Far too often, many homeowners with septic systems take an “Out of sight, out of mind” approach to their system and its maintenance! Systems are stashed away underground, and until the system either shows signs of failure, or completely breaks down it can be easy to forget about.
Lack of proper maintenance is the major reason septic systems fail.
Your septic system works by allowing waste to flow from the septic tank, where the solids are separated from the liquid, through the leach field where it seeps into the soil. The most common problems which occur in a septic system generally involve either a backed up drain field, or a clogged septic tank.
Sludge and Scum Build Up: Sludge build-up can cause poor functioning and clogs in septic systems. It is a given fact that sludge builds up in all septic tanks. This sludge is the incomplete decomposition of human waste and other organic and non-organic matter deposited into your septic system. In a well maintained system, the anaerobic enzymes break down the sludge and bio material into compounds that bacteria then digest and convert into liquid effluent. As well, other enzyme and bacterial processes convert much of the organic material found in the scum layer into additional liquid effluent. A lack of these enzyme/bacteria combinations allow the scum and sludge layers to build up and clog the septic tanks drain line, causing sewage back up into the home.
Clogged Leach or Drain Lines: The entire septic system is built around the simple principle of capturing waste, separating solids from liquid waste for bacterial digestion, and moving the liquid to the drain lines for absorption by the soil. This free flow of liquid through the system is vital for it to function correctly. When sludge, scum or non-organic solids are forced into the drain lines or leach field, they can and will build up, clogging the lines. Solids and other material that enter the leach or drain system before being converted to liquid form will plug the drain pipe holes, or congeal in the surrounding soil, effectively sealing the waste inside the system causing it to fail.
An Overloaded Septic System: Most septic tanks are designed to handle a specific amount of waste in a given period of time. Adding too much waste water into the system at one time or, over a short period can flood a septic system. Excessive water and waste from toilet flushing, dishwashers, and washing machines can fill up the drain lines and septic tank faster than the leach field and soil are able to absorb them. When this occurs, the drains and toilets will back up in the home and hazardous waste water may even begin to pool above the ground. As well, a large amount of waste water entering the septic tank at one time can act to stir up the untreated sludge and scum, and force the clogging material out into the drain lines with the excess liquid. This, of course, leads to clogged lines and problems.
Garbage and Non-Biological Waste: Any materials that cannot be decomposed by the microbes in the septic tank should never enter the system. Caustic chemicals and excessive use of anti-bacterial cleaning products can cause the healthy biological process in the tank to stall or fail. Cigarette butts or feminine napkins will accumulate in the tank or worse yet, flow through to the drain lines and clog them. Grease and oils add to the scum layer and can also clog a drain line. A common sense approach by the entire household as to what should and should not be flushed down the toilets or poured into a sink drain (see the Do’s and Don’ts list here) can go a long way toward extending the life of your septic system, and easily prevent costly repairs.
Strips of bright green grass over the drain field. Though the grass is beneficial to the evaporation process of the drain field, overly healthy or green grass, especially when the surrounding grass is brown, can indicate the waste water is not draining though the soil and is instead rising to the surface.