If you're getting ready to move from the city to a rural area, one of the changes to prepare for is life on a septic system. Unlike a municipal sewage system, a septic system requires maintenance, and because it's on your property, no municipal authority will do it for you.
If that information makes you stiffen your shoulders and clench your teeth, relax. Maintenance is easier than you think.
Septic System Basics
As a sewage treatment facility, the purpose of a septic system is to purify water from your drains and toilets sufficiently to allow it to return back into the water table from whence it came. The principle behind a passive treatment system -- which is the most common -- is simple.
Water enters a tank in which solids sink to the bottom, and greases and oils rise to the top. The water between the bottom sludge layer and the top scum layer is fed by gravity or a pump to a drainfield where it percolates into the ground, allowing the soil to purify it.
The tank is the heart of this system and needs TLC to remain healthy.
Know When to Pump
Septic professionals usually recommend pumping your tank every three to five years, but it really depends on what you put in the tank and how often you use it. You should conduct a simple test yearly to determine whether the tank needs pumping:.
- Tanks are usually buried, and if you don't know where yours is, consult your property map on file at the county office. You can also find it by excavating with a straightened coat hanger. You'll probably have to dig to find the cover.
- Insert a stick long enough to reach the bottom of the tank through the tank opening -- after removing the cover -- and pull it out to check the sludge level. It should be less than [one-third](http://www.nachi.org/inspecting-septic-systems.htm) the level of the entire contents of the tank. If it's any higher than that, it's time to get the tank pumped.
- Smells in the drainfield, standing water and unusually lush vegetation are signs of poor processing inside the tank. They are another indication that the tank needs pumping, but can also indicate ruptured baffles, which is most likely if you have an older system.
Locate the tank.
Check the sludge level.
Check the drainfield.
Watch What You Flush
* waxes * pharmaceuticals * metals * paints * oils * cigarette butts * coffee grounds * or cat litter.
Don't flood the tank: Large amounts of water flowing quickly into the tank from a draining bathtub or hot tub can force solid material through the outlet into the drain field. When you need to drain a large amount of water, it's best to do is slowly to give the tank time to handle it. In general, your tank will remain healthier if you conserve water.