How Will I Know if I Have a Problem with My Septic System?
Some of the warning signs that your septic system may be failing include the following:
•The ground around the septic tank or over the leaching bed may be soggy or spongy to walk on.
•Toilets, showers and sinks may back up or may take longer than usual to drain.
•Occasional sewage odours may become noticeable, particularly after a rainfall.
•Gray or black liquids may be surfacing in your yard or backing up through fixtures into the house.
•E. coli or fecal coliform indicator bacteria may be found in nearby well water or in a surface ditch close to the leaching bed.
•The water level in the septic tank is higher than the outlet pipe (this indicates that the water is ponding in the distribution lines) — inspection should be conducted by a qualified practitioner. ie Gales Septic Cleaning
•Wastewater is ponding in the distribution lines — inspection should be conducted by a qualified practitioner or an engineer.
When to pump out the Septic Tank.
Over time, the sludge will build up in the bottom of the septic tank. If the sludge is allowed to accumulate it will eventually flow into the leaching bed and rapidly clog the distribution pipes. Once the pipes become clogged, the wastewater will either seep to the surface of the ground, or worse yet, back up into your house. Not only can a clogged septic system be hazardous to the environment and to your family’s health, it also represents a very expensive repair bill.
A septic tank should generally be pumped out every three to five years or when 1/3 of the tank volume is filled with solids (measured by a qualified practitioner). The frequency of pumping out the tank will depend upon household water use (number of people) and the size of the septic tank. For example, a family of five with a 2,300 L tank may require a tank pump-out as frequently as every two to three years, while a retired couple with a 3,600 L tank may only require a tank pump-out every five to seven years. Some jurisdictions define how frequently a septic tank must be pumped out. In the province of Quebec, for instance, septic tanks are required to be pumped every two years for full time residences and every four years for seasonal residences.
The best time to have the tank pumped out is summer to early fall. At these times, the ground will not be frozen, allowing easier access to the tank, and the biological activity in the tank can re-establish itself before it gets too cold (micro-organisms like it warm). In the spring, a high water table caused by melted snow can sometimes create sufficient pressure on the underside of an empty tank to push it up out of the ground. This is more of a concern with lighter tanks made of polyethylene or fibreglass than those made of concrete.
Never inspect or pump out a septic tank yourself. There is no oxygen in the tank for you to breathe and the tank contains deadly gases which can kill you in only a few seconds. When it is time to clean or inspect your tank, call a licensed pumper. ie, Gales Septic Cleaning
What Not to Put Down the Drain
Because septic systems rely on bacteria to break down the waste material, it is important that you don’t poison these micro-organisms. Even small amounts of paints, solvents, thinners, nail polish remover and other common household compounds flushed or poured down the drain can kill the bacteria that break down the organic matter in the wastewater. Household disinfectants such as laundry bleach or toilet bowl cleaner can be used in moderation without affecting the operation of the septic system; however, overuse of disinfectants can kill the bacteria in a septic tank. Some manufacturers promote the use of septic tank “cleaners”, “starters” or “enhancers” to aid in the digestion of the waste. These products are typically of little value and are not recommended.
You should avoid putting anything into the septic system that doesn’t break down naturally or anything that takes a long time to break down. Materials such as oils, grease, and fat, disposable diapers, tampons and their holders, condoms, paper towels, facial tissues, cat box litter, plastics, cigarette filters, coffee grounds, egg shells, and other kitchen wastes, should never be put into the septic system. You should also avoid the use of in-sink garbage disposal units (“garburators”) unless the septic tank and leaching bed are designed to accommodate the increase water and organic load created from these devices.
How Do I Look After the Leaching Bed?
Looking after the leaching bed is easy. There’s nothing you have to do, but there are a few things you shouldn’t do. The area over the leaching bed should have a good cover of grass. Good ventilation and adequate sunlight should also be maintained to promote evaporation. This means that nothing should be constructed over the leaching bed including: parking areas, patios, tennis courts, decks or storage sheds. Covering the leaching bed will prevent oxygen from getting into the soil. The bacteria responsible for digesting the wastewater need oxygen to survive and function.
You should not drive vehicles or machinery over the bed, as the weight could crush the distribution pipes or compact the soil. In winter, you should also keep snowmobiles off the leaching bed. The compaction of the snow will reduce its natural insulating effect, increasing the chances of the pipes freezing.
Don’t plant trees or shrubs near the leaching bed. The roots of some trees, especially willows and poplars, will travel significant distances to reach water. The roots can plug and damage the distribution pipes. Lastly, don’t water the grass over the leaching bed and ensure that all surface drainage (particularly eave troughs) is directed away from the leaching bed. The additional water may interfere with the ability of the soil to absorb and treat the wastewater.
The leaching bed of a conventional septic system should last at least 20 years; however, the distribution lines will eventually become clogged with biomat and the bed will have to be repaired or replaced.
I Need to Control My Water Usage?
Every time you put water into the septic tank, that same amount of water moves into the leaching bed. The longer the wastewater is retained in the septic tank, the more the effluent has less suspended solids and organic matter. Conversely, if the water moves too quickly through the septic system (through excessive water use in the household), the solids may not have time to settle out and then could flow into the leaching bed. Therefore, whenever possible, you should try to regulate the amount of water entering the septic system; for instance, laundry can be spread out over several days during the week. You can reduce water usage by installing water saving features in plumbing fixtures and by only running the washer or dishwasher when it is full. Fix leaky faucets and watch out for running toilets — a running toilet can waste a huge amount of water and can wash out a septic tank. Foundation drainage (sump pump) and furnace condensate should be excluded from the septic tank. You can also control the amount and timing of wastewater you put into the system by using a discharge pump package to dose the leaching bed