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How to Maintain a Septic System

Last modified: 2022-11-21 | Approximate reading time 4 mins

Cynthia Pigeon

Do you live in a rural area or have a summer house with a wastewater disposal system that isn't connected to your local water systems? If so, you probably have a functioning septic system in place.

And since you want to adhere to the best practices to prolong the lifespan of your fixtures, and avoid equipment failure, you might need a few tips down the line.

Your on-site sewage disposal is made with PVC pipes that carry waste from your home to a tank buried on your property (your septic tank), which is connected to a disposal field. The disposal field system filters out pollutants, allows gases to safely evaporate through vents, and returns treated water to the ground.

Whether you have a conventional on-site disposal system or an advanced one, sooner or later, you'll need to grasp the basics of unclogging a pipe, pumping out sludge, cleaning a pre-filter, replacing a vent, and so on. Your safety and the longevity of your septic tank will depend on it. In a nutshell, it's your responsibility as a homeowner, such as stated in Quebec’s regulation on the disposal and treatment of wastewater from isolated dwellings.

For a properly functioning septic tank to last as expected (15 to 25 years), you need to keep it in good working condition. A poorly maintained septic tank can clog, collapse, cause diseases (to humans, wildlife, or plantlife), contaminate soils, or cause other serious problems.

To prevent these problems from occurring, drain your tank and have the entire system inspected every 2 years (if used on a regular basis). If your tank is located at your chalet, for example, where the influx of wastewater is minimal, plan to have it serviced every 4 years.

Septic System: Basic Maintenance Tips

septic tank maintenance

Source: Flickr

Having a septic tank requires one to be a little more diligent about water use and waste disposal. Septic systems are more prone to damage than city sewer systems. Many substances can't be broken down by the enzymes and bacteria in your tank; these substances can eliminate the bacteria needed to treat the wastewater and even clog your system. So, here are some tips to follow:

  • Reduce your water consumption by installing, for example, low-flow faucets, showerheads, and toilets. Also, fix all leaks.
  • Use single-ply tissues and toilet paper; some are specifically septic system-friendly.
  • Don’t dispose of grease, oil, or food waste via your pipes, or at least as little as possible, to avoid overloading your septic system. For the same reason, avoid using your kitchen sink’s garbage disposal. Furthermore, it’s best to simply compost food waste to supplement your garden soil. 
  • It is sometimes forbidden, and may be dangerous, to dispose of some items via a channel that leads to your tank: fabrics, bleach, paint, aerosols, glues, solvents (in other words, flammable materials), cigarette butts, medications, cosmetics, drain cleaners, antibacterial soaps, and feminine hygiene products (tampons and sanitary napkins).
  • Beware of products marketed as being miraculous and removing the necessity to empty your septic tank every two years.
  • Hire a specialized septic tank maintenance company; the experts at hand have the right equipment and insurance to carry out the work, and offer inspection and advice.

septic tank

Source: Depositphotos

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Septic System: Additives and Enzymes

Biological additives (bacteria and enzymes) are marketed to improve septic tank and disposal field conditions, or to treat sludge and biomass build-up problems.

Several studies conducted between 2005 and 2020 have shown that additional bacteria or enzymes don’t actually have any measurable beneficial effects on the overall performance of a well-maintained septic system. If anything, adding extra microorganisms could potentially clash with the naturally occurring bacteria, competing for organic matter and oxygen to maintain the bacteria. Ultimately, the use of these additives will actually reduce the efficiency of the system. Generally speaking, it's enough to follow the above-mentioned tips to keep your system performing at optimum levels.

On the other hand, these sorts of products could be beneficial in the event that plant life in your tank has somehow been destabilized due to unwanted materials such as antibacterial soaps, pesticides, pharmaceuticals, and so on. So, it might be worth giving nature a helping hand.

In an interview with Grey Scarrot, an expert with Bio-Sol, several things were confirmed:

  • The difference between bacteria and enzymes resides in their individual functions: enzymes will break down organic matter for bacteria to consume easily.
  • A 454g-bag of bacteria retails for about $18 before taxes.
  • Before buying anything, check with the manufacturers or with your septic system maintenance experts; enzymes and bacteria have several specific categories and they don't necessarily break down the same waste materials (urine, starch, blood, vegetables, etc.).

PVC pipes

Source: Flickr

Maintenance Steps for a Septic Tank

  1. First, ensure that your systems are accessible to you and to septic trucks.
  2. The first thing to consider is the condition of the covers and insulation boards, to replace any missing or damaged bolts. 
  3. Next, with a sludge judge, measure the sludge level. If the height surpasses the tank’s halfway point, it’s time to drain and clean it. 
  4. To do so, water will be pumped out and stored in a section of the specialized truck to allow sludge and grease to be extracted. 
  5. The pipes, filters, and tanks will be cleaned. The smell which emanates from the septic tank may take a while to dissipate; it usually depends on what’s found inside the tank. Thoroughly clean the pre-filter to avoid unpleasant odours. 
  6. An inspection will follow to detect any cracks or other damages/anomalies to the system as a whole. 
  7. If everything is as it should be, the technical team will restore all the components, pump the water back in, and ensure the tank is functioning properly.

The cost of maintaining a septic system depends on a number of factors, including the type and age of the system, your area, land accessibility, and the company you hire. 

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