Like most systems, a septic system is not a zero maintenance system. Just like any other installation or construction with some amount of complexity, there are a number of common septic system problems that can arise. Here we discuss the common septic system problems, and more importantly, their solutions.
A Functioning Septic System
Septic systems consist of essentially a large holding tank which is designed to hold human and organic waste material while it is being decomposed through natural bacterial action into its component gases, liquids and solids. The gases and liquids are continuously removed from the system through vents and tubes in the tank. The solids settle to the bottom of the tank and they are subject to periodic septic tank emptying.
Apart from human waste, septic systems and tanks are also expected to handle other kinds of wastes. These are the common waste that people flush down their kitchen sink, whether it be a small plastic cup, or a bottle cap that fell down the sink. Water from dishwashers and washing machines, which are laced with detergents, are also dumped into the system. Other objects that end up as waste in the septic system include paint thinners, solvents and even gasoline. These are biodegradable compounds that no amount of bacterial action will succeed in decomposing.
The following compounds are the root of the most common septic system problems:
- Excess water is not good for proper functioning of a septic tank. With excess water, solid wastes are not broken down enough before the level of waste in the tank rises high enough to reach the distribution tubes. The solids can then block the distribution tubes, which lead to the septic drain field.
- Detergents in the water mean that the septic tank will have phosphates, which encourage the growth of algae, which in turn can block the distribution pipes.
- Non-biodegradable waste in the tank will never get out of the tank naturally. The only way to get rid of them is to have them pumped out.
- Paint thinners and solvents are examples of chemical products that find their way into septic system, and which are toxic. From the septic system they are spread into the surrounding soil, which makes the soil unfit for organic and plant growth.
How to solve common septic system problems
The following are the ways in which the septic system problems outlined above, and other problems, can be solved:
- Reduce the amount of water that enters your septic system by using less water in washing your clothes. Try washing less clothes per cycle; spread the washing over many days.
- Shorten the duration of the showers that you take in your family; use “low flow” showerheads to use even less water. Dual flush toilets will also reduce the water that enters your septic system (if you are a little more earth-conscious you can even look into waterless composting toilets). The overall goal is to minimize the water that enters your septic system.
- Using gel or liquid soap in washing machines and dishwashers is a good idea. These types of soaps do not contain phosphates unlike powdered soaps.
- Do not allow non-biodegradable waste to enter your septic system. These include non-organic materials like tampons, diapers, paper towels, etc.
- Always keep toxic materials like paint thinners and solvents out of the system. They will destroy the surrounding soil, and will never be decomposed.
- Finally, every two to four years, you should have your system system pumped. This will ensure that your septic system has enough capacity to work properly.
Hopefully you will be able to use some of these solutions to avoid costly septic system problems in the future.