose all of these solids, the layers continue to grow, slowly filling up the tank. Eventually, these solids must be pumped out.
Why are failing septic systems harmful?
Failing systems leak excessive nutrients and bacteria into natural waterways, destroying plant and animal habitats and can transfer diseases, such as dysentery, hepatitis, and typhoid fever to animals and humans.
How do I know if my system is having problems?
- Muddy Soil or Pools of Wastewater around Your Septic Tank or Soil Absorption System
- Sewage Smells around Your System or Inside Your House
- Backups When You Do Laundry, Take Showers, or Flush the Toilet
Do I really save money by maintaining my system?
Yes, pumping your system costs $295–$355 (for up to 1500 gallons) depending on location and tank lid access. Inspections could cost $650 – $950. Replacing a system could cost up to $40,000 or more
What are the most important things to do to take care of my system?
Pump your system at least every 3–5 years depending on the burden placed on the septic system. Conserve water and don’t dump non-biodegradable material or trash down your toilet or sink.
How often should I pump?
The Chesapeake Bay Act requires septic tanks to be cleaned every 3–5 years. Pumping your system regularly will prolong the life of your septic tank.
Will additives help my system?
There isn’t one on the market that can make a failing system pass inspection. We do not evaluate the accuracy of claims manufacturers make about the effects their products will have on system performance.
Do’s & Don’ts
DO have the system inspected and pumped every 3–5 years. If the tank fills up with an excess of solids, the wastewater will not have enough time to settle in the tank. These excess solids will then pass on to the drain field, where they will clog the drain lines and soil.
DON’T use your toilet or sink as a trash can by dumping non-biodegradables, such as cigarette butts, diapers, feminine products, or grease down your sink or toilet. Non-biodegradables can clog the pipes, while grease can thicken and clog pipes. Store cooking oils, fats, and grease in a can for disposal in the garbage, or better yet, bring it to a recycling facility.
DO know the location of your septic system and drain field, and keep a record of all inspections, pumping, repairs, and contract or engineering work for future reference. Keep a sketch of it handy for service visits.
DO NOT put paint thinner, polyurethane, anti-freeze, pesticides, some dyes, disinfectants, water softeners, and other strong chemicals into the system. These can cause major upsets in the septic tank by killing the biological part of your septic system and polluting the groundwater. Small amounts of standard household cleaners, drain cleansers, detergents, etc. will be diluted in the tank and should cause no damage to the system.
DO take leftover hazardous chemicals to your approved hazardous waste collection center for disposal. Use bleach, disinfectants, and drain and toilet bowl cleaners sparingly and in accordance with product labels.
DO NOT perform excessive laundry loads with your washing machine. Doing load after load does not allow your septic tank time to adequately treat wastes and overwhelms the entire system with excess wastewater. You could therefore be flooding your drain field without allowing sufficient recovery time. You should consult your septic professional to determine the gallon capacity and number of loads per day that can safely go into the system.
DO grow grass or small plants not trees or shrubs above the septic system to hold the drain field in place. Water conservation through creative landscaping is a great way to control excess runoff.
DO NOT plant trees within 30 feet of your system or park/drive over any part of the system. Tree roots will clog your pipes, and heavy vehicles may cause your drain field to collapse.
DO install water-conserving devices in faucets, showerheads and toilets to reduce the volume of water running into the septic system. Repair dripping faucets and leaking toilets, run washing machines and dishwashers only when full, and avoid long showers.
DO NOT use a garbage grinder or disposal, which feeds into the septic tank. If you do have one in the house, severely limit its use. Adding food wastes or other solids reduces your system’s capacity and increases the need to pump the septic tank. If you use a grinder, the system must be pumped more often.
DO divert roof drains and surface water from driveways and hillsides away from the septic system. Keep sump pumps and house footing drains away from the system as well.
DO NOT allow anyone to repair or pump your system without first checking that they are licensed system professionals.
DO NOT use chemical solvents to clean the plumbing or septic system. ‘Miracle’ chemicals will kill microorganisms that consume harmful wastes. These products can also cause groundwater contamination.