Be a Flow Fighter and Preserve a Septic System

Help homeowners stop leaks and wasteful water habits so their systems will last longer and perform better

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Homeowners and septic service professionals alike are always asking us what can be done to help onsite systems operate better and last longer? One of the best and worst things about working in this industry is that just about every site visited is different, so what is useful at one is not at the next. This is true even though our designs, sizing and configurations use or are based on certain averages in behavior and use. The more that is known about the individual system and specific use patterns by the homeowner, the better we can tailor our recommendations. 

For the most positive impact on systems, you need to take a two-pronged approach. Total wastewater flow (volume) and the amount of pollutants (organic and inorganic) need to be managed and reduced. Let’s take a brief look at how working with the homeowner can affect each of these in a positive direction.

Water use in the house takes place primarily through toilet flushing, bathing and clothes washing. We have discussed in the past how some of these use parameters are changing through time, but they are still areas to be addressed in the house to help systems work more efficiently and increase their lifespan.

Stop overuse

Toilet use still accounts for about 25% of the total daily flow; toilets, faucets and showers together represent about 70% of the flow. When working with a homeowner, emphasizing good habits and taking care of potential problems in these areas are good places to start reducing overall flows and have an immediate impact on the system.

Specific activities the homeowner can employ include using the toilet for sanitary waste and nothing else. It always amazes us what kinds of things people will try to flush down the toilet (kitty litter and animal waste, diapers, cigarettes). Recently disposable anti-bacterial wipes are big culprits. Using the toilet for only human wastes and toilet paper reduces the amount of water and keeps out other items that do no break down or settle in the system. 

Other water-saving habits can include simple items such as reducing time in the shower, turning off faucets while brushing teeth or shaving, operating dishwashers only when they are full (same for clothes washers, only run full loads) and making sure all faucets are turned off and not leaking. 

A couple of comments about these: We have worked with homeowners who go so far as to implement a timer system for showers particularly where teenagers are involved. In those cases, large water-use reductions are accomplished. The volume of water used in a shower varies by individual, of course. But a standard showerhead delivers 3-5 gallons of water per minute, so a 10-minute shower would add 30 to 50 gallons of wastewater. Low-flow showerheads are probably an easier option than enforcing timed flows; they deliver 1.5-2.5 gallons per minute, providing more than a 50% reduction for the same time period. Of course, if they take a longer shower because they feel it is not doing the job, those savings are not obtained. The homeowner needs to find a balance, understanding that reducing any amount of water usage is positive.

Dribbles add up

Leaks are always interesting to us. If you talk to any homeowner, they will tell you there are no leaks in the house. Then when you are out looking in the septic tank and all water is “shut off” in the house there is still water coming into the tank through the house sewer! Where is that water coming from? Usually, it is either a leaky toilet or faucet(s).

Leaks that appear very minor can deliver large amounts of water to the system. A leaky toilet can easily deliver 3,000 to 6,000 gallons a month and a slightly leaky faucet 15 to 20 gallons a day or 450 to 600 gallons a month. This is water that can be kept out of the system simply by taking care of leaks as they occur. It could make the difference between no system problems and having a hydraulic overload.

Installing additional low-flow devices to faucets and showerheads can save significant amounts of water. More efficient faucets and installing aerators can reduce water use from 3 to 5 gallons per minute to 2 gallons per minutes. The good news today is a lot of the faucets on the market already use these techniques to reduce flow, so the homeowner does not need to actively do anything other than repair leaks and limit running water.

There is good news in the laundry and dishwasher front as well. Most modern dishwashers and washing machines are built to use lower amounts of water. It still a good idea to only use them with full loads, and in the case of the laundry, do not do all the laundry on the same day but spread it out over time.


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