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Septic systems come with both pros and cons. Most of the time, they are installed in rural areas where access to main sewage systems is not available. However, they are also installed for a variety of other reasons.
Some homeowners choose a septic system over shared sewage systems because they are economical to install and maintain. Others choose them because they allow more individual control over the treatment of the water.
If you have a septic system on your property, you probably already know some of the key tips and tricks to keep it operating properly. So we’re going to talk about the opposite…
Here are some of the most common mistakes made by septic system owners.
Pumping Your Own Septic Tank – DIY Style
Before pumping your own tank, you should read the laws and regulations for your area. Many state and local authorities require septic tanks to be professionally pumped, rather than done by the homeowner.
Licensed wastewater companies are able to safely pump out your tank. They also have the resources to transport that water to a water treatment facility for disposal. The Environmental Protection Agency governs the treatment and disposal of wastewater from septic tanks, so it’s important to follow the laws for your area.
Failure to follow your local guidelines can result in heavy fines. In some areas, it can even lead to jail time. And if you think you can fly under the radar while pumping a septic tank…no chance. It smells and neighbors will make calls.
Flooding the Septic Tank
The more people living in your household, the more common this problem becomes. A septic system is only designed for a certain amount of water and waste at any given time. For this reason, it’s important to educate everyone in your household about the limitations of your specific system.
For example, multiple people taking showers, brushing teeth and using the toilets all at the same time or within the same few hours can put a ton of stress on your system. Likewise, doing multiple loads of laundry in the same day can also flood the system.
Instead, try to get your family into a routine. Maybe two of the family members shower in the evenings and the other two shower in the mornings. For the laundry, try to spread it out over the course of the week. Do one load each day, rather than 7 loads on Saturday.
You’ll also want to have backup plans if you host large parties. If that sounds like you, always consider renting porta potties to avoid your party ending in a big, smelly mess.
Being mindful of how much water and waste is going into your system can help prevent any major issues such as a backup or wastewater seeping out into the ground.
Using Septic System as a Garbage Disposal
Septic systems are much more sensitive to garbage than traditional shared sewage systems. They are designed specifically for human waste and a little bit of toilet paper. Trying to flush anything else down the toilet or drain is only going to cause issues with your system.
In the bathroom, avoid flushing feminine hygiene products, condoms, paper towels, baby wipes, cotton balls or other items. Instead, throw those in the trash can. When purchasing toilet paper, go with one-ply instead of two-ply. Some brands even say “ideal for septic tanks.”
In the kitchen, avoid using the garbage disposal. Or better yet, don’t have a garbage disposal! Scrape food waste into the trash can before washing the dishes. This will eliminate how much solid waste is going into your system.
Septic Tank Friendly Garbage Disposals
If you love the convenience of a garbage disposal, you can have your cake and eat it too. Simply choose a style that was engineered to be used with septic systems.
For instance Home Depot’s “Septic Assist” garbage disposal (link to price check and reviews) grinds food smaller and injects a fresh smelling solution that helps break down your food waste before it even hits the septic tank. If you go this route, make sure you buy from the actual store in order to take advantage of the generous warranty which is about 8 years.
Poisoning the Septic System
Septic systems are very sensitive to chemicals such as cleaning products, detergents and prescription pills. There are living bacteria inside the tank that break down the solid waste. This is how a septic system disposes of waste products. Products made for killing bacteria can cause costly repairs. To read more about the worst meds for septic systems, click here.
One of the main concerns here is a blockage or a backup of the system. If you put chemicals into the system that kill the bacteria (Clorox, Lysol, antibiotics), the solid waste starts to build up in the tank and cause a blockage. The blockage of a septic tank can also cause deplete oxygen levels, which is critical in some systems.
With low oxygen and low bacteria, you may soon notice some pretty disgusting odors to filling your home or yard.
Another concern is the backup of gray water or black water. It can actually come up through the drains in your sinks. This is basically raw sewage sitting in your bathroom or kitchen sink!
You should also avoid flushing unused medications down the toilet. Instead, call your local pharmacy or your local 311 and ask for the proper procedure for disposing of them.
If you think you’ve poisoned your septic system with antibacterial or harsh cleaning products, try something like Septifix tablets (link to product). It takes about 3 days, but these tabs brings help back the balance of both the necessary bacteria AND depleted oxygen.
Unclogging Your Own System
In most localities, there are not many regulations for how to handle a blockage. You typically have some freedom as the homeowner to choose your course of action. But there are definitely some things you should know.
First, as mentioned in the previous section, do not pour any products into your drains to unclog that system. The products that are available to unclog drains will most likely kill any bacteria that are alive in your tank. This will only make the problem worse.
Cabling or Snaking
A common 1st step is to use a snake to unclog the system. This is a long, flexible length of coiled rod that can be pushed through the pipes to unclog a system.
They work pretty well in newer systems if the clog is being caused by hair or lint. However, if the clog is being caused by sludge, this won’t really fix the problem. It will put a band-aid on the issue for the short-term by burrowing a hole through the sludge, but it will only close back up if you don’t address the larger issue.
And if your system is older and has some deteriorating pipe, a hardened cable could just be the straw that broke the camel’s back. Most professionals use a camera first so they can verify what type of pipe their dealing with.
Another solution is a process called jetting or hydro flushing. In this process, water is sprayed into the pipes at a high rate of speed and pressure. Again, if the clog is due to hair and lint, this is a great solution. But if the clog is caused by sludge, this process could compress the sludge even more and make the problem worse.
Jetting and cabling should be left to the professionals.
If you own a home with a septic system or are considering installing one, it is important to understand the basic needs of the system. Avoiding the mistakes listed above will help ensure that your system functions well and lasts a long time.
Regular maintenance such as having the tank pumped every 3-5 years is extremely important. Being mindful of system overload and household chemicals is also at the top of the maintenance list.
Septic systems should be treated with care and respect which is much easier to do when you understand the system in the first place. Now that you’ve learned some “what not to do’s” you and your septic system should be able to live together, in relative peace.