Back when our drains dumped into a city waste water system, we didn’t think much about sewage — beyond what might be behind a plunger. But after moving to a farmhouse with a neglected, though functioning, septic system, we’ve found ourselves flush with tank tips.
First, what we did wrong: We didn't ask the home seller to dig up the lid of the septic tank before we bought the house. We had a pretty little map that showed where the septic system should be, but it took a dowsing stick experiment, lots of digging (that included tearing up parts of our deck) and three visits from a pro (who had to resort to fishing in our toilet with a tracking device as bait) to find our tank.
Next, five things we (and you) can do right. After chatting with our friend, Jim Levine of Vann Boys Septic Service in North Carolina, and the folks at Outhouse Rentals & Septic Tank Pumping here in Floyd, Va., we’ve gathered some important tips:
- Septic additives fall somewhere on the scale between pointless and harmful. On the other hand, helpful bacteria can be added to counteract what’s killed by household cleaners, much in the way eating live-culture yogurt can replenish intestinal bacteria after a round of antibiotics.
- Be thoughtful about what goes down the drain. Gentle cleansers deplete fewer bacteria, and grease just clogs up the system. As Jim suggested, we scrape all our grease and fatty leftovers into old cans that we keep in the freezer until our next trash run.
- Space water use. Despite having a high-efficiency washer, we have discontinued laundry day in favor of a trickle of laundry throughout the week. We’re also careful to space out dishwashing, showering and other water-intensive chores.
- Coated toilet papers might be nice for the tush but they’re garbage in the tank. The folks at Outhouse suggested testing paper by putting a couple of sheets in a jar of water and giving it a good shake. If it shreds, it’s septic safe. Just say no to any TP that stays in nice, neat squares.
- Allow only grass or shallow-rooted bulbs and perennials to grow in the septic field. Tree roots are the main cause of system failure.
For more septic system tips, try these articles: