NJ’s past couple years of record-breaking wet weather has wreaked havoc on our septic systems. And with an upcoming spring thaw it will be certain to continue being problematic for our septic systems. Why? You ask…

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The reason being that a septic system works by absorption and evaporation. When the ground is already saturated with moisture (snow melt and/or heavy rain), the effluent has nowhere to go. Typically, the groundwater table rises during rainy periods in the winter and/or spring. Saturated soil conditions influence wastewater flow and treatment. When you continuously add water to the system by using showers, doing loads of laundry, and flushing toilets, along with a high-water level in the surrounding soil, you start to have problems. Think of a sponge that is completely filled with water – if you need to use it again, you need to wring out the sponge to continue. So how do we “wring” out our septic systems? Is it possible? Yes, and how?

Start with monitoring water usage – if heavy rain or major temperature changes (causing surrounding snow to melt quickly) are expected, then refrain from overburdening your septic system by controlling the amount of water washed or rinsed down the drains – especially doing loads of laundry back-to-back. Leave the laundry or 20-minute shower for a drier day.

Regular pump-outs are important to maintain the healthy bacteria in your septic tank. Plan ahead for preventative maintenance – don’t wait for a major problem to occur. Healthy bacteria prefer warm weather. Emptying a septic tank in the winter months may not allow enough time for decomposition to begin before the winter’s coldest temperature sets in. Unless you’re having an emergency or need the septic tank to be pumped for a real estate transaction, it is best to wait for warmer weather. (Your septic contractor will thank you for not having to service the tank when it is 12 degrees out and the surrounding soil is frozen).

Keep all water flow away from your septic system – this includes gutter drain run-off and sump pump discharge. Keep water softener discharge out of your septic system. If this is allowed to discharge into your septic system, you’re essentially issuing a death sentence for it. Be prepared for early failure of your system. Plow snow away from your septic system components. Keep the area free and clean of any impervious items (such as patios or hardscaping). Only grass should be on top of your septic system components, including the septic tank.

Power outages can occur during heavy rain/snow and ice storms, preventing a septic effluent pump from working. If a power failure occurs, you have no way to remove the wastewater from your septic tank to your drain field if your pump doesn’t work. This can cause wastewater backups into your home, resulting in water damage. Most insurance policies do not have “water backup coverage” unless this option was chosen. Water backup coverage is an optional type of insurance that can be added to your existing policy. Talk to your insurance agent before it is too late. Water backing up into your home from the septic outlet line, overflow of toilets, or showers can cause significant, costly damage, not to mention a messy cleanup. Having water backup insurance included in your home policy will provide coverage for the structure of your home as well as any personal property damaged from this situation.

Broken or frozen pipework can also cause backups into your home or basement. Maintain all outlet lines if possible. Do not wait until an emergency occurs in the dead of winter.

Refrain from disposal of items that are not flushable or biodegradable down your drains. This can result in pipework damage (remember plumbing pipework is only a few inches in diameter) or clogged lines. Only waste that exits your body (and 1-ply biodegradable toilet paper) should go into your toilet, and only wash water should go down the drains.

Many people call a septic company when it is too late. They call after things start to smell or the ground gets soggy over the absorption (drain field) area. By then, it’s usually too late; your septic system is malfunctioning (not draining correctly), and repair and/or replacement is in the near future. And contrary to major advertising, no number of additives can save it.

Preventative maintenance is very important! An “install and forget” mentality will get you in the long run. All septic systems will malfunction sooner than later without proper care. Preventative maintenance will extend the life of your septic system. Septic systems have a lifespan. A traditional, year-round used septic system will last approximately 15-20 years as long as it is properly designed, installed, and maintained.

Consult with your local certified septic contractor to keep your septic system happy and functioning well for many years. Keep your septic system happy and healthy. In the long run, it will keep your home, property, and environment healthy and working well for many years to come.

Consult with A-Norton Septic Contracting. We know Septic!

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