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Septic System Maintenance List: How to Keep Your Septic Tank Healthy

One of the most important elements of any residential property is the septic system. While many homeowners across the country have septic systems, not everyone is aware of what needs to be done to keep the system running properly. Some people are not even sure where the tank is located. This leads to issues within the septic system, possibly resulting in costly repairs.

The best way to keep your septic system healthy (and avoid those pricey repairs) is to perform regular maintenance. Proper septic system maintenance gives your system a lifespan of 25 to 30 years.

How Does the Septic System Work?

A septic system is comprised of a drain field and a tank. The tank takes in wastewater from the bathroom, kitchen, and laundry room, then separates the solid elements of the wastewater. Heavier solids sink down to form the sludge layer, while lighter solids and grease float to the top to form the scum layer. Water pushes through these layers into the drain field.

Over time, the scum and sludge layers are eaten by bacteria, preventing either layer from growing too fast. But the bacteria is not always able to keep up with the amount of wastewater being pushed into the tank, which causes elements to be pushed into the drain field. It is important that your tank is regularly pumped to prevent the scum and sludge layers from getting too high.

Maintaining Your Septic System

The best way to keep your septic system running properly is to have a professional inspect the system at least once a year. A professional is able to service your system and provide the care it needs, ensuring that everything runs smoothly. However, there are still things you can do to keep your septic system in tip-top shape.

  • Use high-efficiency appliances: The more water you use or waste, the more water goes through your septic system, which may cause issues. High-efficiency appliances reduce water waste and leave your system less vulnerable to drain field flooding.
  • Limit what goes in the system: Everything you pour down the drain or flush down the toilet goes through your septic system. Things such as grease and oil can clog your system, whether they're drained, flushed, or run through the garbage disposal. As a rule of thumb, you should avoid flushing anything that isn't toilet paper, pouring chemical drain openers down the drain, and putting coffee grounds or fats through your garbage disposal.
  • Maintain your drain field: It is actually quite simple to keep your drain field maintained. Keep plants away from the drain field, as growing roots have a habit of bumping into and interfering with septic systems. It is also recommended that you avoid parking over the drain field.
  • Pump your tank regularly: The recommended, standard timeframe to pump out your septic tank is every two to four years. This ensures that any solid materials have properly broken down and won't clog the drain field. Consistent and proper pumping increases the lifespan of your system and helps to prevent system failure.
  • Keep excess water away: You need to keep your drain field clear of just about any possible excess or obstructions. Additional drainage systems for things such as rainwater often cause excess water buildup near your drain field, which slows down the treatment process.
  • Save all records and reports: Every inspection of your septic system should include detailed reports on any existing or potential issues, as well as scum and sludge levels. Hold onto these reports so that any future repairs can be completed with ease.

How Much Does it Cost to Maintain Your Septic System?

The main cost to maintain your septic system is pumping it, which you should do every two to three years on average, but follow your provider's recommended schedule. You may also need to replace parts, such as the filter.

  • Pumping a small septic tank (up to 750 gallons) costs between $75 and $150
  • Pumping a medium septic tank (up to 1,500 gallons) costs between $200 and $400
  • Pumping a large septic tank (up to 2,500 gallons) costs between $500 and $750
  • Replacing the filter costs between $200 and $300
  • Replacing PVC pipes and fittings averages between $50 and $200
  • A new submersible pump averages between $300 and $500
  • If you have to replace the entire system, expect to pay at least $3,000 and up to $20,000, depending on size and conditions

Appliances and Your Septic System

The appliances that you use every day directly impact on your septic system. When used improperly, they may damage your system or lead to decreased efficiency and costly repairs. Appliances with a direct effect on your septic system include:

  • Garbage disposals: If you have a standalone septic system, it is recommended that you do not use your garbage disposal at all. Using the disposal increases the amount of solids that go through your system, building up the scum and sludge layers in your septic tank.
  • Hot tubs: Draining all the water from a hot tub at once is a quick way to damage your septic system. Instead, the water should be cooled and drained into areas of your property far from the septic tank and drain field.
  • Washing machines: As stated above, the more water you use, the more water that goes through the septic system. If you overload the septic system, the odds of it failing increase drastically. Because of this, it is recommended that you use high-efficiency washing machines and cut down on the number of loads you do in a day to prevent too much water from going through the system.