Septic 101: Getting to Know Your Septic Tank

Even though you probably don’t notice your septic system all that often, it’s working for you each and every day.  Whether this is your primary or secondary residence, or even own it as rental property on the Outer Banks, getting to know your septic tank helps it work like a well-oiled machine.  Maintaining your septic system, means less worry about expensive, major repairs.  Here are a few tips to help you ‘get to know’ your septic:

Do you know where your septic system is?
This is a very important piece of information!  For some, it’s not so easy.  Here are some suggestions to help you find your septic tank cover:

  1. Your county probably has a permit filed with the date of installation and a diagram of the location on your property. If you can’t locate a permit, your home inspector likely has a diagram of it on the inspection report.
  2. Look for any high or low spots that may indicate a buried tank. Often times you’ll see a field of weeds with a low spot – that could be your tank lid.
  3. Your septic tank is installed along the sewer line from your home into the yard. Follow the line out into the yard.  They must be installed at least 5 feet away from the house, but most are more like 10-25 feet.
  4. Call a professional! A professional plumber or septic company can help you find it.  Removing a septic tank lid is a job for a professional that requires special tools, not to mention the risk of  breathing in unhealthy fumes or even falling into the tank – which can be very dangerous, even fatal.

Marking your septic tank location
Once you locate the tank, be sure to mark the spot (tie a ribbon around the nearest tree, post a spray-painted stick, 3-5 feet away, or if it’s in a more conspicuous part of your yard, consider this nifty cover). It’s also a good idea to take a picture or mark it on your house drawings.

Keep structures and other objects away from your tank or drain field
You never want to build or conduct any type of activity near your septic tank.  Although the system is under ground, movement on the surface can still have an impact on its function.

Regularly maintain your septic system
Routine maintenance for a septic tank is important.  Without it, repairs could be costly.  Depending on the size of your tank and the number of residents in your home, how often a septic tank should be pumped will vary.  Most recommend having it cleaned out every few years.  You can help maintain the health of your system by conserving water and keeping chemicals, coffee grounds, wipes, sanitary napkins, grease, oil, hair or harsh materials out of your drains and toilet.

Although most septic systems break down waste all on their own, additives (typically flushed down the toilet to get into the system) can be used to help accelerate the process depending on the load being placed on it.  There are various products on the market and can be found in most hardware stores, Home Depot, etc. to boost the bacteria.

Obviously repairs of any kind can be a real nuisance, but if you experience a clog, or even worse, an overflow, sewage can enter your home and your water usage will have to come to a halt.  This can be particularly inconvenient on a regular day, but even more so if you’re entertaining visitors or have tenants occupying the residence. An overflow can also damage the environment; the effluent (waste) is toxic and can contaminate nearby streams and even the groundwater.

Keep your septic ‘top of mind’
When everything is running smoothly, you don’t really think about your septic system … until something goes wrong.  Even though it’s out of sight, don’t let it be out of mind.  Make septic maintenance a priority on your list of home ‘spring cleaning’ items. Replace cracked or crumbling lids immediately, and have your septic pumped every few years. It will be much less costly than a new septic system or a major repair job.

Building a new house? Never try to install your own septic system!  It takes a professional and subject to code requirements – a DIY could end up costing you a fortune in the long run.