Frequently Asked Questions
About Onsite Wastewater Treatment Systems
Q: I have heard that it is important to pump my septic tank every few years. How do I do this? Is there anything else that I need to do? Where does it go?
A: Yes it is very important to have the contents of your septic tank emptied out (pumped), to remove floating scum and sludge that accumulate. If either floating scum or sludge is allowed to enter the soil treatment system (cesspool) it will cause expensive and often irreparable damage.
Never go more than 36 months between cleanings!!
Cleaning, or "pumping" as it's often called, must be done by a licensed and bonded professional. Proper cleaning will remove ALL scum, sludge, and liquid from the septic tank(s). This requires pumping, flushing, and back flushing liquid contents back and forth between the truck's tank and the septic tank through the manhole several times. This process breaks up all scum and sludge in the tank, allowing all solids to be removed. Depending on your service provider, they may land apply it after a treatment with lime, inject it in to the soil with a special attachment for doing that or some use a municipal wastewater treatment plant.
Q: What can I do to make my system last longer?
A: The following are things that are proven to aid in prolonging system life
By having proper Maintenance preformed on the septic tank.
Not overloading the system with water, it was designed to only handle so many gallons per day. Spread washes out through the week.
DO NOT add anything to the system that you normal would not put down the drains or in the toilet.
DO NOT use septic tank additives; they do more harm than good.
DO NOT flush sanitary napkins, diapers, paper towels, coffee grounds or cigarette butts.
Q: How do I know where my Septic System is?
A: Check Records. Many counties and cities with permit and inspection programs for septic systems will have this information on file. Locate the septic tank. If the access manhole or inspection pipes are at ground level, they will be easy to find. Unfortunately, they are often buried several inches, or even several feet, below the ground surface. To locate the tank, go into the basement and determine the direction the sewer pipe goes out through the wall or floor. Determine the direction it leaves the house. With a metal rod as a probe, start poking around in the soil 10 to 15 feet from the foundation of the house in the same direction as the pipe was headed in the basement. A metal detector may be of assistance in finding the tank since most concrete septic tanks contain metal reinforcing rods. Locate the cesspool. Try looking around the yard in the general direction where the sewer pipe left the house for an area where the grass grows differently. These clues may help locate the cesspool:
An area where the grass isn’t growing well, or where the grass is greener or grows faster.
An area where there is a slight depression or mound.
An area where the soil is soggy when the rest of the yard is dry.
Or Else a licensed contractor or inspector has tools to locate the tank.
Once the system components; have been; located, be sure to make a map of their location.
Q: My Septic System SMELLS, what is that smell? Is there anything I can do?
A: The ODOR is caused from the gases involved in the decay (Bacterial process of the waste
Sewage surfacing in yard -- Have tank pumped and reduce water usage. If problem persists, contact a Professional for assessment of problem.
Inspection pipe caps damaged or removed -- Replace damaged caps
Vent on house not high enough to properly diffuse to odor -- Increase the height of vent line.
Diagnosing the specific causes may be difficult, and often requires the skills of a professional.
Q: The grass is greener over my septic system, is this bad?
A: Not necessarily, the grass is greener on top of the soil treatment area because the roots are consuming the water and nitrogen that is present in wastewater. If the ground isn't wet then it’s a natural process. IF the surface is WET, then it poses a health risk (Hazard). Then fence off the area and call a Professional to diagnose the cause.
Q: The ground is wet over my septic system, is this bad?
A: Yes, the wastewater is surfacing (Ponding) and it possesses a health risk to humans and animals. Fence off the area around your system to keep everything away from the sewage. Diagnosing the specific cause may be difficult, and often requires the skills of a professional.
Q: Our toilets do not flush well, is something wrong with my system?
A: It could be caused from a number of different things; here is a list of possible causes, and remedies.
Excess water usage. -- reduce the water use and see if situation returns to normal.
Improper plumbing -- lines are not at proper slope and could have a hump in them.
Blockage in plumbing -- grease and other things not to be used in system can get hung up on pipe joints
Frozen lines -- not enough water usage, disturbing snow cover on lines, improper installation of piping Pump failure -- check pump, floats and if not working, replace with same Type and Model
Roots clogging pipes -- Have line Roto Routed, check line for cracks, broken joints and remove roots next to it
Q: What is a site evaluation and why is it needed?
A: A licensed ISTS Evaluator/Designer will conduct soil borings in the area for the soil treatment system that is within the setback boundary's set by the regulations to protect the groundwater and your well, also the lakes.
Q: How much does a septic system cost?
A: The installation costs of an individual on-site septic system typically range from $3,000 to greater than $10,000, depending on the size of home, the site conditions and local ordinance requirements.
Q: How long can I expect my system to last?
A: The properly installed and maintained system should perform from 15 to 40+ years. Without proper Maintenance the life of the system will start to decrease, repeated water use in excess of the designed flow will also shorten the overall life.
Q: What types of systems are there? How do I know which one to use?
A: There are four basic kinds of septic systems:
Cesspools: They are constructed of concrete with drainage holes along the side and are open to the sand below.
Trench's: They include drainpipe laid in 1 1/2" Rock, Gravel less Pipe and Chambers.
Pressure Beds: They are small pipes with small holes (orifices) in them laid in rock. Wastewater is sprayed into rock under pressure to distribute it evenly across the whole bed area.
Mounds: They are a constructed sand hill with a pressure bed system in it. Then covered with dirt and topsoil.
A ISTS Designer will make the determination which system type that is needed from the site evaluation that was completed prior to designing your new system.
Q: Can I plant a garden or trees over my system?
A: NO, gardens require that the soil be constantly tiled, and that adds unnecessary water (Rain, Watering, and there are pathogens that are associated with wastewater that are harmful) to the treatment system. Tree roots tend to block off the flow of water through the soil pores and clog up the system.
Q: How does a septic system work?
A: Treatment of wastewater with a septic system begins with the plumbing in the house. It funnels wastewater to the septic tank. In the tank, solids are separated from the liquids. Some solids float to the top and others settle to the bottom. Natural bacteria in wastewater break down the organic solids. Solids not broken down by bacteria are stored in the septic tank until the tank is pumped. They should be pumped out of the tank through the manhole every one to three years. Septic tanks DO NOT destroy disease-causing pathogens. Septic tanks prepare the liquid for final treatment by the soil. Wastewater from septic tanks is distributed into the soil by a cesspool, mound, and drip dispersal system. A layer forms where sewage meets the soil called Biomat. Once wastewater is through the biomat, harmful pathogens are destroyed. When owners don't clean septic tanks often enough, too many solids clog the biomat. Liquids can't pass through. This means the septic system will fail with untreated water coming to the surface or backing up into the home.
Q: Do I need to cut the grass over my septic system?
A: No, but mowing will increase the evaporation process of the wastewater, helping with the filtration process of the nitrogen present.
Q: Will my system contaminate my well or the lake?
A: A properly designed, constructed and maintained septic system will not contaminate the groundwater (Wells) or your lake they are designed to protect them!