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10 Expert Home Maintenance Tips for Your Septic System

Kevin Mercadante - Writer for Top10.com
A man checks his septic tank.
Septic systems are a key factor in processing and treating waste and water. And you may be wondering how to keep yours functioning without a hitch.

Maintenance and a good home warranty are highly recommended for any home with a septic tank. Replacements can cost anywhere from $3,469 to $11,314. According to the 2017 American Housing Survey, approximately 21.7 million US homeowners have septic tanks. So, when your system eventually needs replacing due to normal wear and tear, a warranty can help cushion the cost.

But to help you prolong costly septic tank replacements, we'll explore expert maintenance tips for your septic system.

» Find out 10 reasons first-time home buyers need a home warranty.

1. Ensure Regular Septic System Pumping

There is a limited amount of waste a septic tank can hold. If the tank fills up completely, your system will back up. Depending on the tank size and how much you rely on your septic system, pumping should happen anywhere from three to five years.

Some indicators that your system should be pumped:

  • The bottom of the scum or sludge layer in your tank is within six inches of the bottom of the tank's outlet
  • The top of the sludge layer is within 12 inches of the outlet
  • The sludge and scum make up more than 25% of the tank's liquid depth

The pumping can cost as much as $1,000 and is typically done by a specialized service provider. But it's money well spent to preserve your system and may be at least partially covered by a home warranty.

2. Be Careful What You Flush

If flushing large objects can cause any plumbing system to back up, it's especially true for septic systems. I know of a situation where a septic system backed up because a three-year-old flushed a disposable diaper down the toilet. It's best to avoid this expensive home repair cost.

Large objects aren't the only problem. If you pour chemicals down the drain, they may negatively affect the bacteria in your septic tank. Avoid flushing paper towels and other seemingly harmless items that are not entirely water-soluble for better water damage prevention.

» Check out other home plumbing tips.

3. Use Your Garbage Disposal Cleverly

Garbage disposals send solid materials into your septic system and are more suited to larger tanks. That can cause your tank to fill up quicker, requiring more frequent pumping.

If you have a garbage disposal, try to use it sparingly. At the same time, be careful what you use it for. Harder food items have the potential to do more damage to your septic system.

4. Implement Proper Drain Field Maintenance

You should know exactly where your drain field is (this is also referred to as a leach field). This refers to a set of underground pipes connected to your system.

Make sure this field area is clear, especially of any heavy objects that may interfere with the system components, and implement any necessary structural maintenance.

For example:

  • Avoid parking cars or heavy equipment in the area
  • Keep the field free of trees and shrubbery and remove roots since they can also interfere with the system's pipes

5. Monitor Your Leach Field

Your leach field will drain water and leave only solid materials in the tank. This can help with sewage backup prevention, as monitoring the area will ensure everything functions properly.

For example, if the grass grows more rapidly in the leach field than the rest of your lawn, it may indicate the system is leaking. If it is, you'll need to use the services of a septic tank maintenance company promptly.

6. Install an Effluent Filter

This can facilitate septic tank cleaning since it keeps the system free of clogs, especially in your leach field. It must be in good working order otherwise, your system can back up and overflow.

Your septic system should usually come with an effluent filter already installed. But if it doesn't, you'll need to have one added when you have your tank pumped. After that, you'll need to have the filter cleaned each time the septic tank is pumped.

7. Use Bacteria Additives

Bacteria additives can be added to your tank to replenish the bacteria that break down waste. The natural bacteria that perform this function can break down because of the many different types of materials that find their way to your septic tank.

Some materials include:

  • Human waste
  • Household water, which can include detergents
  • Some food waste (if you have a garbage disposal)

The bacteria additive can help restore proper waste breakdown, allowing your septic tank to hold more. You can also try grease trap cleaning, which prevents fat, oils, and grease from clogging the tank.

8. Inspect the System for Leaks

Similarly to leach field leaks, your septic tank can also form leaks. Grass will be more prolific over a septic tank that's leaking because it will provide "fertilizer" for the lawn. You may also become aware of leaks in the tank if the area over the tank is giving off a foul odor.

» Discover other home maintenance skills every homeowner should master.

9. Keep Accurate Maintenance Records

As you perform home improvements and maintenance on your septic system, keep written records. This will include:

  • Dates services were performed
  • Invoices
  • Records of sludge levels
  • Details of any septic system repairs done

This is especially important if you have a home warranty that covers your septic tank. Failure to properly maintain your system can invalidate a claim.

10. Use a Qualified Septic Maintenance Company

While you can perform various maintenance procedures on your septic system, it will have to be periodically serviced by a septic maintenance company.

Check first to see if a warranty requires you to use specific septic maintenance contractors to avoid home warranty mistakes. The warranty may be ineffective if you use another provider.

Maintenance Is Simple—Repairs or Replacements Aren't

As Benjamin Franklin famously said, "An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure". Although this wasn't referring to septic systems, it certainly applies. As you can see from our tips, proper maintenance is mostly about septic tank inspection and practicing good habits to avoid excessive costs.

Repairs or replacements can be a financial headache. So, for the expense to be less daunting, it's worth looking into home warranty options like Choice Home Warranty and Cinch Home Warranty. Remember, warranties go hand-in-hand with seasonal upkeep.

» Curious about the process? See our tips for filing a successful home warranty claim.

Kevin Mercadante - Writer for Top10.com
Kevin Mercadante is a finance and insurance writer specializing in home insurance, real estate, and investing. He holds a bachelor’s degree in finance and transitioned from a career in the mortgage industry to full-time writing. Kevin has written extensively for Top10.com, Investor Junkie, and more.