When they follow these operation and maintenance rules, homeowners will be happier and you’ll have fewer emergency calls.
Last month I discussed the first five things you need to tell homeowners about their septic system. They were: 1) Provide a diagram of their system; 2) Explain the system design capacity; 3) Talk about how water usage habits impact the system; 4) Promote regular maintenance; and 5) Tell them what to avoid flushing into the system. Here are the remaining five important things a homeowner should know:
6. Tell them not to build over the septic system. There are a number of items in this category. Don’t install a deck or patio over their septic tank or any other type of tank in the system. Since sewage tanks are usually installed near the residence, they are sometimes in the area where a homeowner would like to put a patio or another outdoor living space. They should not do anything that would limit access to the tanks or the house sewer with clean-outs. Putting a trap door in the deck is not a good solution to this problem. Also, no additional fill should be placed over the soil treatment area other than cosmetic filling of areas over trenches where settling may have occurred.
7. Explain how excess water runoff can cause hydraulic failure. Water from surfaces such as roofs, driveways, garages, etc., should not be allowed to drain over any part of the system. This could potentially flood out the drainfield. All runoff should be diverted away from the system. This may involve installing roof gutters or landscaping berms to direct water away from the system. In addition to the potential for flooding the system, extra water can cause additional biomat to form by reducing the oxygen available for the breakdown of the organic portion of the wastewater. This, in turn, reduces the long-term acceptance rate of the soil, meaning a reduction in system capacity.
8. Caution them to be careful when landscaping around the system. Make sure not to put fill over the system, but also keep heavy equipment used to haul landscape materials from running over the system. One client years ago wanted a tennis court in that open yard out back without realizing the area was occupied by his septic system! He got to replace his drainfield in addition to building a tennis court. As I did, you probably wonder about the wisdom of the contractor who was doing the grading on that project. Plant choice over the septic system can also have a negative impact through root intrusion.
Trees and shrubs should be kept away from the system and any planting other than grasses should be shallow-rooted over the soil treatment area. It is amazing how roots from water-loving plants can penetrate parts of the system, clogging pipes and interfering with performance. Sprinkler systems can also add too much water to a system. If watering is necessary to maintain grass during dry periods, manual sprinklers should be used. This often happens with mound systems where I live. The soil on the top of the mound dries out, making it necessary to add water to keep the grass growing.
9. Tell them to keep off the grass! Avoid any unnecessary foot or animal traffic over the soil treatment area and avoid vehicle traffic over any part of the system. It is amazing how often the drainfield area is looked at as an ideal parking area for a boat or RV. Since most systems are relatively shallow, this traffic can damage pipe as well as compact the soil in the soil treatment area, which interferes with the acceptance of sewage effluent. In the winter in my part of the world, parking snowmobiles in the area or tying the dog out on top of the mound can help drive frost into the soil. This can cause freezing in supply pipes between parts of the system.
10. Show them how to do a homeowner check of the system. They should walk around the soil treatment area checking for any evidence of effluent surfacing, rodents digging into the area or other potential problems. If there are inspection pipes on the trenches they can see and record how much of the system is being used. This information can help them regulate water use and call you as the service provider at the first sign of a problem rather than letting things go until there is a much larger problem. Emphasizing early warning and recognition can prevent really bad experiences later.
Educating homeowners and getting them actively involved in the care of their septic system will make for more satisfied customers and provide you with more business, while protecting health and environment. If you have more items to add to our homeowner education checklist, send the tips to me and we’ll feature them in a future column.