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.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.

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.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.

Getting an Education on Septic Systems

By Leslie Corcelli

Most of us don’t think or talk about where things go when we flush. Let’s face it, it’s a little awkward. However, I’m fortunate enough to be an Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education participant in EPA’s Office of Wastewater Management. Around here, wastewater is the topic. Guess what? There’s a lot more to it than you think.

Did you know that nearly one million households in Virginia have onsite wastewater treatment systems? Many of these are septic systems. For many households and communities, there are site limitations that prevent traditional systems from being practical. That’s where alternative systems are essential.

During EPA’s annual SepticSmart Week, I attended a tour that demonstrated five types of alternative onsite wastewater systems in northern Virginia. The tour covered Fairfax and Loudoun counties and was hosted by Virginia Department of Health, which was accompanied by the Fairfax County Division of Environmental Health and the Loudoun County Health Department.

We visited five very different sites — a residential home, a volunteer fire department, a low-income community, a commercial center, and a residential community with 25 homes. They ranged in age from old to new, and the amount of wastewater generated per day varied from 750 gallons to 22,000 gallons. There were dispersal systems, black water recycling, drainfield systems and sand filters.

In addition to the technical information, I took something else away with me. There are some seriously dedicated wastewater and health professionals at the local, regional, state and federal level who are committed to ensuring public health through effective wastewater management. They have to consider planning, design, installation, and ongoing operations and management, not to mention local, state and federal laws. They also engage with a variety of stakeholders, including the individuals and communities for whom the alternative systems are necessary. It’s quite a feat.

They’re amazing folks, but they need our help. I now realize how important it is for us to do our part. For those of us with septic systems, we need to think much more about what happens when we flush. These systems require maintenance and ongoing management. Maintaining your septic system will save you money and protect your property and environment. Go to http://epa.gov/septicsmart to learn how.

About the author: Leslie Corcelli is an ORISE research participant in EPA’s Office of Wastewater Management.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.