Septic System Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What is a Septic System and what does it do?

A septic system typically consists of two components: a septic tank and a leaching field. This system collects and processes wastewater and greywater from your residence before safely dispersing it into the environment (and the surrounding water table).

Do I have a septic system?

Approximately 1 in 4 homes in the United States utilize a septic system or cesspool. If you reside in a major city or if your home is connected to the municipal sewer, it’s likely you don’t have a septic system. On the other hand, living in a rural location or a smaller town increases the chances of having one. In many U.S. states, before selling their property, homeowners are mandated to ensure their septic systems are in proper working condition. If you’re uncertain about your system, your local town hall might have the information you need.

Where is the opening to my Septic Tank?

If you need to clean your septic tank, addressing this is crucial! The process can be challenging since the access point is often buried several feet underground. I’ve personally experienced the hassle of digging multiple holes in a yard, hoping to locate the septic tank. If you possess a septic system but are unsure of its location, check the paperwork from when you acquired your home. There might be a map included by the previous owner. If you can’t find one, could you contact the former owner? Alternatively, you might consider reaching out to various septic service providers in your area to identify any that might have serviced your property before you took ownership.

How often does my Septic Tank need to be cleaned?

The frequency with which you should clean your septic tank hinges on several variables, such as the number of residents in your home and the size of your septic tank. Typically, the range is between 1 to 3 years. Many homeowners opt to clean their septic tanks biennially; maintaining this consistent routine aids in preventing issues.

Why should I bother cleaning my Septic Tank?

Consider the volume of wastewater generated in your home. This includes water from the toilet, and the runoff from cooking, cleaning, and even operating the garbage disposal. This water contains remnants like food particles, grease, and other unsightly things we’d rather not think about. Over time, some of this debris settles at the bottom of the tank or floats near the surface, reducing your septic tank’s capacity and potentially raising your water bill.

What is the lifespan of my Septic Tank?

The durability of a septic tank can vary based on several factors, including its material and the conditions it has faced over time. Commonly, septic tanks are constructed from steel, concrete, or plastic. Here’s a breakdown of their average lifespans:

  • Steel Septic Tank: 20 to 30 years
  • Plastic Septic Tank: 40 years
  • Concrete Septic Tank: Over 40 years

These estimates assume regular maintenance has been conducted. Factors such as avoiding overloading with excessive groundwater, refraining from introducing harmful chemicals, and having a smaller household can potentially extend a tank’s life beyond these averages.

However, it’s rare for even well-maintained concrete tanks to surpass fifty years, though there are exceptions. It’s advisable not to presume your tank is one such exception without a professional assessment.

Generally, a well-maintained septic tank should serve you for at least 20 years. With proper care, many last upwards of 30 years. However, other considerations might influence its longevity.

Can I use Drano if I have a Septic System?

Pose the question to ten people about the optimal approach to unclogging a sink or toilet, and you’ll likely receive a plethora of varied solutions. For those using septic tanks, there’s the added concern of how the chosen method might disrupt the bacteria in their system. Amidst such concerns, myriad conflicting opinions and information arise. Is employing Drano safe for septic tanks? And what of alternatives like dish soap, vinegar, or chemical solutions purported to be gentler than Drano?

Though Drano’s product labels and official website assert its safety for septic systems, many experts express reservations. One such expert, Craig Mains, an Engineering Scientist at the National Environmental Services Center, firmly advises against using commercial chemical solutions for homes with septic tanks. He elucidates that these systems depend on beneficial bacteria and other microbes to break down the organic materials in wastewater. Strong chemicals can jeopardize these microorganisms, hampering the system’s functionality. If solutions like Drano are unsuitable, what are the alternatives for septic system homeowners? Often, a basic plunger suffices. For bathtubs with overflow holes, ensure it’s covered with a cloth before attempting to plunge. If unsuccessful after multiple plunger attempts, Mains suggests a concoction of equal parts baking soda and vinegar, followed by two quarts of boiling water. After letting it sit for approximately fifteen minutes, flush it with ample water. Some commercial products claim to be eco-friendly, but they tend to be more aggressive than the natural mix and not necessarily more effective, leading Mains to advocate for the latter.

Additionally, homeowners might opt for a drain auger or snake, used either pre or post-the baking soda-vinegar treatment. These tools aim to physically dislodge obstructions, and they can be especially effective on grease, oil, or human waste. Irrespective of the clog’s location—be it kitchen drains, bathtubs, showers, sinks, or toilets—the techniques remain fairly consistent. Although kitchens frequently contend with oil and grease clogs, which may necessitate a distinct approach, the remediation is consistent. Moreover, homes with young children might occasionally face blockages due to toys in toilets, a problem absent in standard drains.

Adopting preventive strategies can reduce or even negate the need for unclogging endeavors. For instance, employing strainers in tubs or showers can intercept hair, and refraining from disposing of oils and grease down kitchen sinks is advisable. Instead, store such substances in a sealed container for regular trash disposal, and consider wiping pans with paper towels, which can then be discarded conventionally.