All About Your Home Sewage System: A Complete Guide for Homeowners
You know all about the benefits of maintaining your home sewage system. But if you want to do it right, you need to start with the basics. And that means learning about how your home sewage system works, plus the dos and don’ts.
Every time you flush a toilet or use a sink, you’re creating sewage. If sewage isn’t properly handled and treated, it leads to all sorts of health and environmental risks.
For example, wastewater contains harmful bacteria that cause disease. E. coli and other coliforms that gain access to a water supply present a hazard to people and animals.
Wastewater also contains organics that bacteria break down, which deprives the contaminated water of oxygen. Low oxygen causes fish to die, often in large numbers.
These reasons are why it’s important to make sure your home sewage system is in working order.
Rural Vs. City
If you live in a large city, understanding your home sewer system isn’t a priority. Cities have wastewater systems in place to keep the public and environment safe. Taxes pay for the disposal of sewage.
In rural areas, it’s often too expensive to set up centralized sewage disposal systems. Either homes are to spread out or cities don’t generate enough tax revenue to pay for the initial setup and maintenance of wastewater facilities and infrastructure.
If you’re in a rural area, you’ll need an onsite septic system comprising of a septic tank and drain field.
Septic Tank Installation Factors
A septic tank is a large plastic, fibreglass, steel or concrete structure buried in your yard. The tank connects to your home’s plumbing and holds a few hundred to a few thousand gallons of water. The size of the tank you need depends on your home and how much water you use. Contacting a professional is the best way to determine your individual needs.
Other determining factors in regards to septic system selection are soil, space, and whether the soil type is suitable.
Soil testing tells a company how much water the soil holds and the speed in which water travels through the ground.
Evaluating space and limiting factors ensures that your septic system doesn’t cross over into someone else’s property. These steps also help determine the appropriate septic tank for the terrain, conditions, and where its location should be to maintain a long life.
How Septic Tanks Function
There are three layers in septic tanks. First is the scum layer. Anything that floats rises to the top, forming a layer above the water in the tank. Anything that is heavier than water sinks to the sludge layer at the bottom of the tank.
Between the sludge and scum is water containing nitrogen and bacteria.
Waste enters the tank through sewage pipes that connect to the sinks, toilets, and bathtub. There is also a vent pipe that rises above the house.
The vent pipe is what stops the odour from the septic tank from entering your home. The bacteria in the septic tank breaks down solid materials, creating a strong stench. All sinks have something called a P-trap, which is a loop of pipe that holds water and blocks gases from coming up through the pipes. The gases escape through the vent pipe instead.
New water entering the tank displaces water that is already there. The displaced water leaves the tank and enters the drain field.
Drain fields consist of perforated pipes that go into the ground, buried under gravel or other gravel-less technologies. The ground in the drain area absorbs and filters the water.
The size of the drain field depends on the type of soil. This is another reason you’ll need a professional installer or designer to run tests before installation. Clay, which absorbs water slower, requires a larger field than regular soil and would require specialized treatment.
There are a few installation rules that help ensure your septic tank lasts a long time and works the way it should.
First, the tank needs to be 1 meter away from the house. Also, make sure the tank aligns with where the discharge line leaves the house.
Place the tank where there is access from a driveway or an access road for cleaning and pumping. Most pump trucks have between 50-100 feet of hose. Make your tank accessible from that distance. You don’t want to place the septic tank under a road that sees high traffic. The constant pressure and shaking of the ground can damage the tank.
It’s easier to maintain a septic tank if the tank and drain field is close to the surface. The drain field is better at treating effluent if it’s shallow, this always gives more verticle separation from unknowns at deeper levels.
Placing your lift pump inside of your basement helps in numerous ways. The wastewater from the upper part of the house flows to the septic system using gravity. This setup is ideal during a power outage.
A basement lift pump also negates the need for a lift station to pump the effluent from your home. The pump also only turns on when using basement fixtures.
Last, the pump is easy to access for maintenance. If you have to hire someone to repair the pump, you’ll save money on labour if it’s easy to get to for the professional.
A tank that’s installed by a professional can last for up to 30 years, or sometimes longer. Proper maintenance extends a tank’s life and saves you money long-term. Here are some maintenance tips to help you prolong the life of your residential sewage system.
Have An Expert Inspect Your System Once A Year
Even if nothing is wrong with your septic system, a professional provides valuable information. The EPA recommends having your system pumped every three to five years. Sometimes, households need pumping services more often.
Your household size, amount of wastewater generated, the amount of solids in the tank, and tank size are all factors to consider.
A professional can give you a plan and head off problems before they cause septic failure.
