The most common sewage disposal system widely used today is the septic tank along with a drain field or leach field. If the soil surrounding your Northern Virginia home is suitable, a septic system can usually be installed and will provide many years of hands off sewage disposal.
The typical septic tank-drain field system is comprised of a septic tank, a distribution box and a drain or leach field. Septic tanks are typically constructed out of concrete, fiberglass or plastic and are designed to be watertight with a riser protruding to the surface to allow for periodic pump-outs. Yearly inspection and regular maintenance of a septic system is pertinent to avoid costly repairs and prevent upcoming problems from accelerating.
Follow these pointers to help your system stay in top condition:
- Monitor scum and sludge levels on a yearly basis.
- Remember to minimizing grease, solids from garbage disposals, chemicals and other materials from entering the system. Discharge from grease traps cannot go to the drain field unless it goes through the septic tank and is digested by bacteria.
- Try to cut back on excessive water usage to prevent flooding or overworking the system. Try to stagger laundry loads, showers and dishwashing at intervals and install water saving devices on your shower heads, faucets and toilets.
- Remember to keep paints, thinners, harsh chemicals, motor oil, pesticides and any other bacteria killing fluids out of your drains.
- Non-biodegradable items will stay in your tank forever and will either set at the bottom or possible work their way into the drainfield or leachfield. Never flush anything down your system that is not biodegradable such as; diapers, cigarettes, plastics, sanitary napkins ect.
- Cut back on the use of your garbage disposal. Overloading the tank can cause sludge to accumulate at a much faster rate than the bacteria in your tank can handle.
- If cooking grease or oils are added to your system, they must be broken down with bacterial strains specifically designed to do so. It is best to avoid dispersing oils and grease into your system but if it is unavoidable, bacterial additives are a must to help ensure proper degradation.
- Have the solids pumped out of your septic tank periodically. This will need to be done every 3 or more years depending on your family size and if you are on a preventative bacterial program.
- Have the tank inspected once a year by a licensed professional to determine if and when a pump-out is necessary. Baffles, casing and piping in the tank should also be checked for wear or breakage.
- If you have a septic tank filter installed, spray it off allowing the runoff to go back into the system at least once a year.
- Never lay a hard surface such as asphalt or concrete over your drainfield or leachfield. See: planting on your drainfield for better landscape ideas pertaining to your drainfield.
- Steer surface water downstream and away from your system and field. Gutters, wastewater you’re your washing machine and basement sump pumps should be routed to a different area of your property.
- Do not drive vehicles or heavy equipment over your drainfield area and if you’re are adding an addition or installing a pool, warn contractors to stay clear of your system. Broken leachfield lines and a cracked tank can cost in the tens of thousands of dollar range to repair.
- Remove deep rooted trees or shrubs possibly rooting into the drain field and damaging the piping or excessively pulling moisture from the system.
- If you suspect a problem, get help and advice immediately so as to avoid further damage to the system. Due to the profit margin involved with system replacement, always get a second or third opinion!
- Make a diagram of your system along with a location map so as to have a clear understanding where the drainfield is regardless of whatever landscape changes you make over the years.
- Do not use harsh chemical drain openers on a clogged drain. Try a drain snake or boiling water instead and keep your toiletry cleaners as mild as possible (only strong enough to get the job done) since they will eventually work down into the system killing off healthy bacteria.
- Don’t allow the salt discharge from water softeners to enter the system for drain field clogging and compaction can occur over the years. If you do have a softener installed, maintain your bacteria levels with a bacterial additive to prevent buildup.