Avoiding Holiday ‘Commode’tion

by Tom Damm

septicsmart 3The Halloween costumes weren’t that frightening in our neighborhood this week.  An astronaut, a soccer player, even a happy jack-o-lantern.   Nothing to give me pause in opening the door.

But here’s a truly scary vision as we shift into the main holiday season – a houseful of guests and a malfunctioning septic system.  That’ll generate a scream or two.

One of every five households in the U.S. depends on septic systems to treat wastewater.  If not properly maintained, the systems can overflow or backup, creating far worse problems for you and your guests than spoiling the aroma of the roasted turkey.

Not to worry, though.   EPA has some SepticSmart tips to ensure that your system can handle the everyday and extra loads.

  • Run the dishwasher and washing machine only when full.  Fix plumbing leaks and install faucet aerators and water efficient products.  Too much water use at once can overload your system, particularly if it hasn’t been pumped in the last couple of years.
  • Avoid pouring fats, grease and solids down the drain, which can clog your system, or toxic material, which can kill the organisms that digest and treat waste.
  • Have your septic system inspected every three years by a licensed contractor and have the tank pumped when necessary, generally every three to five years.
  • Only put items in the drain or toilet that belong there to avoid clogging or damaging your system.
  • Remind guests not to park or drive on your system’s drainfield because the vehicle weight could damage buried pipes or disrupt underground flow causing system backups and floods.

A malfunctioning system can kill native plants and fish and shellfish, as well as reduce property values and potentially pose a legal liability.  A system that’s properly maintained helps keep your family’s drinking water clean and reduces the risk of contaminating local waters.

So, as you’re preparing for company by cleaning those areas that don’t get regular attention, be sure to keep your septic system in mind.  It’ll help keep your holiday conversation focused on more pleasant subjects.


About the Author: Tom Damm has been with EPA since 2002 and now serves as communications coordinator for the region’s Water Protection Division.

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