Septic System Maintenance for New Owners

For anyone purchasing or looking to purchase a home with a septic system for the first time, septic systems can seem scary. However, with 25% of American households relying on septic, individualized treatment systems are a very common and an easy to maintain household feature. This alternative to sewer allows a homeowner to control their water use and disposal. With regular maintenance and pumping, a septic system can last a lifetime.

Learn about the system
Before purchasing a home with a septic system any prospective buyer should be familiar with how septic systems work and their potential new home’s system type. A new homeowner should ask the seller of the home for any documents they may have on the system, the name of the previous service provider, and their permission to contact the provider. In the case that this information cannot be passed down, state and local governments will sometimes have records of permits, installations, and an as-built, or drawing of the system, to help the new homeowner. Additionally, there are many books and online resources available to learn how a system works. A recommended book is The Septic System Owner’s Manual by Lloyd Khan.

In some cases, a home may have a more advanced system, especially as state and local governments become more serious about clean water. Advanced treatment technology systems, or ATT systems, are becoming the standard. ATT systems involve an extra filter after the septic tank. This filter can vary from a sand filter, which looks like a large above ground sandbox that filters effluent, to a secondary tank with an aeration unit. In some states, ATT systems are required to have a contract with a septic service provider to provide maintenance to the system at least once a year. If a homeowner finds they have an ATT system they should check with the local and state government offices to make sure their system is being properly maintained, as these systems are expensive to replace.

Learn the condition
Inspections can provide very detailed insight into the health of your system. Like a yearly medical check-up, preventative care is the best maintenance you can do for your system. Performing a septic inspection before the purchase not only gives the homeowners a good look at how the system is performing but it can also help them make big decisions on what repairs are needed.
While some states require a Time of Transfer inspection, other states have virtually no rules. It’s best to take a look at your state and county government’s regulatory website to find out their rules on septic systems and septic inspections. If there are no rules or forms required for inspections, find a septic company that will pump out the tank to look at it’s inside condition and will also uncover at least the first distribution box (some systems have more than one). Taking a look at both of these working parts of the system can tell a homeowner if there are holes, root infiltration from nearby vegetation, or clogs that need to be fixed. New homeowners should keep all records of inspection and maintenance in a handy spot in case the system ever backs up or they decide to sell the home.

Learn how to care for the system
Knowledge is power and this is especially true for septic system owners. First homeowners should learn when they should have their system pumped. On average every 3-5 years is best but this can vary depending on a number of people living in the home and the size of the system. A local septic service provider can help homeowners find a more personalized time range.

Next, homeowners should take a look at their water usage and see if they can reduce any usage as this can help keep the system from being overloaded with water, especially if they live in a very rainy or wet climate. Jacuzzis, washing machines, and dishwashers can overload a system especially if used all in the same day. It’s best to space out laundry and dishes throughout the week to keep the system running smoothly.

Finally, homeowners should consider what they are putting down their drains. Garbage disposals can become a burden on the tank by adding too many solids. If anyone in the home is using regular medications, for example, chemotherapy drugs or antibiotics, this can hurt the tank’s naturally occurring good bacteria and cause the tank to not break down solids properly causing potential failures in the drain field. The best way to work with added solids or medications to the tank is to pump more regularly.

Armed with all the information they need, new homeowners can make their system work for them. While owning a septic system for the first time can seem daunting there are many resources to help homeowners learn all about their new system. Regular pumping and maintenance from a qualified septic service provider is the key to making sure their system is working properly and will last a long time.

This article was originally published in December 2015 by Speedy Septic on the Angie’s List Experts Blog.