Septic Systems - Tips on Managing Your Wastewater

Septic Systems - Tips on Managing Your Wastewater

Posted by Brandi Hammon on Friday, December 8th, 2017 at 4:40pm.

The Scoop on Septic Systems

If there’s one thing everyone loves talking about (not really), it’s the nitty-gritty of septic tanks. In Ogden Valley and other rural locations, it’s a very real part of life and one that homeowners have to deal with every three to five years when it’s time to address possible service issues with your sewer system. In this blog, we’d like to dig into the issue a little deeper.

For those who are unaware, here are the basics. A septic system is an underground wastewater treatment structure, commonly used in rural areas without centralized sewer systems. These systems use a combination of nature and proven technology to treat wastewater from household plumbing produced by bathrooms, kitchen drains, and laundry.

Usually, a septic system consists of a septic tank and a drain field, soil absorption field or leach field. The septic tank digests organic matter and separates solids from floatable matter, like oils and grease, from the wastewater. Soil-based systems discharge the liquid, known as effluent water, from the septic tank into a series of perforated pipes buried in a leach field, leaching chambers, or other special units designed to slowly release the effluent into the soil or surface water.

Alternative systems use pumps or gravity to help septic tank effluent trickle through sand, organic matter (e.g., peat and sawdust), constructed wetlands, or other media to remove or neutralize pollutants like disease-causing pathogens, nitrogen, phosphorus, and other contaminants. Some alternative systems are designed to evaporate wastewater or disinfect it before it is discharged to the soil or surface waters.

The successful use of your septic system has a lot to do with your individual behaviors, as well as those you share your home with. Being realistic about your habits and knowing how those habits affect your septic system will go a long way in determining what type of care you should expect.

For example, preparing and consuming foods high in fats, grease or oils will most likely result in more frequent service calls  than those who prepare and consume less fats and oils. A high water use home will need to calculate their water usage compared to the size of their septic tank to determine if the tank is suitable to accommodate that much water. The type of soil composition in the leach field also has a lot to do with how long your system will last. 

For your convenience, we have added a list of seven things to keep on the top of your mind as you effectively manager the use of your septic system. (Cont. below photo)

1. Avoid Items That Clog Pips or Destroy Bacteria

Be careful what you flush or dispose of down the drain. Not all items are “septic friendly” and some things are downright bad for your system. Some things are obvious like plastic items, diapers, feminine hygiene products, condoms or anything other material that doesn’t decompose quickly. The general rule is to stick with human waste and toilet paper. Everything else should be disposed of differently. Some products like baby wipes and cat litter may say they are flushable on the package, but would still present problems for your septic down the road. Harsh chemicals like Drano and bleach are also very bad for the system because they kill off a lot of the good bacteria that is working to consume the bad bacteria in your tank. Always look for septic friendly detergents for washing clothing and dishes.

2. Preventing plumbing back-ups

Hair, too much toilet paper, kids flushing toys down the toilet – these are all things that can clog your pipes. However, one of the biggest culprits is grease. When grease and heavy oils are poured down the drain, it can get stuck in the pipe as it cools down. It’s best to keep these items out of your pipes to help prevent back-ups. If you do experience slowed or stopped drains, try a plumbing snake before resorting to harsh chemicals that could do more harm than good.

3. Laundry Troubles

Septic system drain fields aren't supposed to look like a bubble bath. If your drain field is bubbling, or the septic is backing up into the house, your laundry habits may be the culprit. Using washers that are not water efficient can dramatically increase the amount of water in your septic tank. It’s always wise to space out your laundry habits over several days, rather than staging a weekly laundry marathon on one day. Using liquid detergents is much better on your septic systems because solid or powdered detergents contain filler which can clog up the pores of the soil bed. One of these fillers is bentonite clay, which is also used to plug holes in dams, not exactly the ideal product for a septic system. Another helpful tip is to use washers with a lint filter. When lint gets into your tank, it usually flows right through to your drain field and gets stuck in the soil, causing it to drain more slowly and eventually not at all. When this happens, it’s best to call in a professional to remedy the problem.

4. What goes in must come out

Most septic professional will recommend pumping out your septic system every three to five years, but depending on the amount of usage and the size of the tank, you may need it pumped more often. It’s important to understand how your daily habits affect you system and make decisions on when to clean your tank. Slow or backed up drains are usually a sign it may be time to make that phone call. Newer septic tanks have inspection holes and clean out holes that are either slightly above ground or close to the surface and may not cost extra for the technician to find. On older systems or those buried deep in the ground, it could be costly to dig deep enough for the inspection and pumping. If your system is older, it may be wise to ask the technician to install an access conduit to the tank in order to more easily accommodate future service calls.

