A Guide to Basic Maintenance on Septic Systems

Part of being a homeowner is maintenance. Unfortunately a lot of homeowners forget about the maintenance on their septic systems. Here in Wisconsin, homeowners are reminded every 3 years to have their system pumped and inspected. But what can be done between pumpings to keep the septic system in good shape?  Here are some tips:

Beware of excessive water use or leaky fixtures. The more the system has to work to keep up with a home’s usage, the quicker it will need attention.

Some clean-water source hookups, such as the sump-pump, can be routed away from the septic. But make sure it doesn’t dispense near the drainfield, adding unnecessary saturation to that area.  Keep down-spouts away from this area as well.

Be aware of improper landscaping around the tanks and drainfield.  Contact a local knowledgeable landscaper and/or septic service company for suggestions on this.

Avoid excessive use of anti-bacterial cleaners and strong chemicals that find their way down the lines in the sinks, tubs, and toilets.  These affect the healthy bacteria in the septic system that it needs in order to do its job.  And also realize that medications affect the septic system too.  Using a bacterial additive for the system can be very beneficial in these situations.

Keep up with regular maintenance by a licensed pumper. They should be emptying the tanks and looking over all the components, including the drainfield or mound, to make sure all looks good.


Renting a Home With a Septic System

Less traffic, more privacy, peace and quiet… and extra costs???

If you are looking to rent a home in the country — that is, away from city water — you are probably looking forward to a little more privacy and peace.  However, please keep in mind that a home away from town needs to have its own septic system or holding tank.  Be aware of this and ask your potential landlord what the arrangements will be when it comes to maintaining the system. 

If the home has a septic system (conventional, mound, etc.), it will have to be pumped every few years.  Who will pay for this service?  You or the landlord?  If problems arise and the system needs to be jetted or even replaced, how much of that cost are you responsible for?

Or if the home has a holding tank (a tank that “holds” the solid waste and water from the house) it will need to be emptied rather frequently, perhaps monthly depending on the household’s use.  Again, does the landlord expect the renter to pay for this service? 

Ask your landlord ahead of time!  Don’t go into a renting agreement without knowing this information!  It may mean extra cost that perhaps you now need to consider.  At the very least, when it is time to be pumped, your local pumper will appreciate knowing when you call from whom they will be receiving payment.

And ask them to show you in the yard where the covers are for the tanks!  This is good basic information to know. 

A Few Basics to Septic Systems

If you are a new homeowner, just moved away from city-sewer, or want to educate yourself on your system, here are a few basics to help you out:

  • Learn the location of your septic tank and drainfield, especially if your cover is underground.  If that’s the case, it will need to be dug up before your pumper comes.  (You can have risers installed to alleviate this problem.)
  • Your state may require that your system is pumped and/or inspected within a certain amount of time.  For example, here in Wisconsin, the requirement is every 3 years.  That maintenance is overseen by each county.  Any good local septic service will be able to explain how your county handles that requirement and what you will need to do as the homeowner.  However, each system is different and it may be wisest to pump more often.
  • Keep your system “healthy” by cutting back on antibacterial and antimicrobial cleaning products in the kitchen and bathrooms.  Using a monthly bacterial additive can also help in this matter.
  • Whenever you suspect a problem with your system, do not hesitate to call a professional.  Don’t try to fix it yourself.



Fabric Softeners: Friend or Foe?

Perhaps you’ve seen the influx of information out there about fabric softeners and their toxicity.  Have you stopped to wonder if they are also dangerous for your septic system?  Here’s something to consider: the chemicals used in these household products can kill the beneficial bacteria in your septic tank.  Not sure if you can live without the extra softness in your clothing and towels?  Try using half a cup of white vinegar (grain-derived, not petroleum-derived) per load during the rinse cycle.  This acts as a natural fabric softener.

And remember there are ways to jump-start that beneficial bacteria in your system!  Just ask us which bacterial additive we recommend and how you can get a free sample!

Why should I install risers on my septic?

Installing risers on your underground septic cover will obviously save you a lot of time and effort digging it up when pumping or other work is needed. Homeowners may not know where their covers are and go to great lengths searching for them. This may not seem that inconvenient in the summer months, but it is very difficult in the winter. All too often, people experience septic back ups and other problems when the ground is frozen solid. Not only do they have to experience the stress of a backed up septic, but it tends to be very time consuming and costly to thaw the ground and access that cover, which is essential to fixing issues. Installing risers can save all of these headaches.   riserafter2

Some are concerned that risers are an unattractive addition to their yard, but there are many options to beautify it. Poly plastic covers are dark green and can easily blend into the surrounding greenery. The risers can be covered with fake rocks, landscaped around and even painted! There are many possibilities. Call us today to set up an installation!

Can my system still have root problems in the winter?

Yes. It is strange to think that even though a tree doesn’t appear to grow in the cold winter months, the roots still do. In fact, they search for warm areas like your septic lines. Fortunately we are still able to treat these issues in the winter. The trusted product we use for roots, RootX, is effective 365 days a year. Whether it is your drainfield or city sewer line that is having root problems in the cold, we can help.

Will my water softener hurt my septic system?

A recent study showed that when your water softener is set to an efficient salt setting, it should not harm the septic system. It is recommended to keep the softener at a setting to use less salt, or update to more efficient technology. Extra salt in your septic system can increase your possibility for problems. Some plumbers have found emulsified grease in tanks and eroding concrete due to acidity from too much salt. As always, good maintenance can prevent many problems! When we pump out your septic, we are always looking out for potential issues so we can alert you before a problem arises.

Septic System Myths

Myth: “My neighbor/ friend/ etc. hasn’t had their septic pumped in 20 years! I don’t need to have mine pumped so often.”

Fact: These are VERY rare cases, when all conditions are perfect. Just because their system has had such good fortune, doesn’t mean yours will! Good maintenance is to pump every 1-3 years and add bacteria for a safe and problem free system. The State of Wisconsin does require pumping every 3 years.

Myth: Adding yeast to the septic will help prevent problems.

Fact: While yeast does help to break down a small percentage of waste (starches only), it will not help with the majority. In addition, it does not actually produce good bacteria, which aids in the liquefying process. So yeast may help in a small way, but is generally not worth the effort.

What causes odor in the “house” that smells like my septic tank?

  • Your roof vent that vents your plumbing could become plugged with leaves, debris, or snow in the winter. Check to see if it is clear.
  • Check your vent(s) on your drainfield for your septic system. Be sure they are free from plants, leaves, debris or snow.
  • Take a look at all your sinks and drains in the house and be sure to run water through them periodically, especially if they are not used often. The water that settles in the traps can evaporate and allow odors to come through.
  • OR you could have a septic system problem! If you have tried the above mentioned things, call us to check out your septic system!