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5 Tips for Maintaining Your Septic System

By Eric Colburn

Here are five tips for maintaining your Onsite Wastewater Treatment System (OWTS) or septic system:
  1. Know and Understand Your Septic System
  2. The two key points to know about your septic system are what type of septic system you have and where it is. You should know your septic tank and leachfield locations. Finding your septic tank is important so that you can do basic, regular maintenance, like having your septic tank pumped out as necessary. Knowing your septic system location helps to find signs of septic system failures (smells, greener grass, or even visible sewage). Also, some leachfields and septic systems may have specific requirements to their functioning properly. For instance, you need to clean the effluent filter (if your septic system has one), located inside your septic tank on the pipe leading to your leach field (the pipe going out), once a year. You can get copies of your septic system's design plans from the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (RIDEM), your city or town's building department, or from the OWTS designer.

  3. Perform Regular Maintenance
  4. Regular septic system maintenance is one area where you might need to, or want to, hire a professional. WARNING: Toxic gases are produced by the natural treatment processes in septic tanks and can kill in minutes. Extreme care should be taken when inspecting a septic tank, even when just looking in. If your septic tank doesn't have accessible manhole covers over its inspection ports (now required by RIDEM), then we recommend installing risers to grade with manhole covers. As mentioned above, septic systems with an effluent filter located inside your septic tank need cleaning once a year by remove the effluent filter and then spraying it clean into the septic tank (the inlet side) with a garden hose. Also, septic tanks do need regular pumping out. A professional can decide your pump out schedule after measuring the scum and sludge levels in your septic tank. Most homeowners will find it easier, cleaner, and safer having professionals do septic tank maintenance.

  5. Be Careful What Goes Down The Drain
  6. Physical obstructions and blockages are often the reason for sudden septic system failures and "backups" or "flow" emergencies. Too many times, we've seen blockages caused by problem objects. Don't pour chemicals, Water Softener Backwash, or medications down the drain, either. The "treatment" going on in your septic system is largely being done by biological processes, so when paints, strong cleaning agents, or unused medications go down the drain, you are essentially poisoning the biological functions within your septic system. Unmetabolized medications, like antibiotics and chemo medications, can also impact your septic system negatively. In addition to damaging your septic system function, it's important to understand that OWTS's are not designed to treat these sorts of effluents, and as such, introducing unmetabolized or improperly disposed of medications into the environment is a growing public health issue. FOGs, or Fats, Oils, and Grease, should also be limited as much as possible, because when these FOGs solidify in your septic system they cause serious clogging. Finally, stop using you garbage disposal, if possible. The fine particles created from your garbage disposal usage can cause blockages far into your septic system.

  7. Use Water Wisely
  8. By design, your septic system can handle only a certain amount of daily water usage. Managing your water use wisely and eliminating overburdening your septic system are two strategies for success. First, it's best to spread out your normal but higher water uses throughout the week, like your laundry. Doing many loads of laundry in one or two days, say on Saturday and Sunday, can overload a septic system while decreasing your septic system's treatment effectiveness. Second, eliminate inappropriate and excessive water sources, like: Hot Tubs/Whirlpools, large capacity bathtubs, Water Softeners, leaky faucets, and malfunctioning, running toiletss. Never empty a hot tub or large capacity bath tub into your septic system, as it will stir the solids in the septic tank and overload your septic system. Leaky faucets and running toilets, particularly if you are on public water, will also overload and fail your septic system.

  9. Don't Drive Over Or Dig In Your Septic System
  10. Avoid damaging your septic system by never allowing vehicles to drive over your leachfield, pipes, and other system components. You can do severe damage by driving over your leachfield. Don't dig in or build anything over your leachfield. Also, except for grass, never plant anything over or near your leachfield. Roots growing from nearby trees or shrubbery can damage your leachfield as well.

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