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How to Care for Your Septic System

how to care for your septic systemLiving in the county is different than urban living. Out here you don’t have a public sewage system that is maintained by the city. You have your own private sewage plant, your septic system, and you need to learn how to care for your septic system.

How to Care for Your Septic System

Life in the country is good, but there is a learning curve. One thing you need to understand is how to care for your septic system. Do you know what type of septic system you have?

Types of Septic Systems

Conventional Septic Systems
There are two different types of conventional systems:

  1. Gravity Systems use gravity to move wastewater from the septic tank out to the drain field (aka: leach field or leach drain). The septic tanks, in gravity systems, are placed higher than the drain field. This helps water to flow into the tank and out to the drain field.
  2. Pressure Distribution Systems use a pump, or series of pumps, to move water. A pump helps to distribute treated wastewater over the entire leach field. This is a more efficient system than the Gravity Systems.

Alternative Septic Systems
Alternative septic systems operate similarly to basic septic systems, except that they utilize additional methods to treat wastewater.

  • Mound systems are needed in areas where soil is too shallow or too dense, or where the water table is high. Leaching fields in these systems are raised above ground level like a mound, and a dosing chamber or pump chamber, is employed to collect treated wastewater from the septic tank. It then pumps up and distributes the water to the raised leach drain.
  • Sand Mound systems (sometimes referred to as the Wisconsin Sand Mound Septic System) are used in areas where soil depth is limited, due to a soil limiting layer which may be a seasonal water table, bedrock, fragipan, or glacial till.

The Sand Mound system includes a septic tank, a dosing chamber, and a mound. Waste from the home is sent first to the septic tank where the solid stuff settles to the bottom of the tank. The effluent is sent to a second tank called a dosing chamber, from which the effluent is distributed to the mound at a metered rate (in doses). Wastewater is partially treated as it moves through the mound sand. Final treatment and disposal occurs in the soil beneath the mound. The mound system can handle the effluent much better, since it doesn’t come into the mound all at once. This allows the mound to clean the effluent more thoroughly which helps to prevent the septic system from failing.

Absorption mounds are built in layers and at different depths. The depths of these layers are determined by the depth of the limiting layer of the soil, which may be a seasonal water table, bedrock, fragipan, or glacial till.

  • Aerobic treatment units, use oxygen in their septic tanks to expedite the break down of biological waste products. The waste is sprayed over fine fins and fans blow oxygen over the fins to encourage the growth of bacteria that will help break down the sewage. Aerobic units are sometimes used in conjunction with other septic systems, like the Wisconsin Sand Mounds.

Tips to Keep your Septic System Operational

Fun Fact: Laundry & Dishwasher are #1 Culprits in Septic Failure
  • Laundry
    • Certain cleaners can kill beneficial bacteria in the septic tank, this keeps solids from breaking down thoroughly. (Avoid bleach, antibacterial products and non-biodegradable soaps. Look for Septic Safe products, which healthier for you.)
    • Using too much soap or detergents can clog the soil in your leach field and cause septic system failure.
    • The best solution is to use a liquid laundry and automatic dish detergents, which are less likely to have fillers, that may harm your septic system. Powdered detergents may have fillers, like clay or plastics, that can cause the pores in your soil to plug.
    • Reduce water levels for small loads of laundry or switch to horizontal washing machine.
    • Do your research and invest in a high efficiency washing machine. New horizontal laundry machines use up to 70-90% less water and almost 1/3 of the detergent. Older washing machines use 29 to 45 gallons per load (109.7 to 170 L), today’s high-efficiency washers use only 15 to 30 gallons (56.8 to 113.6 L), of water, to wash the same amount of clothes as. The most efficient washers use less than 5 gallons (18.9 L) per cubic foot of capacity.
    • Much of our clothing is now made of synthetic material, like polyester and nylon. These materials are not biodegradable, tend to stay in suspension and end up getting flushed out to the leach drain, where they clog the pores of the mound or soil bed. Once these materials start clogging things, there is no way to remove them. Invest in a lint filter, like the Filtrol 160this is the first thing I install for any septic system! If you allow lint to go down your drain, it will clog the fine fins and sprayer nozzles in your aerobic units. It’s cheaper to buy the lint filter and keep it maintained.
Gross Fact: A typical family washing machine produces enough lint in 1 year, to carpet your entire living room with lint. That’s the look we’re going for!
  •   Dishwasher
    • Invest in a high efficiency dishwasher. The average American family washes approximately 110 loads of dishes ever year. An older model dishwasher will use between 10 to 15 gallons (37.8 L to 56.7 L) of water per load. New high efficiency dishwashers will use less than 5.5 gallons (20.8 L) of water per load.
    • Avoid dishwasher products with bleach (sodium hypochlorite) in favor of those with surfactants or baking soda that are septic safe
  • Don’t overload your septic Tank and leach field.
    • Wait until the dishwasher is full to run it.
    • Reduce water levels for small loads of laundry.
  • Never Pour Grease Down the Drain. Grease can clog the septic system’s leach field, making it impossible for soil to absorb liquids. If this happens you’ll need a new drain field, which can run more than $40,000.00 in some areas.
  • Use Garbage Disposals Wisely

Many rural homes have garbage disposals; not because you are supposed to use them, but because they make it really easy to install a dishwasher. Yep, this is most likely why you have a garbage disposal. Take the advice that was given to me, and avoid using it for disposing of food and kitchen scraps.

A garbage disposal can double the amount of solids (and many times GREASE) added to a septic tank. If you must use a garbage disposal, choose a top of the line model, that will grind food into super tiny bits, that will be much easier for your septic system to digest. There are even Garbage disposals, that inject small amounts of enzymes into the drain. You must add enzymes to keep the reservoir filled.

  • Check faucets and toilets for leaks; make repairs if necessary.
  • Use aerators on faucets and flow reducer nozzles on showers to help lower water consumption.
  • Reduce water levels for small loads of laundry.
  • Wait until the dishwasher is full to run it.
  • Use a displacer (some people use a rock or a brick) to reduce the amount of water needed to flush the toilet.
  • Never flush sanitary napkins, tampons, kitty litter, disposable diapers,facial tissues, paper towels, cigarette butts, coffee grounds or filters. They’ll clog your septic system very quickly.
  • Divert Rainwater From the Septic leach field – A soggy leach drain won’t absorb and neutralize liquid waste. Plan landscaping, downspouts and other drains so that any excess water is diverted away from the septic drain field. Also make sure that your downspouts do not empty into your septic tank. There is no good reason for that, get some rainbarrels and enjoy the free water!
  • Try to prevent hair from going down the drains. Use a hair catcher, like the TubShroom or SinkShroom, in all drains.

If you start with a healthy septic system and follow these guidelines, you should get many happy decades out of your septic system.

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