Improve Your Water Efficiency
Toilets use 25-30% of a household’s water. Older homes often have toilets that use 3-5 gallons of water per flush. Investing in a new high-efficiency toilet that uses 2 gallons or less saves water and helps maintain your home sewage system.
New showerheads, sink faucets, and shower flow restrictors reduce the volume of water entering your septic system.
Washing machines are another source of wasted water. There are two ways that people use their washer incorrectly. The first is washing a small load of clothes on the high setting. You use more water than necessary, putting undue pressure on your system.
If your washer doesn’t allow you to select load size, only wash full loads.
The second mistake made is washing all your clothes in one day. It’s better to spread laundry out over the course of a week. Doing multiple loads in one day doesn’t allow your septic system enough time to treat wastewater. Without a break, your draining field could flood, causing damage to your home sewer system.
Your toilet isn’t meant to be a trash can. The only things that go down it should be waste and toilet paper.
Some of the items that people commonly flush down toilets that don’t belong are:
- cooking grease
- cigarette butts
- coffee grounds
- feminine hygiene products
- paper towels
- chemicals such as gasoline, antifreeze, pesticides, etc
- pharmaceutical drugs
Prescription drugs are especially damaging. Wastewater treatment facilities cannot filter the medication out of the water, and it ends up in streams and drinking water. Rural home sewage treatment systems face the same problem.
The prescription drugs that go into drain fields affect the soil and animals using the soil.
Sinks need protection as well. Remember that sinks and toilets link to the same sewage system. The kitchen sink tends to be a catch-all for waste.
Your septic system contains bacteria and organisms that break down waste and treats it. Pouring chemicals down your sinks harms this natural process.
If your drain becomes clogged, stay away from chemical solutions. Use a drain snake and hot water. If that doesn’t work, call in a plumber to fix the problem for you.
Don’t use your garbage disposal to get rid of leftover food items. While it might seem harmless, you’re putting too many organics that don’t break down into your septic tank.
Don’t pour cooking grease down the drain. Allow it to sit and congeal, and dispose of it in a trash can. Also, never put anything oil-based down the drain.
Protect Your Tank
Know the location of your tank and protect that area. Don’t plant anything that requires heavy irrigation or large plants on top of the septic area. Mark the area and don’t let anyone drive over it or operate machinery on top of it.
Keeping records of all service visits makes life easier on a technician. Having a verifiable history of service protects your system from unnecessary services, saving you time and money.
Make sure sump pumps and excess water drains are a good distance from your drain field. Excess water slows down the treatment process.
How To Choose A Home Sewage System Technician
If you need help with a damaged septic system, finding the right person to do repairs is essential. Here are a few things to look for when choosing a service company.
Social media and review websites are a great source of information when choosing a company. Look for information regarding the quality of their work, customer service, and whether they fixed any mistakes.
You aren’t looking for perfection, of course. Mistakes happen. You want to make sure that the good outweighs the bad.
If a company has four or five complaints out of 100 reviews, you’re on the right track. Look for patterns as well. If you see a lot of reviews that say a technician was rude or only did half the work, move on to the next company.
There are many reasons for septic tank failure. It could be that the tank is old and wasn’t maintained, but it could be a problem with the surrounding soil as well. Tank placement could also be the cause for premature failure.
An experienced company can identify problems faster, saving you time and money. They are also able to give you the advice you need to limit the chance that the same thing happens again.
Is It Their Job, Or Their Passion?
This criterium is a little harder to gauge, but there are clues to help you determine if someone is passionate about helping people.
First, contact the company to explain the problem. See if they seem engaged or are trying to push you into committing money up front. Check their website for information about repairs. Have they taken the time to inform potential customers about possible problems?
Is the company a family-owned business or part of a conglomerate? Family owned businesses tend to take more pride in what they do. Look at a company’s about me page to see what their beliefs are and how they describe the job.
Ask them questions when you contact them. Find out if they have the proper certifications to do the work you need. Feel free to ask them questions about experience, how they resolve issues, and whether they have insurance. Do they seem hesitant about giving you a straight-forward answer? Are they reflecting away from answering questions? It’s time to find someone else.
A Qualified And Passionate Company
We are a company that knows how to face challenges head-on. After immigrating from Europe in the 70’s, we settled in British Columbia and built GroundStone through hard work and love.
We love what we do. Supporting other local families and keeping their home and environment safe is our passion. Whether you need home sewage system repairs or a new septic tank, we will meet your needs.
Feel free to give us a call and talk to us. Whether you need information or are ready to make an appointment, we’ll always be glad to hear from you. We serve all of British Columbia and love to travel, so no matter where you are, we’ll come to you.