Many people mistakenly believe that caring for a septic tank is expensive. I’ve seen several people refuse to buy houses that they loved because they had septic tanks. There is an illusion (perpetuated by the people who want you to buy chemicals and have your tank pumped) that you have to buy all kinds of chemicals and have the tank pumped every year (or more often). The truth is that a well cared for septic tank is very inexpensive to operate and will save you tons of money over the years versus paying for a municipal sewer connection.
The first thing you have to know is what can go into a septic tank and what can’t. Solids are a no-no and this includes food waste (garbage disposals aren’t a good idea if you have a septic tank), anything that will become solid on contact with water (such as grease, glues, or cement products) feminine hygiene products and disposable wipes. Even if the products say they are flushable, they are not good for septic systems because they take too long to dissolve. You also want to avoid powdered detergents. Even if they say they are septic safe, you want to stick with the liquids because they dissolve faster and more completely. Finally, avoid harsh chemicals like bleach, drain cleaners, or solvents. These kill the good bacteria in your tank and reduce its efficiency.
Even things that are “okay” for a tank need to be used in moderation. You don’t want to put too much water down there at one time. Don’t do large amounts of laundry or dishes all in one day. Stop kids from constantly flushing the toilets. Too much water going into the tank at once can overload it and cause it to back up into your home. Be conservative with toilet paper, too. Don’t use wads of TP, and don’t let kids flush whole rolls down the toilet. If possible use a fast
dissolving or single ply brand as it will break down faster. Try to avoid the super thick, quilted brands as these will break down more slowly.
Some people will insist that you must use a chemical such as Rid-X to keep your tank healthy. This is not true. A properly functioning tank will function without the assistance of chemicals. The “good” bacteria in the tank reduce the solids into liquid which passes out of the tank and into the leach field. Chemicals and additives, even those that are supposed to be helpful, can alter the pH level in the tank and kill your good bacteria. Once you have no more good bacteria, your tank will no longer function and it will quickly fill with solids that cannot be decomposed, thus clogging up the tank. The best approach to keeping a tank healthy is to simply watch what you put in the tank and don’t overload it.
You also need to care for the leach field. Make sure you keep it clear of trees, as roots can grow into the pipes and clog blockages. Don’t drive over it, either, because you may damage the pipes or compact the soil so much that it clogs the pipes. You want to plant grass over the field or provide some other form of ground cover to prevent soil erosion.
As for pumping, opinions vary. Some experts recommend that you have it pumped every three to five years, depending on how many people are in your home. Others will tell you that you can go decades without pumping, as long as you take proper care of the tank. Ultimately you have to do whatever makes you most comfortable, but do have it pumped immediately if you see signs of trouble like water in the yard, a septic smell in the house, or water backing up into the house. Pumping typically costs between $100 and $300, depending on your location. It is expensive, but far cheaper than having an entire septic system replaced, which can cost upwards of $10,000.
Septic systems are not as expensive as people imagine them to be. They are far cheaper than municipal sewer service. A well maintained tank will last for twenty years or more and will incur only the moderate expense of pumping every few years. However, to ensure that the tank remains inexpensive, you need to care for it. The care you must provide doesn’t cost anything, but you must exercise some common sense and use care when choosing household products.
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