I’m sure you’ve heard expressions like, “Spend money to save money,” right? Well, nowhere is this more true than with your septic system. Whether you have an older conventional gravity system, a pressure system or a more modern treatment method, spending money to maintain your onsite wastewater system will pay you dividends over the years.
To save your system – and your bank account – get yourself a strong maintenance and monitoring plan that details what needs to be done and how often. Details may vary depending on your system and its components, but the goal for every plan is the same: to detail the tasks that will help your system function as it was designed to do.
Before we get into what you should be doing, let’s clear up the greatest misunderstanding we see about septic-system maintenance.
Don’t Waste Your Money on Over Pumping!
Many homeowners mistakenly believe that proper maintenance is just a matter of pumping the septic tank every few years. Not so.
Experts agree that, yes, your septic tank needs periodic pumping, but how often depends on tank size and the conditions in your home. There is no “one size fits all” rule for when to pump.
A qualified maintenance person with the proper tools can tell you exactly when your tank needs pumping. Rather than an arbitrary number, this should be based on usage in your home and the accumulation of solids in the tank as measured with a device called a sludge judge.
You might be surprised to hear that the average septic tank sized to today’s standards will often go for longer than seven years between pump outs.
The Biggest Bang for Your Maintenance Buck
So, now that you’re not spending your money on “premature pumping,” where should you be spending it? To achieve long-term benefits for both your bank account and the environment, here’s your mantra:
“Filtration and Equal Distribution”
The simplest — and cheapest — thing ever invented to aid the longevity of a septic system is an effluent filter. Our advice to you couldn’t be simpler: If you don’t have one, get one. There are many different types, your maintenance person can find one that’s right for your system.
Once you’ve got a filter, have it cleaned ‘about’ every two years.
The secret to maximizing the lifespan of your system’s dispersal field is to make sure the effluent (sewage/water), gets spread over a big area. This will help your septic field’s natural biological process.
The cause of most septic system replacements is long-term “spot loading” due to concentration of effluent in small areas of the dispersal field. This “organic overload” causes the formation of what we call “excessive biomat”.
This mat tends to plug the pores of the soil and seal off the area from further flow, forcing the effluent to progress to the next area, where the whole negative process starts over again — hence the term “progressive failure.”
This doesn’t have to happen! Qualified maintenance people have standard tools and technologies that will remove the buildup of sludge, roots and debris that find their way into your dispersal pipes.
So, to extend the lifespan of your septic field, be sure to have an expert clean out your dispersal pipes and maximize distribution, every couple of years, as part of your maintenance plan.
Maintenance Plan Supported by CRD Bylaw
This approach to septic-system maintenance is supported by the Capital Regional District. If you are part of the CRD Septic Maintenance Bylaw, you are eligible for a maintenance assessment to develop a custom maintenance plan and pump out frequency based on your system and conditions, as an alternative to pump outs at five year intervals.
The good news is, a properly maintained septic system will last for many years and save you money. Properly working systems are not contaminating ‘our’ groundwater, streams and lakes, rather – returning clean water – to the earth – in harmony with the natural cycle.