Septic System Maintenance Depends On Filters, Controls and…Education

Household septic systems will not work properly without sensible usage and maintenance on the part of the homeowner. Excessive water usage and dumping inappropriate, hazardous materials can greatly reduce the ability of the system to operate properly, and that can back the system up or clog the drainfield. Proper tank inspection and pumping every three years can assist in the longevity of a system, as well as ensuring that the system works properly. None of that matters, however, without proper education of how to properly maintain a septic system.

Gary Koteskey knows firsthand that education is the key ingredient toward maintaining septic systems and in preventing problems and failures. After 30 years of installing and servicing septic systems and 13 years as President of Sim/Tech Filters creating solutions for septic professionals, he also knows the importance of properly designed septic systems, “With a little education and the proper components installed in their system, the homeowner is assured that waste is being distributed evenly and treated properly. This gives them the peace of mind, knowing that they are not polluting their well, their neighbor’s wells or the nearby rivers and lakes.”

One of the more difficult points for Koteskey to get people to understand is what designates failure of a system. Homeowners often assume if the toilet flushes and sewage isn’t coming up in the yard, the system is working properly. The most dangerous failures in the long term are the systems that are failing under the surface, undetected. Plugged or obstructed distribution holes are a common cause of an undetected failure. Systems are designed to distribute a certain amount of water over a certain amount of time, and this flow rate varies depending upon the type of soil and the distance between the system and the groundwater. When the flow from some holes is reduced or completely blocked it creates an overload at the other holes. This situation can cause wastewater to reach the groundwater before it has had time to be properly treated. Systems that are disposing of wastewater, but not actually treating it, can pollute ground and surface waters for years before detection.

There are many links in the chain of education, legislators, regulators, manufacturers, engineers/designers, installers, service personnel, and homeowners. Despite improvements in education, with so many people involved in creating and maintaining a properly operating septic system, there are bound to be breakdowns in this chain. Koteskey sees many systems working during the initial install and properly treating the wastewater only a few years beyond that, and there are many septic system components that can act as a safety net to protect against system failure.

A gravity flow system, for instance, should have a gravity flow filter, and a pressurized system should have a pressure filter in addition to a gravity flow filter. Filters are a key to preventing distribution holes from becoming plugged from the inside. In pressurized systems, orifice shields are a must for preventing holes from being obstructed by the drain media.

Beyond just installing filters, the filters should be chosen for the proper filtration size and flow rate of the system. Orifice shields should be chosen based upon the orientation of the distribution holes, and they should have plenty of open volume and area for distribution.

Sim/Tech’s Float Tree System is a popular product for optimizing pressurized systems. A bracket holds a separate pipe that floats are then attached to by the company’s float holders. This system separates the floats from the discharge pipe, whereas, in the past, the entire pump had to be removed just to get to a simple float. Sim/Tech also offers simple J-hooks that assist in keeping wires untangled and out of the way, as well as for ease of servicing. The system is very easy to use and makes pump and float maintenance safe and efficient, “Most things we build are solving a problem. We all need to make solving our problems a focus of the industry, we can’t become complacent,” Koteskey says.

In addition to education, being proactive is another way for homeowners to keep septic systems working properly. Last year, Dave Couture, pump division sales manager for PolyLok in Wallingford, Connecticut, said he saw septic systems having alarms and monitoring systems installed proactively as a growing trend. This year, he says it is, in fact, a trend that is continuing, “The volume of alarms has increased over the last couple years.”

Couture thinks it a worthwhile investment since the cost of retrofitting a septic system or digging up a drainfield could cost the homeowner a tremendous amount of money. Without alarms, it’s impossible to tell if something’s wrong.

A drainfield can back up with washing machine fibers, waste or the field itself could simply be composed of bad soil material not optimally equipped to handle the waste. For that, Couture recommends installing a high water indicator to let homeowners know they’ve got a problem before it’s too late.

The PolyLok UV-1 is a UV system that kills microbes in waste before the waste goes out to a drainfield. “You don’t want kids or animals, or anything, really, playing on a drainfield with those microbes. They can get sick.”

PolyLok takes preventative measures one step further. They offer an alarm that can be installed on a septic systems’ filter. When the filter is 90 percent full, an alarm signals the homeowner to check the filter to see if it needs to be cleaned. That way, the drainfield won’t become oversaturated and waste won’t back-up into the house. Couture is seeing the responsibility of monitoring septic systems as another trend that is shifting, “More and more, it’s falling into the homeowner’s lap.”

Scott Sullentrup of Septic Services, Inc. in Union, Missouri has noticed that many homeowners are installing aerators into older septic tanks as another. He recommends the company’s MaxAIR 500, which, he says, “Puts the bacteria on steroids, more or less.” The submersible aerator is flood proof since it is designed to be fully submerged in the septic tank. It is also more versatile than other aerators because it can handle any climate. In a location such as Texas, for instance, where the climate is primarily warm, the system needs to work harder and may not work as long. Because the MaxAIR 500 is designed to be fully submerged, it can handle more varied temperatures and have a longer shelf life.

There are other aerators on the market, but Septic Services saw the opportunity to improve the design. The MaxAIR 500 has an impeller in the tank where with other, similar products, the impeller is exposed, increasing the potential for food and other solid substances to become jammed, and the system can then become backed up. Sullentrup says the aerator, when coupled with an effluent filter, can yield maximum results in terms of allowing for bacteria to eat through waste at a much quicker rate than if solids were left suspended in the tank. He is also seeing aerators as a solution to drainfield problems, which, as Couture and Koteskey stated before him, preventing problems before waste reaches its final destination is one essential ingredient in proper septic system maintenance.

Story by Megan McClure

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