Many potential home buyers are put off by a house that is on a septic tank system. Perhaps they have heard horror stories from friends who have had unexpected and expensive costs related to septic system malfunctions. Most likely, they are simply unaware of the reliability and environmental integrity of modern systems. The following will help you understand the basics of septic systems and how routine inspection and maintenance can and often will save you money and headaches.
The Basic Components of Your Septic Tank
One of the most vital systems in your home is not extremely complex. Its basic design has stood the test of time and your system requires only a small commitment on your part to reliably dispose of your household waste. Each component has an essential role in the septic system:
- Plumbing Vent: Typically located on the roof, these vents remove sewer gases from your home and bring oxygen into your plumbing to help break down waste.
- Waste Pipe: This carries the water waste from your home to the septic tank.
- Septic Tank: Usually made of concrete, polyethylene or fiberglass, it is airtight and buried in the ground. It partially decomposes solid waste and prevents solid materials from going into the drain field.
- Drain Field: Also called a leach field, it is made up of a series of trenches with perforated pipe, septic rocks and mesh. It gradually releases wastewater for the final treatment by the soil.
Proper Septic Tank Maintenance
The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) states that a properly installed and sufficiently maintained septic system will provide reliable waste disposal for home owners. It is estimated that about 20 percent of U.S. households rely on a septic tank system. Of those, between 10 and 20 percent experience some interruption in their household waste disposal due to a septic system malfunction.
These septic tank problems can also lead to environmental pollution and contamination of ground water. Be sure to consult with a Certified PSMA Septic Inspector about how frequently your septic system should be inspected and pumped out.
You can also minimize the risk of septic tank problems with a few simple daily practices to protect the function of the overall system:
- Minimize water use. Promptly repair any plumbing leaks and do not run washing machines and dishwashers at the same time.
- Never put medicines or chemicals like disinfectant, oil, pesticides, gasoline, grease and anti-freeze in your drains.
- Do not flush any material other toilet paper. Items like cigarettes, sanitary napkins and baby wipes will clog lines and damage the drain field.
- Avoid driving or parking over your septic system. Anything heavier than a lawn mower can cause the system to cave in.
- Do not plant trees or shrubbery over your system. The food from fruit trees may be unsafe to eat. Roots and heavy trees can cause septic system failure.
Trust the Professionals
A thorough inspection that follows the NJDEP protocol will provide unbiased third-party counseling for you about needed maintenance or repairs. Service, septic repairs and replacement of components is costly. Rather than putting yourself at the mercy of contractors who also will be performing the services they recommend, it is a good idea to receive advice from septic system specialists who did not install the system and therefore do not have a conflict of interest.
With knowledge of how your septic system functions and with proper maintenance, you can feel confident that it will provide reliable service for the entire time you own your home. By incorporating some simple water-saving habits into your normal routine and being careful of what you send down the drain, you can minimize potential septic system problems and reduce the total cost of homeownership.