Although the majority of coastal homeowners are connected to public sewage systems, a large percentage of families live in rural or suburban areas that aren’t served by public utilities. When properly designed, sited, constructed, and maintained, septic systems can provide efficient wastewater treatment; however, homeowners often aren’t aware of the importance of properly maintaining their septic systems until a problem develops. Malfunctioning septic systems may endanger public health and the environment through the introduction of harmful bacteria into surface and ground waters, and fixing a problem can be much more costly than following a scheduled maintenance regime.
As household wastes from the kitchen, bathrooms, and washing machines flow through plumbing they settle into the septic tank, which is a water-tight sewage-collection system buried underground outside of the house. A typical household septic tank is between 1,000 and 1,500 gallons, depending on the number of people it serves. Septic tanks function by temporarily holding wastewater, allowing the solids to separate from the liquids, before allowing the treated wastewater to pass into the drainfield. The tank is designed so that only liquids can pass from the tank into the drainfield, but over time the solids in the tank build up reducing the amount of wastewater the tank can hold. Wet spots or standing water around your septic system, odors outside or inside your home, and sewage backups into your home are all symptoms that your septic system is not functioning properly.
There are many practical measures you can take to ensure your system operates efficiently for years to come. In order to prevent damage to your tank or drainfield, know where your system is located, and never park vehicles on top of it or allow heavy equipment to operate around your system. There is no need to add commercial septic tank treatments. There is no scientific evidence that additives are effective, and rather than worrying about adding treatments, being mindful of what you should not add to your system is a more practical approach. Never put harmful chemicals, such as pesticides, acids, or petroleum products down the drain. These chemicals interfere with the proper functioning of your system. Also, do not put grease, or solid materials down your drains. Some solid materials can clog your system and prevent it from functioning properly. The most important thing to remember is there is no substitute for following a scheduled maintenance regime. The best way to make sure a septic system is working properly is by having it professionally inspected every three to five years by a licensed professional.
For more information about septic tank maintenance visit the Alabama Cooperative Extension Service website www.aces.edu , and to locate a licensed septic maintenance professional in your area contact your local department of health services office.