What Homeowners Need to Know About Their Septic System

November 19th 2010
What Homeowners Need to Know About Their Septic System

According to studies conducted 25 - 30% of single family homes in North America are using a septic system rather than being connected to a municipality's sewer collection system. Today 40% of new homes constructed are not connected to municipal sewer systems.

Septic systems are typically 1 of 2 types of tanks that are placed before the drain field. One is a septic tank and the other is treatment unit or system.

The main purpose of a septic tank is to allow for sufficient time for the separation of liquids and solids. Some solids will float to the top, suds, fats, oils and greases for example, some will settle to the bottom and a "clearer" wastewater in between. It is the wastewater in the clear zone that leaves the septic tank and enters the drain field.

A treatment unit or system purpose is to "treat" the sewage and reduce organic matter in the wastewater and making the wastewater very clear compared to the septic tank effluent. Typically, the drain field is smaller when using a treatment unit.

The use, care and maintenance is key to maximize the life of the septic system and thereby maintain the property value as well as protecting the environment and drinking water sources,

Regular pumping out of the septic system will be dependant on what goes down the drain. It is generally recommended that the septic tank be pumped out every 3 - 5 years and a treatment unit be inspected annually for operation and determining if it is time to de-sludge the treatment unit.

The following are suggestions for what could and should not go down the drain. These will assist the homeowner in maximizing the benefits and life of their septic system.

All detergents should be low-sudsing, biodegradable, and low phosphate.

Paper products use only white paper products. Natural bacteria do not eat colour dyes in paper and therefore do not breakdown coloured paper. Non-bleached paper (brown in colour) takes a long time to breakdown and can therefore clog septic tanks and treatment systems.

No liquid fabric softeners should be used. These products typically contain quaternary ammonia that is toxic to the bacteria. Please use dryer sheets.

No toilet bowl tablets should be used.

No backwash discharge from water softeners.

No oils, greases, chemical wastes or latex paints.

No harsh chemicals or toxins should be put into the system

Objects not to be put into the septic system at any time
- Disposable baby diapers
- Sanitary napkins
- Hair
- Bandages
- Rags
- Cotton balls
- Strings
- Plastics
- Coffee grounds
- Cigarette butts
- Metal objects
- Mud, sticks
- Paper towels, baby wipes
- Automotive fluids
- Egg shells, bones
- Melon rinds
- Corn cobs
- Bleach wipes
- Home brewery waste
- Unused medicine

Daily sewage flow rate
Leaking household fixtures and appliances to be repaired to stop any leakage. Leaking will increase the daily flow rate and may exceed the authorized conditions and damage the treatment system, including the drain field.

Drain field protection
Do not pave over, place heavy items on top of, park vehicles on or allow livestock on top of the drain field. Do not over water the drain field. Do not dispose of yard or garden waste on top of the drain field.