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Septic Tanks 101: Answers to Homeowners’ Most Frequently Asked Questions

Homeowner opening septic tank before septic system maintenance pro's arrival

Is your home one of the approximately 26% in Pennsylvania served by an on-site septic system to handle and treat your wastewater and so-called “heavy solids” flowing from your plumbing?

Homeowners whose properties are located in rural areas—or even some small towns without a centralized municipal sewer system—have septic systems instead. Yet, septic owners don’t often have a lot of knowledge about their system and how to keep it functioning properly. That’s more than a little unfortunate because preventable septic system problems can cause big, expensive, difficult-to-clean messes for homeowners and landlords, like those we serve here in the Scranton, PA region.

And that’s why we want to spread a little knowledge by sharing answers to a few of the most common septic system questions our customers—especially those new to septic ownership—tend to have. Consider these answers to your septic system FAQs as an introductory course to your residential septic system, or “Septic Tanks 101.” Class is now in session!

1.      What type of septic system do I have on my property?

A little while ago, we published a post here on our blog introducing all of the residential septic system types that your home can have. (You won’t want to miss that article if you’re unsure about your septic system type. Check it out now.)

The most common system types in our area are conventional septic systems and mound systems (aka “sand mounds”) for shallow soil sites. However, your home may also be served by a cluster/community septic system that’s shared by more than one home or building.

You may also have a modified system that lacks a drainfield, one of the main components of a conventional septic system. The crucial thing to know about these less common system types is that they often require more frequent maintenance by a septic system contractor.

While the chances are good that you have a conventional septic system on your property, there’s no way we can tell you if that’s the case without coming out to your property and taking a look. Our line and tank locating service will quickly and efficiently provide essential information about your home’s septic system.

If you’re not sure what type of system you have today, we encourage you to get in touch with us here at Biros.

2.      What are the different parts of a residential septic system?

Almost all on-lot home septic systems have three main parts: a central sewage drain pipe carrying solids and wastewater from your home, a septic tank, and a drainfield. These components each have a critical function within the system. If any issues occur, you’ll likely know pretty quickly—septic system problems tend to announce themselves with “distinctive” odors both inside and outside your home.

Now, we mentioned above that you might have a mound system or a modified septic system without a drainfield. You will still have a central sewage drain pipe and a septic tank in these cases, but that may be all (in a modified system). Alternatively, your “drainfield” will be a sand-containing structure with mechanical pumps that aid in distributing the wastewater for filtration (in a mound system).

This article from the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) gives a good overview (with illustrations) of the different septic system types and components.

3.      Why do I need to keep my septic system maintained?

The short answer to this question? If you don’t maintain your septic system—which typically involves having your septic tank pumped out every 1-5 years—you risk creating various unsanitary conditions in and around your home.

These problems range from sewage backing up into your home, foul odors around the tank and/or drainfield outdoors, or the appearance of ooze and muddy conditions around the drainfield or tank location. These may cause your system to fail. Who wants that? 

Additionally, not keeping up with septic system maintenance might result in your property falling out of compliance with local sewage enforcement regulations, which can result in fines and fees. Don’t risk these unnecessary expenses when help is nearby and affordable with our complete septic services here at Biros!

4.      How do I maintain my septic system?

Maintaining your septic system should be left to the pros. However, there are some things you can do as a homeowner to ensure that you’re not putting unnecessary stress on your septic tank or system. This mainly involves keeping your home’s plumbing and water-using appliances in good working order.

Here are a few more septic-friendly tips:

  • Keep “system cloggers” out – Trash like diapers, baby wipes, cigarettes, coffee grounds, fats, oils, grease, and feminine hygiene products should never be flushed or poured into toilets.
  • Limit garbage disposal use – While some septic pros suggest that garbage disposals are a terrible idea if you have a septic tank, as long as you are careful, you can enjoy the convenience of these appliances in your kitchen sink. Following the manufacturer’s instructions for your disposal will protect it, you, and your septic system.
  • Be water smart – Doing your best to curb excessive water use in your home will keep your septic system from being overloaded. Ensure that your water-using appliances like washing machines and dishwashers are energy efficient. Also, consider staggering your water use. For example, do not shower, run the dishwasher, and do laundry all at the same time.
  • Protect your drainfield – Never drive over your drainfield or the area where your septic tank is buried underground. Additionally, be careful about plantings in your landscaping near your septic tank and system because roots can wreak havoc.
  • Don’t pour chemicals down the drain – Household chemicals, gasoline, motor oil, pesticides, antifreeze, paint, and high amounts of anti-bacterial soaps and detergents are all considered “treatment killers,” which harm the necessary bacterial balance inside your septic tank. Never wash paint brushes or dump paint down any drains.

5.      Can septic systems be inspected in the winter?

A big question customers often ask us is whether we can inspect their septic tank during the winter months, especially if there is snow on the ground. Realize that there are some disadvantages to our ability to perform septic services over the winter, but we work around them.

Detecting problems that may require septic system repair can be more challenging with snow and frozen ground but don’t hesitate to call for service of any type, in any season!

6.      Where is my septic system?

If you recently moved to a new property and were not the person who had your septic system installed, it’s certainly possible you do not know where your tank and/or drainfield are located. And that’s okay!

Your best course of action in locating your septic system is to call in a reputable septic maintenance contractor. As we mentioned above, here at Biros, we offer a convenient and affordable line and tank locating service, so you don’t have to stress about your septic system’s location!

Have More Septic System Questions? Call the Pros at Biros!

Here at Biros Septic & Drain Cleaning, we love to educate our valued customers on understanding their septic systems and preventing problems. If you have questions that we didn’t address in today’s post, or you need septic tank pumping and other septic tank services right away in Scranton, PA, get in touch!