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Maximize Septic System Life
Septic System Maintenance Advice - Ten Steps in Septic System Care

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Septic system life extension:

What steps can maximize the life of a septic tank & drainfield sysem?

How to take care of your septic system - latest septic system maintenance advice for homeowners to get the maximum septic tank life, maximum drainfield life, minimum septic system operating, maintenance, and replacement costs. With rising septic repair prices and changing weather patterns due at least in part to global warming, septic maintenance is even more critical to keep a healthy home and yard and to avoid costly septic system repairs. Here is our updated septic system maintenance advice in a nutshell.



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An Expanded Version of The EPA Septic Care Guide - Ten Simple Steps to Septic System Maintenance

SKETCH of a typical aerobic treatment unit tank, aerator, chamberSeptic drainfield failures or sewage backups may be more common than some people realize.

As the EPS said in the original and brief article on septic system care, "if your septic tank failed, or you know someone whose did, you are not alone. As a homeowner, you are responsible for maintaining your septic system.

Proper septic system maintenance will help keep your system from failing and will help maintain your investment in your home. Failing septic systems can contaminate the ground water that you or your neighbors drink and can pollute nearby rivers, lakes and coastal waters." - [Original text, U.S. EPA, editing/additions by author]

People normally seem to forget about their septic tank and drainfield until there are odors, slow drains, sewage backups, or sewage coming up in the yard - signs of a septic system problem. You can greatly extend the life of a septic system by taking care of it. The most basic step in septic system care is to have the tank pumped on schedule. That's far more important than any magic additives, septic helper, or septic chemicals which usually are of little use and sometimes are downright harmful.

Here are ten simple steps that the US EPA suggested in order to keep your septic system working, with additional comments added by an experienced septic system inspector.

Also see SEPTIC TANK PUMPING SCHEDULE
and
see WHAT CAN GO INTO TOILETS & DRAINS?. The original content of this page was produced by the U.S. EPA with edits and addition of references to more in-depth information resources about onsite waste disposal inspection, diagnosis, repair, maintenance by DJF.

If septic systems are new to you, see HOME BUYERS GUIDE to SEPTIC SYSTEMS.

  1. Locate your septic tank and drainfield. Keep a drawing of these locations in your records.
    See SEPTIC TANK, HOW TO FIND and
    also see our video on how to find septic components:
    SEPTIC DRAINFIELD LOCATION
  2. Have your septic system inspected at least every three years. This is a somewhat arbitrary rule of thumb but it's better than never doing anything. [Home buyers should be sure to review our HOME BUYERS GUIDE to SEPTIC SYSTEMS Inspection & Testing -- DF]
  3. Pump your septic tank as needed. Actually, to get this right,
    see SEPTIC TANK PUMPING SCHEDULE
    and also to stay out of trouble
    see SEPTIC TANK PUMPING MISTAKES.
  4. Don't dispose of household hazardous wastes in sinks or toilets. [See
    WHAT CAN GO INTO TOILETS & DRAINS?
    And for the "Don'ts of septic systems"
    see NEVER FLUSH INTO SEPTICS, BETTER NOT TO FLUSH,

    and CHEMICALS & CLEANERS into the SEPTIC TANK? articles to learn what to keep out of your septic tank to prolong its life.
  5. Keep other household items, such as dental floss [trivial in volume, but can clog or snag septic pumps, float switches, controls, feminine hygiene products, condoms, diapers, and cat litter out of your system.
    See SEPTIC CARE INSTRUCTIONS
  6. Use water efficiently. [Reducing water usage reduces the load on your drainfield -- DF] See our articles
    GREYWATER SYSTEMS

    and
    ALTERNATIVE & WATERLESS TOILETS. Reduce water usage, install a drywell or graywater system.
  7. Plant only grass over and near your septic system. Roots from nearby trees or shrubs might clog and damage the system. Also, do not apply manure or fertilizers over the drainfield. [See our
    article, PLANTS & TREES OVER SEPTIC SYSTEMS for more details --DF]
  8. Keep vehicles and livestock off your septic system. The weight can damage the pipes and tank, and your system may not drain properly under compacted soil. See SEPTIC FIELD FAILURE CAUSES
  9. Keep roof gutters and basement sump pumps from draining into or near your septic system. [And very important, keep surface runoff and subsurface runoff away from the septic tank and drainfield -- DF]
  10. Check with your local health department before using additives. Commercial septic tank additives do not eliminate the need for periodic pumping and can be harmful to your system.

    [Actually most septic tank additives don't help, some septic tank additives are highly caustic or toxic and contaminate the environment, some hurt (like yeast), and some or perhaps all (depending on where you live) are illegal to apply -
    see SEPTIC TREATMENTS & CHEMICALS septic tank chemicals, treatments, additives, reported as intended for extending the septic system life, "Un-Clogging," or "Repair" - Septic Tank Treatment -- DF]

    And we add a compund eleventh septic system life extending step:
  11. Improve the septic system: adding a greywater system, separate drywell, adding a septic tank inlet or outlet filter (SEPTIC FILTERS), or adding an aerator to convert the conventional septic tank to an aerobic design will increase the level of effluent treatment and extend drainfield life.
    See SEPTIC SYSTEM DESIGN ALTERNATIVES

Watch out: adding a septic tank aerator with incomplete design can push solids into and destroy the drainfield. Aerobic septic tanks use multiple chambers to avoid this problem; a retrofit design would typically include an outlet tee filter or separate filtering chamber that, if omitted or not properly maintained is likely to lead to sewage backups or septic system failure.

The U.S. EPA does not regulate septic systems, however, state and local governments do regulate the use of these systems. Just about any question you could ask about residential septic system care, septic system maintenance, installation, design basics, tank pumping, field installation, and repair, is at our
Septic Systems Home Page. Owners and occupants of homes with septic systems and people who inspect or service septic systems should also
review Septic System Safety --DJF]

Other Septic System Life Articles

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