5. Prevent Frozen Pipes

A backed-up septic system in cold weather can be a real problem, especially if you have to dig through frozen ground to find the cause. People often leave a faucet running on a slow drip to prevent house pipes from freezing, but when those small drips go into the outdoor pipes, they can freeze, causing ice to accumulate. It's better to let water drip into a bucket, if possible, and dump the bucket down your drain all at once so it washes through.

6. The Power of Plants

Sometimes when your system hasn’t been working quite right, it might be good to look around at what’s growing around your tank. Large trees will uproot your septic. Some types of trees are aggressive in their search for sources of water, and when planted near your septic system, can do serious damage within a short amount of time. We recommend avoiding trees such as any maples, any willows, any poplars, or any of those species that are aggressive water lovers. As a safe bet, you’re able to plant trees that won’t grow taller than about 20 feet, and these should be planted between drain lines, not near them or directly above them. 

On the flip side, there are plants that actually help your septic systems. When planted over your septic drain field, the right plants like Echinacea, can help prevent erosion and expel liquid and nutrients from the soil, allowing the septic system to function more efficiently. If grass bores you, try shallow-rooted herbaceous plants like flowers and ground cover. Planting a vegetable garden could be tempting, but it’s best to talk with a experienced horticulturist for advice based on the type of vegetable and the depth of your drain lines.

7. Monitor the Drain Field

One way to monitor the overall health of your septic system is to take a walk along the drain field. If the ground feels soft and muddy and it hasn't rained recently, you could be in trouble. The main reason for a squishy drain field is that the happy balance of bacteria in your tank has been disrupted. Teenagers are one cause of unhappy bacteria, because of their habit of taking long showers and flooding the system with an overload of water. The result is too much water and not enough bacteria to work through it. As mentioned earlier, strong cleaners and antibacterial soaps can disrupt the system and cause your tank to fill up too quickly, resulting in a soggy drain field and a call to a septic technician.

21 Responses to "Septic Systems - Tips on Managing Your Wastewater"

Bobby Saint wrote: I like that you provided some tips on managing your wastewater such as avoiding items that clog pipes. It is recommended that you do not throw in non-biodegradable items in your toilet such as diapers and paper towels. These are the most common items that normally cause the clogging of your pipes. Also, it's best to have your septic system pumped regularly to make sure that it is in good working condition. Nevertheless, if you suspect that there is something wrong with your system or if you notice some sort of water damage, it's best to hire a professional to get this problem addressed as soon as possible. If I were to have my septic tank repaired, I would make sure to keep this in mind. Thanks.

Posted on Tuesday, January 16th, 2018 at 6:56pm.

Amanda Drew wrote: I'm glad that you point out that some trees are really aggressive while they're looking for water and can damage your septic system. That might be my problem. My system has been acting weird, and things aren't draining correctly in my home. I'll need to find someone who does septic repair to help me fix it.

Posted on Tuesday, January 23rd, 2018 at 1:51pm.

Greco wrote: Thanks you so much for this information. I really liked the diagrams that explained how the system should work. I have been having some slow drain issues and now, since you recommended it, I think I should get it looked at. Is there any tips you could give someone that wasn't a professional, that still wanted to see what they could figure?

Posted on Wednesday, March 21st, 2018 at 12:53pm.

Liz Hudson wrote: It's good to know that baby wipes could potentially create problems for your septic tank. I always assumed that they were safe to flush when labeled as "flushable". I will definitely keep this information in mind and avoid flushing baby wipes in the future.

Posted on Wednesday, August 7th, 2019 at 8:23am.

Dennis Sanchez wrote: It really helped when you explained that it is important to avoid items that kill bacteria or clog pipes in a septic system. My wife and I are considering purchasing a home that utilizes a system like this. If we end up buying the house, we should probably hire a professional service to clean the septic tank regularly for us.

Posted on Friday, September 20th, 2019 at 3:53pm.

Luke Smith wrote: It's shocking to know that long showers affect the septic tank system! Since my work is really demanding, and I want to free myself from stress, taking long showers and soaking into the bathtub for hours is my way of relaxation. I'll keep your tips in mind on how to maintain a healthy septic tank system, but I shall reach out to a septic tank inspector to check the tank condition and drainage land of our home system.

Posted on Tuesday, October 8th, 2019 at 1:08pm.

Lyla Peterson wrote: I didn't realize that pouring grease and oils down the drain can clog your septic system. The house I recently moved into has a septic tank. I will be sure to avoid pouring any type of oil down the drain.

Posted on Monday, October 14th, 2019 at 9:21am.

Lloyd Bronson wrote: My wife and I are interested in having a home constructed, so we need to take all of the steps to prepare that we can, including learning more about septic systems. We're gracious that you mentioned how a backed-up septic system in cold weather can lead to frozen pipes and other such issues, which will be quite the hassle. We'll be sure to study your article closely before our home is completed.

