Septic System 101 for Homeowners

By Tara Johnson

I knew very little about septic systems until my family and I bought a home with one. At that point, I realized I needed to ‘get smart’ about septic systems and how to take care of them! Luckily, EPA’s SepticSmart program helped me learn what to do, or not do, to maintain our system and protect it. The SepticSmart Outreach Toolkit and materials can help you, too.

Buying a home isn’t like buying a car or a washing machine. A house doesn’t come with an instruction manual. When we bought our home, the home inspector told us to have the septic system pumped every few years. Other than that, we knew very little.

Fortunately for me, I work at EPA where my colleagues manage the SepticSmart program. SepticSmart is a voluntary outreach program that promotes septic system maintenance and education for homeowners. More than one-in-five households in the United States depend on septic systems to treat their wastewater. That is more than 26 million homes.

My coworkers shared information with me on how to take care of my septic system, such as The Top 10 Ways to Be a Good Septic Owner. My grandmother’s rule of not pouring cooking oils or fats down the sink is on that list because pouring these down the sink can clog the system. It also can hurt the good bacteria that help the septic system treat wastewater. The inspector’s advice to regularly pump out the tank is also on EPA’s list. We have our system inspected and pumped every few years since that costs much less than replacing the entire system if it fails.

I’ve learned that septic system maintenance is pretty easy, if you know what to do. Take a look at the tips – in English and Spanish – at EPA’s Septic System website. Septic Sam has a lot of useful information on caring for your septic system, especially now during SepticSmart Week, September 19 – 23, 2016.

By the way, I learned another useful thing that’s not on the top 10 list. If you’re mowing the lawn and run over the lid of your septic system by mistake, it’s very easy to replace. No instruction manual needed!

About the author: Tara Johnson is an Environmental Protection Specialist with EPA’s Office of Wastewater Management.

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