How to Avoid Costly Septic System Repairs
SepticSmart Week, Sept. 17 through 21, is an annual event focused on helping people learn about the proper care and maintenance of their septic systems. Taking care of your septic system is not only good for the environment, it could also save you a lot of money. A properly maintained system helps keep drinking water pure and protects vital resources, reducing the risk of contaminating local and regional waters. Malfunctioning systems can cost anywhere from $3,000 to $7,000 to repair or replace, compared to maintenance costs which are only $250 to $500 every three to five years. Read on to learn how to be SepticSmart.
How a Septic System Works
Septic systems, which generally consist of a septic tank and drainfield, are underground wastewater treatment structures commonly used in rural areas without centralized sewer systems. Wastewater runs out of the house from one main pipe into the septic tank, which holds the water long enough to separate the wastewater from the solids, oils, and greases. The system allows only the liquid wastewater to exit the tank into the drainfield, where it percolates into the soil, naturally removing harmful bacteria, viruses, and nutrients.
Signs of Septic System Malfunction
If the drainfield is overloaded with too much liquid, it will flood, causing sewage to flow to the surface of the ground or create backups in toilets and sinks. If you see any of the following signs, call a licensed septic tank contractor immediately:
- Wastewater backing up into household drains,
- A strong odor around the septic tank and drainfield, or
- Bright green, spongy grass appearing on the drainfield, even during dry weather.
Tips to Be Septic Smart
Using less water will decrease the workload on your septic tank. Repair leaks and use water-efficient fixtures to avoid overloading the system; you can find water-efficient fixtures on the Environmental Protection Agency’s WaterSense website. Stagger water-generating activities such as running the dishwater and using the shower. Try to avoid doing all your laundry in one day.
Don’t Put Trash in the Toilet
There are numerous household products that can clog and potentially damage septic system components. As a general rule, only put waste and toilet paper down the toilet. Avoid flushing things such as paper towels, medications, cat litter, cigarette butts, or other trash. Even flushable wipes should not be put down the toilet.
Guard Your Drain
- Avoid pouring toxins down the drain. They can kill the living organisms in your septic tank and harm your septic system.
- Use a drain snake or boiling water to unclog a drain; stay away from chemical drain openers.
- Never pour oil-based paints, solvents, large volumes of toxic cleaners, or medications down the drain. Minimize the amount of latex paint that you wash down the sink.
- Use soaps and detergents that are low-suds, biodegradable, and low- or phosphate-free.
- Compost food scraps when possible and throw the rest in the garbage. Avoid putting fats, grease, oils, coffee grounds, or other food substances down the drain.
- Eliminate or limit your use of a garbage disposal.
- Recycle used cooking oil or pour it into a sealable container and place it in the trash— do not pour it into the sink or toilet. If you have a lot of oil to dispose of, you can mix it with clay cat litter. Add a little at a time, pour the cat litter into a bag, seal it, and dispose of it in your regular trash.
Take Care of Your Drainfield
- Maintain plants and vegetation that are near your system to ensure roots do not block drains.
- Park cars and heavy vehicles away from your drainfield and tank.
- Keep roof drains, sump pumps, and other rainwater drainage systems away from your drainfield area.
Follow Proper Maintenance Procedures
- Have your septic system inspected by a qualified professional every three years, in general.
- Work with a TCEQ registered sludge hauler to have your system pumped and cleaned every three to five years.
- Keep an eye on older systems. If it’s more than 15 years old, it may need to be replaced.
- Follow the system manufacturer’s directions when using septic tank cleaners and additives.