Septic System Operation & Maintenance


Operation and Maintenance of Septic Systems

Septic systems have two primary functions – to clean domestic wastewater and to dispose of it. A properly designed and installed system should provide many years of use, but like anything, septic systems have limitations. Even the best system will fail over time and will fail prematurely if used improperly.
Septic systems are biological systems that depend on beneficial bacteria to breakdown and digest waste materials while removing harmful bacteria and viruses. Only bio-degradable wastes should enter the system – it is not designed nor intended to be a dumping station for the things that you do not know what else to do with! Do not put synthetic materials into the system! As soap, grease, oil, food waste, fecal matter and other solid wastes are flushed down the drain, they enter the septic tank and are retained there. The liquid effluent passes through to the pump chamber and is then pumped (dosed) into a drainfield where it is purified as it filters through the underlying soil. Over time, solids that are carried through the tank, dead bacteria and slime-mold clog the soil under the drainfield and limit its permeability. Eventually this clogging becomes so thick that the system will no longer drain properly, resulting in a discharge of sewage effluent to the ground surface or a backup into the house. Careful use and periodic maintenance can help insure a longer system life.
 We work jointly with Licensed Septage Haulers to pump and maintain your septic system.  See our Contact Page for a listing of recommended Pumping Contractors.



To help prolong the systems life, keep these things in mind

System Use

  • Minimize the amount of wastewater that enters the system. Practice water conservation – i.e. turn off the faucet while brushing your teeth. Repair or replace leaking fixtures with water conserving fixtures, reduce shower times, wash dishes only when there is a full load, etc. Do not allow water softener, air conditioner, dehumidifier or high efficiency furnace discharges to enter the system.
  • Spread out water use. Do a few loads of laundry a day rather than doing many loads in one day. Use a front-loading washing machine or one with a suds-saver feature. Use liquid laundry soaps.
  • Limit the amount of household cleaners, degreasers, disinfectants, etc. that enter the system. Do not use automatic toilet bowl cleaners or drain cleaners.
  • Do not allow paints, solvents, thinners, pesticides, poisons, acids, etc. to enter the system.
  • Do not put synthetic materials into the system, i.e. paper toweling, feminine hygiene products, disposable baby wipes, diapers, cigarette butts, condoms, etc.
  • Do not use a garbage disposal. Do not put food waste, coffee grounds, grease or oil down the drain.
  • Biological or chemical septic tank additives should not be used – they can actually harm the system.
  • Trees or shrubs should not be planted directly on the drainfield.
  • Traffic over the system (other than mowing) from automobiles, motorcycles, snowmobiles, etc. should be avoided. Soil compaction above the system will hinder aeration within the system and limit evaporation out of it. Traffic areas also increase frost penetration and can lead to freeze-ups.


 System Maintenance

  • The operating condition of the septic tank and pump tank should be assessed every two years (code requires a 3 year maximum maintenance cycle) by a certified sanitary waste hauler. The contents of the septic tank and pump chamber should be pumped out and disposed of at that time.
  • Septic and pump tank openings should be inspected for water tightness and soundness. Any opening deemed unsound, defective, or subject to failure should be replaced. Exposed openings need to be secured by a locking device to prevent accidental or unauthorized entry into the tanks. No one should ever enter a septic tank or pump tank without proper breathing apparatus, as dangerous gases may be present that can cause death.
  • The filter at the outlet of the septic tank should be cleaned yearly or as necessary to ensure proper operation.
  • All switches, alarms, and pumps should be tested to verify proper operation.
  • Observation pipes within the drainfield should be checked for effluent ponding. Ponding levels above 6 inches indicate an impending hydraulic failure and require more frequent monitoring.