Welcome to the wonderful world of septic. It’s not scary, but it does take some explanation, especially since caring for your system will save you tens of thousands of dollars over the long term and ensure a greater chance that your system will pass a Title V inspection when it’s time to sell your house. You also don’t want to be the house all your neighbors talk about at the barbeque.
Your septic tank holds wastewater and solids which come from your house, and will fill up anywhere from one to three weeks, depending on how many people are in your house, and how big your tank is. After that time, water used will go into your tank, then leave it through an outlet line and go to your distribution box, which is a small concrete box with multiple pipes protruding from it. From there, depending on your system, wastewater is distributed evenly to either a leaching field or to multiple pits. Both the inlet line, which moves water from your house to the tank, and the outlet line have a “T” or baffle that stops the solid scum layer in the tank from contaminating your leaching field or pits. There are usually three manhole covers on your tank: one for the outlet, one for the inlet, and a middle one to pump from.
Properly maintaining your septic tank is just like changing your car’s oil, only in reverse. Annual pumping removes the wastewater from your tank and gives your leaching field a one to three week period when it doesn’t have to absorb the water from your house. This allows oxygen into the field, and lets the field dry, both of which are positive things for your system. Pits should be pumped every three to five years to remove wastewater and any sludge that may have settled in the bottom, which, left alone, could cause the pits to fail.
In everyone’s neighborhood there’s a Harry (not Potter!) who knows all about your property. Borrow his tools for odd jobs around the house, but don’t listen to him when it comes to caring for your septic system. An experienced pumper will check a number of things to ensure that your system is operating as it should. Upon arrival, he will identify if there is a foul odor, which could mean the system is flooding, overworked, or clogged. He won’t say anything about this step unless a foul odor exists. Next, he’ll check the water level in your tank. High water levels may indicate that something is wrong with drainage, so he’d look for a clogged or broken outlet pipe. Then, he’ll make sure the tank’s baffles are in place. Finally, he’ll walk around the leaching field to make sure that the ground is not spongy or wet, and that there’s no high vegetation or grass in the area. Any of these are indicators of a problem in the leaching area.
John Murphy is owner of John’s Septic Solutions. He is a Title V inspector and expert pumper. If you’d like to talk to John about your septic tank, please call him at 978-587-1192 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org