Individual septic systems are common in rural and small communities around the United States. Their job is to treat wastewater and return clean water to the groundwater. There is a huge difference between wastewater going away and wastewater being adequately treated. Onsite septic systems are an efficient, cost-effective method of treating wastewater, but homeowners must pay some attention. Septic are usually buried in the backyard, sometimes the old adage out of sight, out of mind causes people to forget to provide maintenance. Just as car owners must remember to change the oil regularly, so must homeowners provide regular care of septic systems.
The first step is to understand how septic systems work. Learn about the plumbing, septic tank and drainfield components of the system and how they work. This understanding will help homeowners provide adequate maintenance.
There are many ways people can reduce water and product use in the home, extending the life of the system and helping it work efficiently.
Septic Tank Care and Maintenance
The purpose of a septic tank is to collect and hold the solids and prepare the liquid (effluent) for treatment in the drainfield. Tanks need to be inspected and pumped on a regular basis to remove the accumulated layers of scum and sludge. The goal is to allow water enough time to separate out solids so none go to the drainfield. If the tank is full which of solids, there is no room for separation to occur. Many states have requirements for pumping, check with local codes. As an example, Minnesota requires inspection and/or pumping every three years.
The septic professional should check the baffles to ensure they are secure, and check the tank for water tightness. Most states require trained, certified professionals, check local codes and regulations. If an effluent screen is used, clean as recommended. never enter a septic tank; noxious gases are present.
In cold climates, it can be difficult to pump septic tanks in the winter. If the manhole covers are buried in frozen ground, it is a challenge to open the tanks. For this reason, risers can be used to bring the manholes to the surface. In areas where pumpers land apply the septage, winter tank pumping is often not permitted. Try to avoid winter pumping in areas where the ground freezes.
Trench and Mound Drainfield Maintenance
One of the major problems with drainfields is compaction. Compacted soils no longer act as an insulator to help prevent freezing. Compacted soils cannot treat wastewater, since no oxygen is present. Drainfields need to be protected from vehicles, snowmobiles, 4-wheelers, bicycles and others. It is fine to use push and riding lawnmowers. Compaction can also cause pipes to shift; therefore the gravity flow may no longer be able to transport the water to the proper location. Stay off the system when the ground is soft.
A good vegetative cover and appropriate landscaping over drainfields is critical. Not only does it help prevent freezing, but work the plant roots take up nitrogen and phosphorus in the soil, helping the drainfield do its job. Lawn turf grasses are fine. Other shallow rooted perennial plants can aid in landscaping. Shallow rooted native grasses and perennial flowers can make a mound much more attractive.
Usually, watering the lawn over a drainfield is not needed. If an automatic sprinkler system is present, disconnect over the drainfield. Do not fertilize this area; let the plants draw nitrogen and phosphorus from the drainfield.
Two rules to follow: no deep rooted plants including trees and shrubs that can damage the pipes, and no edible plants such as vegetables or strawberries. There is no research available showing that foods grown over drainfields are safe.
Seasonal Care of Septic Systems: Freezing Prevention, Cabins
In cold climates, care should be taken in the fall to protect systems from freezing. An adequate vegetation cover on the drainfield should prevent most freezing. If the system is new or if freezing problems have been experienced in past winters, mulch the drainfield with 8 12 of straw, hay or leaves. Remove this in the spring allowing grass to grow again.
Many cabins have septic systems. These may only be used part of the year, depending on the weather in the area. Resources on preparing a septic system and cabin for winter, and opening them in the spring are available.
Septic System Maintenance and Management for Long Life
System maintenance is key is ensuring a system is working properly and remains efficient and cost effective. This is not difficult, but requires attention from the homeowner. There are many steps homeowners can take inside the home to reduce water and product use, protecting and extending the life of the septic system. Check these resources for tips and ideas on maintenance and management of individual septic systems.