Out of Sight, Out of Mind – Until There’s a Problem with Your Septic System
Your septic system is an important part to your home’s mechanical systems, often working silently beneath your yard. Homeowners with existing septic systems, because septic systems are largely out of sight and out of mind, tend to overlook this important – and expensive to repair – maintenance responsibility. Out of sight and out of mind is fine, until there’s a problem with your septic system.
If Foster Survey Company can help you with a new or repair septic system, click here »»Septic System/Onsite Wastewater Treatment Systems (OWTS).
The RI Department of Environmental Management (RIDEM), the state agency in charge of regulating and overseeing septic systems in Rhode Island, calls septic systems, “Onsite Wastewater Treatment Systems (OWTS)“. You’ll notice that in using the name, “Onsite Wastewater Treatment Systems“, RIDEM is emphasizing the three following important facts about septic systems:
- Wastewater remains onsite. In short, the septic system is on your land and you as the landowner are responsible for the cost of maintenance, upgrade, or repair, as necessary. Unlike houses in areas serviced by public sewers, the full burden to keep up and use your Onsite Wastewater Treatment System, or OWTS, lies solely with you. Repair or replacement of an existing septic system is very expensive, perhaps costing as much as tens of thousands of dollars, where maintenance and common sense use of a septic system cost very little and can prolong the use of your OWTS.
- Wastewater treatment. Too many homeowners with septic systems are just happy have their wastewater “disappear” when they flush their toilet and run water for dishes and showers. However, the purpose of your septic system is to treat the wastewater, besides transporting used water out of your home. When working properly, a septic system treats your wastewater before reintroduction back into the groundwater and drinking water supply. If your septic system is not effectively treating your wastewater, then you potentially are contaminating the groundwater and drinking water on your land and maybe even your neighbor’s land.
- Wastewater treatment by a system. Unlike cesspools, which generally do not effectively treat wastewater and often are a simple buried chamber, your OWTS is a system functioning together to treat your homes wastewater. Your septic system includes pipe, septic tanks, a concrete distribution-box chamber, and a leaching field. Typical leachfields are stone filled trenches and dispersal pipes, shallow concrete box flow diffuser chambers, or an Eljen In-Drain septic system. There are also many advanced systems with pre-treatment components and specialized technological solutions.
With those three points in mind, you can understand that maintaining your septic system is important to saving you money for repairs to your OWTS and for the health and safety of your family and your community.
5 Tips For Maintaining Your Septic System
Here are five tips for maintaining your Onsite Wastewater Treatment System (OWTS), or septic system:
- Know and Understand Your Septic System
- Perform Regular Maintenance
- Be Careful What Goes Down The Drain
- Use Water Wisely
- Don’t Drive Over Or Dig In Your Septic System
Let’s look at these five tips in more detail.
1. Know and Understand Your Septic System
The two key points to know about your septic system are what type of septic system you have and where is it? 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 RIDEM, your city or town’s building department, or from the OWTS designer.
2. Perform Regular Maintenance
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. Contact us if we can help you with your septic tank maintenance.
3. Be Careful What Goes Down The Drain
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, like: tampons, condoms, cigarette butts, small toys, latex gloves, or inappropriate paper products other than toilette paper. 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 (paint pigments may also clog 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.
4. Use Water Wisely
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 toilettes. 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 toilettes, particularly if you are on public water, will also overload and fail your septic system.
5. Don’t Drive Over Or Dig In Your Septic System
Avoid damaging your septic system by never allowing driving of vehicles 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.
Foster Survey Company Can Help You With Your Septic System Problems
Eric D. Colburn, PLS is a RIDEM licensed Class II septic system designer and a certified Bottomless Sand Filter (BSF) designer, with decades of experience designing and maintaining Onsite Wastewater Treatment Systems (OWTS) in Rhode Island. Contact us if you’d like a comprehensive evaluation and maintenance recommendations report. We know that a well maintained septic system protects your family’s health while saving you money.
However, septic systems eventually fail and then need repairs, or require upgrades when you make certain home improvements. If Foster Survey Company can help you with Septic System/Onsite Wastewater Treatment Systems (OWTS), please Contact us.
About Foster Survey Company
Foster Survey Company is a Rhode Island Professional Land Surveying Company established in March of 1993. We are Registered Licensed RI Professional Land Surveyors serving all Rhode Island. Our core beliefs are to give superior professional land surveying services that benefit you with: Value, Experience, and Quality!