With more homes relying on septic systems for wastewater treatment, it is important for homeowners to properly maintain their systems. A septic system is a serious long-term investment that requires regular care to function correctly and protect the environment and public health. Through proper maintenance of all system components, homeowners can prevent costly repairs and ensure their septic system lasts for many years.

What is a Septic System?
A septic system, also known as an onsite wastewater treatment system, is a underground collection of pipes, tanks, and soil absorption fields used to treat and dispose of wastewater on individual home properties. When plumbed correctly, a septic system receives all wastewater from sinks, toilets, showers, washers and more and treats it in distinct stages before releasing it into the soil. There are generally three main parts to a septic system:

1. Tank
The septic tank is a watertight container usually made of concrete, fiberglass or polyethylene. It collects and holds all wastewater from the home allowing solids to separate from liquids. Over time, solids settle to the bottom forming sludge, while grease and lighter solids float to the top as scum.

2. Drainfield or Absorption Area
The partially treated wastewater, or effluent, from the Septic Tank flows to a network of perforated pipes buried in stone trenches or a bed in the drainfield area. Here the remaining nutrients and germs are processed as the effluent percolates into surrounding soil biomedia.

3. Soil
The final treatment stage takes place as the effluent filters through at least 3 to 5 feet of unsaturated soil below the drainfield. Soil acts as a natural filter, removing any remaining contaminants through physical, chemical and biological processes before the treated water is absorbed back into the groundwater system.

Maintaining the Septic Tank
As the primary treatment component, a properly functioning septic tank is crucial. Solids must be retained to allow wastewater sufficient time to separate. Pumping the septic tank every 3 to 5 years is vital to remove built up sludge and scum which could enter and clog the drainfield if not addressed. Signs a tank may need pumping include:

- Slow draining toilets or drains
- Gurgling or bubbling sounds from plumbing vents
- Wastewater backing up into house
- Grass over the drainfield is unusually green or mushy

Homeowners should only use trusted pumping contractors who can vacuum out the entire contents, inspect the tank integrity and provide maintenance records. Avoid adding commercial septic tank additives which often don't improve treatment and could damage the natural digesting bacteria.

Caring for the Drainfield
As wastewater exits the septic tank it enters the drainfield for final processing into the environment. Several precautions can safeguard this vulnerable component:

- Do not drive or park vehicles over any part of the drainfield which could compact soils and impede drainage.
- Limit water usage from washing machines, dish washers and sinks during peak usage times.
- Only use biodegradable shower and bath soaps which don't produce sudsing agents that can damage soil microbes.
- Don't plant trees or shrubs with deep roots near the drainfield lines that may penetrate and disrupt the piping network.

Maintaining Healthy Soil Conditions
The capacity of soil to treat sewage depends on unobstructed bacteria activity, proper aeration and timely water absorption. Some best practices to promote thriving septic soil include:

- Have the drainfield area inspected regularly by a professional for soggy or cracked surfaces which may indicate a system failure.
- When surface vegetation dies or develops depressions, fill areas properly to maintain grade for effluent drainage.
- Consider having soil tested every 3 years to check pH levels and nutrient balances. Adjustments can avoid toxicity that stops microbial functioning.

Practicing Wise Water Usage
While wastewater contains essential nutrients for septic microbes, too much water entering the system at once can overload its ability to process effluent slowly through soil layers. Homeowners should strive to:

- Repair leaky faucets or running toilets that send excess water to the drainfield.
- Use high-efficiency toilets, showerheads, faucets and appliances rated for water conservation.
- Spread out water-intensive tasks like laundry, bathing or cleaning throughout the week instead of all at once.

Working with Professionals
Regular inspections, done by qualified septic inspectors or soil evaluators, can uncover problems before a costly system failure occurs. When issues are identified, licensed contractors have the expertise to determine the best repair or replacement solutions with minimum environmental impact. Creating a maintenance schedule and keeping records ensures no servicing is overlooked that prolongs the septic system lifespan.

With around a quarter of American homes using septic systems, their responsible upkeep helps safeguard both public health and local ecosystems. Homeowners who make it a priority to properly manage all facets of their onsite wastewater treatment have peace of mind their systems will continue supporting their households reliably for years to come. Proactive maintenance prevents catastrophes and helps more septic tanks function sustainably well into the future.



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