If your home isn’t hooked into a city water and sewer system, chances are you’re among the one in five American households that depend on a septic system to treat your wastewater. That means somewhere buried in your yard are a septic tank and a drain field. You should be able to spot the access cover, flush with the ground, and possibly a PVC pipe sticking up, which is the sewer cleanout that’s used to snake the inlet line toward the tank.
Even if you’ve lived in a home with one for years, you may sometimes wonder, “How does a septic tank work?” The tank probably has around a thousand-gallon capacity and holds wastewater from your kitchen, bathrooms, and laundry room. When the wastewater enters the tank, the solids sink to the bottom, forming a sludge layer. Grease and light solids float to the top, forming the scum layer. Between those two layers, water pushes into the drain field, an array of perforated pipes, allowing the wastewater to be absorbed into the soil.
Proper care of septic tank systems is absolutely crucial. A septic system should last 20–30 years. Without regular maintenance, you could spend thousands of dollars for repairs, and thousands more to replace the system. Fortunately, maintenance isn’t very complicated. It’s mostly a matter of preventing solids from accumulating and avoiding groundwater contamination. Depending on the size of your septic tank—and the size of your family—it’s a good idea to have it pumped out about every two years. A professional should be able to tell you how often and put you on a regular schedule. It's not a bad idea to have it inspected once a year. Maintaining your septic system is relatively inexpensive, and well worth it.
There are little things you can do to protect your system. Start by being aware of the amount of water that enters the tank.
A designated laundry day is an efficient way of keeping your family in clean clothes. It’s also a great way to overload your septic system and flood your drain field. Try spreading your laundry cycles out, while still running full loads if possible.
If you sing in the shower, try to limit your performance to one or two songs. You’ll save on your water bill while you protect your septic system.
When it’s time to replace your washing machine and dishwasher, think high-efficiency—as in Energy Star rated appliances, which use half as much water as typical machines.
The only thing you should flush down the toilet, besides the obvious, is toilet paper—and that should only be septic-safe TP. Nothing else—not wipes, feminine products, dental floss, diapers, hair, kitty litter, or anything else—should go in the septic tank. Never toss coffee grounds, egg shells, flour, cooking oil, grease and fat, or even dairy products down your kitchen sink. All those materials can really do a number on your septic system. Instead of chemical cleaners, use a plunger or a snake to unclog kitchen and bathroom sinks.
Always check for leaky or running toilets. You could be wasting as much as 200 gallons of water each and every day. That’s bad for your water bill—and not good for your septic system. Replacing old toilets with high-efficiency models can keep this from happening.
Drain fields are an important component of septic systems, which are used to treat and dispose of household wastewater. The drain field, also known as the leach field or absorption field, is the area where the wastewater from the septic tank is dispersed and treated by the soil.
It's important to keep the drain field clear to ensure that the wastewater can flow freely through the soil and be properly treated. If the drain field becomes clogged with solid waste or other debris, the soil's ability to absorb and treat the wastewater can be reduced, leading to backups and potential system failure.
Over time, the drain field can also become clogged with biofilm or sludge buildup, which can also impede the soil's ability to properly treat the wastewater. Regular maintenance, such as pumping the septic tank and inspecting the drain field, can help prevent clogs and ensure that the system is functioning properly.
For better or worse, most signs that there’s something not right with your septic system are fairly obvious. If you notice a certain foul odor in the general vicinity of your system, chances are there’s a problem. Your septic system may be clogged with solids, causing it to fail. That’s another good reason to schedule an annual maintenance visit. The system’s design and location might also be the culprit. If you find yourself slipping on a wet, muddy area, your system could be placed near the wrong kind of soil, steep slopes, or a high groundwater table, which could lead to it becoming flooded with outside water and it's starting to back up.
Sewage backing up into the house. It’s every homeowner’s worst nightmare. And it’s the all-too-predictable result of failing to properly maintain your septic system. If it happens in your home, step one is to minimize the damage and protect your family—make sure everyone avoids contact with the nasty stuff. That sewage could contain harmful pathogens and bad bacteria. Don’t try to clean up the mess yourself. You’re better off contacting the local health department, then bringing in a professional cleanup crew. Once they’ve finished, make sure you wipe down and disinfect clothing or any other belongings that may have come in contact with the sewage.
Things have a way of going wrong. That’s why American Home Shield® is the right choice for gaining peace of mind. We offer coverage for parts of up to 23 home systems and appliances. So take the stress out of home ownership and know you’re protected with an AHS home warranty plan®.
See the plan contract for coverage details, including service fees, limitations, and exclusions. Charges for non-covered items may apply.
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