Septic Systems

What Is a Septic System?

In areas where there are no city sewers, homes and businesses have an on-site sewage disposal system installed. This buried sewage system typically consists of one or more septic tanks and pipes that are lying in gravel and covered with sand. The process of the wastewater (called effluent) filtering down through the gravel and sand removes harmful bacteria, viruses and nutrients.

To locate an existing septic system on your property, you may have to contact a local health department’s environmental health office. You may have also received information when you purchased or built the home with a drawing showing the location of the septic tank and septic system. Another option is to contact a local septic pumper or a certified septic system inspector who can assist with finding the system and tank.

What Is an Effluent Filter?

Septic tanks are designed to retain solids that accumulate over time. Some of these solids are byproducts of the waste treatment process, while others are materials that may not be capable of being processed, such as human hair. It is important that the solids are retained in the septic tank and not released to the drain field. Excessive discharge of solids to the drain field can cause it to plug and lose efficiency in treatment and dispersal of the normal liquid flow. If the problem persists, the drain field may need to be replaced.

Septic tank effluent filters provide a relatively inexpensive way of preventing solids discharge into the septic field. They are usually installed at the outlet of the septic tank, collecting solids that may be discharged from the tank. If the septic tank is maintained properly, including frequent inspection for solids accumulation and removal, a filter may not be necessary.

If you are considering using a septic tank effluent filter, check with your local public health authority to find out the requirements for installation and use. Some authorities may require certification to NSF/ANSI 46: Evaluation of Components and Devices Used in Wastewater Treatment Systems.

For a list of NSF-certified septic tank effluent filters, please visit the NSF wastewater products database.

How to Maintain Your Septic System

By properly using your septic system, you can avoid pricey replacement costs. By keeping large objects and food waste out of your system, you can maintain the tank’s natural bacteria balance and keep it working for a long time. Things you should not put down your drain include: feminine products, cooking grease or oil, cigarette butts, coffee grounds, dental floss, cat litter, paper towels or personal hygiene wipes, prescription medicines, excessive food waste in a garbage disposal, paint, solvents, toxic cleaners, toys and anything too large to flush. Remember that the bacteria in the tank and septic system are there to digest and treat the wastewater from your home. Proper care and attention can keep the system working properly.

Water from your home such as leaky toilets, old or dripping faucets and water softeners can create septic system failure over time. This slow dripping of water into the septic system can cause overload and flooding. To prevent this, check for leaks and repair them. Ask your local authority or health department if water softener water can be discharged to the ditch or ground surface as an alternative to your septic system. You can also replace your fixtures and appliances with WaterSense® certified or low water use parts to reduce the total amount of water going into your septic system.

Septic systems and tanks typically have a maintenance schedule that is required to keep the drainage in proper working order. Septic tanks are recommended to be inspected within three to five years of moving into or building your home and thereafter as recommended by the septic tank pumper. Timing for pumping out the tank depends on household size and the amount of wastewater generated.

Dos and Don’ts for Septic Systems

  • Do pay attention to when your septic system is draining slowly. There may be an issue and it is time to do some maintenance.
  • Don't use the garbage disposal as a dumping ground for food waste, grease, oil, cleaners, paint or other solid items.
  • Do find a record of where your septic system and tank are located on your property. Knowing where the system is allows you to visually inspect it to see if it is overloaded and flooding your yard.
  • Don't forget to have the tank inspected and pumped out if the sludge waste is within 6 inches of the outlet of the tank. The solid waste in the tank cannot go into your septic system and should be removed from the tank by a professional licensed septic tank pumper.
  • Do remember to fix leaks and replace appliances and fixtures with low water use ones that can promote the longevity of your septic system.