Conversation Starter: Know Your Septic System

Talking about your septic system may not win you a ton of friends at your holiday office party. Conversely, hearing someone else talk about it at your holiday office party may want to put you to sleep. Either way, the subject is one that needs to be discussed, maybe not in a festive environment, per say, but discussed, nonetheless. Talking about it, and knowing all that you possibly can about your septic system can reap immense long-term benefits.

Nearly one in four households depends on an individual septic system or small community cluster system to treat wastewater. Too often, though, these systems are installed and largely forgotten…until there’s a problem. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) concluded in a report dating back to the late 90s that “adequately managed decentralized wastewater systems are a cost-effective and long-term option for meeting public health and water quality goals, particularly in less densely populated areas.” The difference between failure and success is dependent upon how an effective wastewater management program is implemented. Such a program, if properly executed, can protect public health, preserve valuable water resources, and maintain economic vitality in a community.

However, even the most efficient septic tank systems require routine pump-outs to maintain proper functioning, and pump-outs should be done every three to five years. This will routinely remove the material that accumulates and prevent problems that can lead to complete septic system failure. Routine septic tank pump-outs, along with proper management by the homeowner, can greatly extend the life of an on-site septic system.

The EPA estimates that 25 percent of all homes nationwide are served by on-site septic systems, with “most septic system failures related to inappropriate design and poor maintenance. Some soil-based systems, with a leach or drain field, have been installed at sites with inadequate or inappropriate soils, excessive slopes or high ground water tables. These conditions can cause hydraulic failures and water resource contamination. Failure to perform routine maintenance, such as pumping the septic tank every three to five years, can cause solids in the tank to migrate into the drain field and clog the system.”

When buying a property that has a working septic system, learn all that there is to learn about it. Attend the seller’s Title V inspection or have your inspection and ask lots of questions about how the system works and how to best maintain it. If the seller fails the Title V inspection and they have to put in a new system before you move in, find out everything about the system they’re thinking of installing. Are they cutting any corners? If so, where? Would it be worth it to negotiate upgrades and fold them into your purchase agreement? Just because a homeowner passes Title V inspection doesn’t mean it’s a quality system that’s been installed. If you’re putting the system in yourself, don’t trust just anybody to install it. Again, ask lots of questions, do the research and weigh the good, the bad and the ugly of trying to cut costs.

Once you’ve got your septic system installed, maintaining it to get the most longevity out of it is key. Run through this septic tank maintenance check list to determine how healthy it is and how to keep it that way:

• Perform an inspection for leaks
• Have your septic system cleaning performed by an experienced, licensed septic contractor. As an added bonus, try to find one who provides free maintenance reminders, document retention and consultation. As an added added bonus, find one who offers Neighborhood Discount Programs.
• Conserve water whenever possible. Spread laundry out over the course of the week and be diligent in repairing leaky faucets and toilets.
• Know your septic system. Do you know its location and specifications? Do you know how to identify a serious problem occurring with your system?
• Keep an updated maintenance record for Real Estate transactions and improvements to your property
• Install effluent filter, locking lid and risers when necessary.

Septic systems as a conversation piece may not be a go-to, but knowing as much as you can about them can save you money and headache.

Story by Megan McClure

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