Whether you’ve just recently purchased a home with a septic system or are a longtime owner, there are things you should know to keep your system in optimal condition and avoid inconvenient and potentially costly repairs.
Practice Water Conservation
While it is advisable to be mindful of the amount of water you use with any system, septic systems are designed to handle a specific volume of water. The amount depends on your system capacity, which is based on the size of the septic tank, the absorption capacity of the drain field and local regulations. If you don’t know the capacity of your system, ask your septic services provider.
Septic system capacity refers to the amount of wastewater the system can effectively handle before needing to be pumped. Common residential septic tanks typically have 1,000- to 1,500-gallon capacities. The drain field’s absorption capacity is taken into consideration as well. Exceeding capacity can strain the system, potentially leading to increased maintenance needs, reduced efficiency or system failure.
Things you can do to conserve water include:
- Use water-efficient fixtures
- Fix leaks promptly
- Be mindful of water usage habits, such as the length of showers
To calculate how much water you use when showering, if you have a showerhead with a 2.5-gallons-per-minute flow rate and you take a 20-minute shower, you’ll use approximately 50 gallons of water.
In addition to taking shorter showers, low-flow showerheads can help reduce the amount of water you use. Learn more about water-saving fixtures in the U.S. Department of Energy Guide to Home Water Efficiency.
In general, you should spread out activities that use a lot of water, including taking showers and running the dishwasher or washing machine. This will avoid overloading your septic system with excessive water in a short period, which can overwhelm its capacity to treat and process wastewater.
Septic System Don’ts
Conserving water is one important way to keep your septic system in good condition. Here are some things that can harm your system and should be avoided.
- Flushing non-biodegradable items. Items such as disposable wipes, sanitary products, dental floss and certain chemicals can lead to clogs and interfere with the natural biological processes in the septic tank.
- Using chemical drain cleaners. These cleaners can disrupt the balance of beneficial bacteria in the septic tank, affecting its ability to break down solids. Harsh chemicals can also harm the soil in the drain field.
- Excessive garbage disposal use. This can introduce additional solids into the septic system, requiring more frequent pumping. Certain food scraps and greasy substances can contribute to clogs and reduced system efficiency.
- Excessive use of antibacterial soaps and cleaning products. These products can disrupt the natural balance of bacteria in the septic tank, affecting the breakdown of solids.
- Inappropriate landscaping practices. Planting deep-rooted trees or shrubs over the drain field can damage pipes and interfere with the absorption of water.
- Parking heavy vehicles over the septic system components. Vehicles such as RVs or construction equipment can cause physical damage to pipes, tanks or the drain field.
The Importance of Maintenance
Hiring a licensed septic services provider to maintain your system is the most important thing you can do to keep it up and running. It’s also the most cost effective, considering that repairing or replacing your system can cost as much as $30,000.
How frequently your system requires maintenance depends on how many people live in the home and the size of the system. For households with two to four people, you should have your septic tank pumped every three years. For households of five, consider pumping your system every two years. For families of six or more, pumping yearly is advised.
You can find more guidance on the importance of septic system maintenance in the article Why Maintain Your Septic System by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
If you live in Berks, Lancaster, Lebanon or Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania, the team at Sonlight Services is happy to answer your septic system questions and schedule your system maintenance.