Homeowner's Guide to Septic Systems

Septic tanks are a relatively inexpensive way to treat household sewage. Most of them are designed to last 15 to 20 years. Nonetheless, because they lie underground, it can be easy to take them for granted and neglect inspections until something is visibly wrong. By this time, damage could be widespread and need expensive repairs. Reduce the likelihood of this happening to you by learning the basics of septic tank care.

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How Septic Tanks Work

Septic tanks are buried close to the surface of the ground somewhere near the home. Wastewater from bathrooms, kitchen appliances and washing machines flows into the tank through pipes. Over time, naturally occurring bacteria break down a portion of the sludge —solid waste that sinks to the bottom of the tank— and scum —grease and light solids that float on the surface. Then, remaining wastewater moves through a pump or pipe into the drainfield, a series of filters and gravel that further treat the water before it enters the soil.

Ways to Care for Your System

Here are some habits you could develop to help prolong the life of your Gainesville septic tanks.

Be Wise With Water

If you are not already trying to conserve water for environmental and financial reasons, you may want to start doing it for the health of your septic system. If too much water flows into the tank before solids have had time to degrade, the solids will be pushed into the drainfield, which could result in clogs, drainfield damage or groundwater pollution. To prevent overwhelming the system, avoid using the dishwasher and washing machines at the same time, spread laundry sessions throughout the week and wash full loads. Quickly repair any leaky faucets and toilets, and try to install low-flow fixtures on faucets and shower heads.

Flush Responsibly

Refrain from flushing down the toilet anything that does not degrade easily or could be thrown into a trash can. This includes diapers, paper towels, sanitary napkins, tampons, condoms, unwanted medications, cigarettes, oils and personal hygiene products.

Keep Accurate Records

Inside the house, have a detailed diagram of the system’s location and keep records of maintenance sessions, repairs or replacements for your own reference or future owners.

Perform Annual Inspections

Certified professionals can help you with septic tank cleaning, pumping and repairs. Technicians can check the levels of solid waste in the tank and determine whether it needs to be pumped. In general, tanks need pumping when the bottom of the scum layer is within three inches of the bottom of the outlet device that conducts the wastewater to the drainfield and/or when the top of the sludge layer is within 12 inches of the bottom of the outlet. Professionals recommend scheduling a pumping session every three to five years.

Direct Runoff Away From System

Especially after it rains, make sure water from roofs, driveways, patios and streets does not flow into the area where your septic tank and drainfield are located.

Make Lids Accessible

Have risers installed to make septic tank inspection and pumping visits easier, quicker and less messy or disruptive. Grass is the best cover for a tank, but you could also use other plants with very shallow roots. Avoid covering the tank with concrete, asphalt or plastic because they prevent oxygen from getting into the soil and allowing bacteria to break down the sewage.

What Not to Do

Use The Garbage Disposal

Solids and grease from garbage disposals can build up quickly and clog the drainfield or require more frequent pumping of the tank.

Pour Household Chemicals Down The Drain

The harsh chemicals in paints, cleaning supplies, motor oil, pesticides and beauty products can destroy the bacteria needed to break down the solid waste inside the system.

Drain Water From Hot Tubs Or Swimming Pools Into The System

Large volumes of water can drown your drainfield, and chlorine can destroy important bacteria in the system. After using bathtubs, wait for the water to cool and then reuse it to water the lawn or for other household chores instead of draining it.

Enter The Tank

Poisonous gases and the lack of oxygen can be fatal. Any work to the tank should be done from outside. If you need help, contact a professional.

Put Weight And Traffic On The Drainfield

Avoid placing vehicles, porches, storage sheds, sports courts, heavy equipment and grazing animals on the ground on top of the septic tank and drainfield. This can help prevent soil from being packed down and pipes from breaking. Do not plant a garden or construct buildings or pools near the septic system without checking with the health department first.

Signs that Your System Is Struggling

Pay attention to your home’s plumbing fixtures and the ground surrounding the tank to look for signs that you may need septic tank repair. These include:

  • Water backing up into sinks, toilets, bathtubs and laundry machines
  • Unpleasant smell in or around the house
  • Gurgling sounds heard when running water or flushing toilets
  • Depressions forming in the soil
  • Patches of unusual puddles and sogginess
  • Grass that is deeper in color over the septic system area

Septic Tank Services in Gainesville, FL

Jones Plumbing & Septic Tank Service has more than 30 years of experience providing septic tank services in Gainesville and surrounding areas. Contact our team today for proper septic system maintenance that will help your home or business thrive.