Posted on Tuesday, November 12th, 2019 at 9:18am.

rachel frampton wrote: Our toilets are not flushing properly and we are assuming that it is because of the septic tank. I never thought that people who eats less fatty, greasy and oily food are not prone to asking help from a professional septic tank cleaner. I'll keep in mind to pump the septic tank every three to five years, although it would be better if I'll just hire a septic pumping service that can finish the job.

Posted on Friday, November 22nd, 2019 at 3:33pm.

Johnny McCarron wrote: Ah, it's good to know that you usually pump your septic tank every three to five years. My parents got their septic tank with their house when they moved in a couple years ago. Perhaps it's about time they call someone to come in and do maintenance on it.

Posted on Monday, December 2nd, 2019 at 5:16pm.

rachel frampton wrote: Our septic tank is producing an odd smell. therefore we all think that it has to be checked. Surprisingly, grease and heavy oils can get stuck in the pipe when it cools down; maybe that's one of the reasons why our septic tank is producing that smell. I better start looking for a septic tank service that can check and fix the matter.

Posted on Monday, December 9th, 2019 at 9:59am.

Skylar Williams wrote: I like your tip to have water drip from the faucet into a bucket to help with preventing frozen pipes. My sister is just bought some land to build a ranch and home on. She's been looking for someone to install a septic system. I'll pass this tip onto her once everything has been constructed.

Posted on Wednesday, December 18th, 2019 at 4:38pm.

Taylor Wright wrote: It really helped when you said to let the water drip into a bucket and dump it all at once. My uncle is thinking about installing a septic tank but is worried about having his pipes freezing. I'll have to pass this along to him so he can feel confident in installing a septic system.

Posted on Friday, December 20th, 2019 at 9:49am.

Jesse Ford wrote: I like how you mentioned that the success of your system is determined by individual behaviors and those who are living in your home. My wife and I are thinking about hiring septic install professional because we might move to an area that is not connected to municipal plumbing. It seems like a good idea to hire a reputable specialist that can help us with installing a system to get rid of the wastewater in our home to keep it clean and sanitized.

Posted on Thursday, December 26th, 2019 at 1:58pm.

Henry Killingsworth wrote: Thank you for helping me to understand that it is important to avoid cleaning a septic tank with harsh chemicals because they will kill the bacteria in the system. A couple of weeks ago, I noticed that my parent's home smelled strange in certain areas around the bathroom. I'll be sure to mention to them that they should consider having their septic system cleaned by a professional so that they don't damage the bacteria trying to do it themselves.

Posted on Thursday, January 2nd, 2020 at 3:54pm.

Taylor Wright wrote: It's good to know that you shouldn't pour heavy oils down the train because it gets stuck in the pipe. I've noticed last night that the drain in my sink was having a hard time draining. I'll have to call a professional to unclog it and see what's wrong.

Posted on Wednesday, February 5th, 2020 at 8:21am.

Eli Mcmullen wrote: Thank you for mentioning that you can prevent debris from obstructing your septic system by only flushing toilet paper and human waste down your toilet. Ever since my wife and I had our first child, we have been putting flushable wipes down our toilet, and we are worried that our septic tank might overflow soon due to our home's slow draining. Maybe we should hire a professional to clean out our tank.

Posted on Monday, February 24th, 2020 at 11:48am.

Victoria Addington wrote: Thanks for the tips you provided on managing my wastewater at home. I like what you said about avoiding items that clog pipes. I had no idea that there are items that are downright bad for the septic system. In case I encounter wastewater problems, I will look for a wastewater equipment supplier and hire someone to do it for me.

Posted on Friday, March 6th, 2020 at 4:50pm.

Henry Killingsworth wrote: You made an interesting point when you explained that it is important to prevent grease from getting into your septic system so that it does not get clogged. I would imagine that in a situation like this, it would be best to contact a septic system expert. They would have the necessary tools and equipment needed to clear out any clog or obstruction.

Posted on Tuesday, March 17th, 2020 at 12:12pm.

Edward Grey wrote: Very informative article and very usefyl tips you have mentioned there. https://altitudeseptic.com/ also mentioned these tips when I hired them for septic installation.

Posted on Wednesday, March 18th, 2020 at 3:18am.

Jesse Ford wrote: Thanks for mentioning that a septic system is used in a rural area that isn't connected to a centralized sewer structure. My brother is thinking of hiring a maintenance service because he's considering moving to a home that uses a septic tank system to manage their wastewater. It seems like a good idea to consider hiring a reputable service that can maintain the health of his wastewater treatment structure to prevent an expensive repair or replacement.

Posted on Monday, March 23rd, 2020 at 11:06am.

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