Septic Tank Health
You may have heard the old expression, “The grass is always greener on the other side.” Or “The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence.”
But have you heard, “The grass is always greener over the septic tank.”? This variation of the familiar proverb is actually referring to the drain field and not the tank of a septic system; and, as a matter of fact, the grass typically is greener there.
Why? You might ask.
Simply put, the grass above a septic system takes advantage of moisture and rich nutrients made available by bacterial action of a healthy septic system. Yet, how does one know they have a healthy septic system? Most people don't think about their septic system let alone know whether it is healthy or not. Unfortunately, when many homeowners do think about their septic system, it's usually too late and often very costly.
Septic systems and septic tanks are an integral part of nearly 30 million homes in the United States. In rural areas, houses are typically spaced far enough apart that a sewer system is too expensive to install. Therefore, home owners install their own private sewage treatment plants know as “septic systems”.
Contrary to popular belief, septic systems require care, maintenance, inspection, and testing, in order to remain in compliance with local health department regulations. This is to avoid health hazards associated with untreated sewage.
Steve Clark, local owner and operator of Clark's Septic, has been in the septic business for nearly 10 years. You may have seen his slogan throughout area publications: “You Dump, We Pump!” Steve explained that there are a few things every homeowner must know in order to maintain a healthy septic system.
Like a wastewater treatment plant, the primary treatment in a septic system is rather simple. It involves screening out solid material in a septic tank in order for scum to rise. The system then collects the solids for eventual tank pumping and disposal. The secondary treatment removes organic material and nutrients with the help of bacteria.
With these functions in mind, Clark stated, “The first thing to know about a septic system is which type of system the residence actually has and how many individuals it supports.” The most common type of septic system is the conventional gravity feed system. These cost roughly $6,000.
Other types of systems include pump-to-conventional systems, pressure-manifold systems, low-pressure-pipe (LPP) systems, and aerobic-treatment-unit (ATU) systems. These systems can reach costs as high as $20,000 or more. These systems normally have pumps, electrical floats and controls, alarms, or other mechanical parts that are sure to fail without maintenance.
Clark continued, “Another good thing to know about a septic system is the location, location, location!” Quite often, homeowners have no idea where their septic system actually is located. Many homeowners inadvertently build decks, patios, or driveways around or directly over the septic system. When maintenance or repair is needed, costs may skyrocket because of demolition and repairs.
The third thing Clark mentioned is to know whether the system is actually working properly. Clark indicated that many of the newer models have alarms indicating particular functions. Unfortunately, homeowners have been known to disarm the alarm or manually override the alarm because the sound is annoying or they simply can't figure out what the alarm is indicating. This typically results in unintended damages.
In order to keep a system working properly, the fourth thing homeowners should be aware of is what NOT to put down their drains. Septic tanks should not be used as trash cans for cigarette butts, sanitary napkins, cotton swabs, cat box litter, coffee grinds, or disposable diapers. Furthermore, septic system owners should restrict the use of garbage disposals and refrain from pouring hot grease and cooking oil down the drain. Unfortunately, all these items compromise the health and function of a septic system.
Additionally, solvents, oils, paints, thinners, disinfectants, pesticides, poisons, and other substances such as waste matter from chemotherapy patients, medications for gastro-intestinal ailments, and some cardiac patient medications have been known to kill the bacteria that help purify sewage. These items should be avoided from septic systems.
Lastly, Clark stated that most homeowners could save money by avoiding commercial septic tank additives. The bacteria needed for partially decomposing the tank solids are naturally present in sewage. However, even if additives are used, pumping solid matters out of the tank is still required. (The rule of thumb is for every four individuals, a typical septic system should be maintained/pumped out every three years.)
Therefore, in keeping with familiar proverbs, when it comes to septic systems, “an ounce of prevention is worth a TON of cure” especially if you want to maintain a healthy and high-functioning system.