Confessions of a Septic Tank Novice
11 November 2016 by CSG
We’re often called to help when someone has had a problem with their septic tank. Our advice to know a little about your system and follow a few simple steps and you should never have to call anyone out to deal with a problem.
Here’s an example from one of our customers. Paul and his wife converted a barn into their home in 2005. With so much to be done, management of their new septic tank seemed like a low priority but sooner or later, it made sense to give more thought to it:
“A few years ago, my wife and I acquired a barn and set about converting it into a home for our young family. While I knew I’d be putting in a lot of hours on the project myself, dealing with all the joiners, the electricians, the plumbers and so on, one thing I barely gave any thought to was the sewage system. We are somewhat ‘off-grid’ so we knew we’d need our own septic tank. When the subject came up, we spoke to our builder, got a spec and bought one (a Klargester BioDisc, I believe). It was installed and it worked. ‘Great’, we thought, ‘job done’ – but we since came to understand that that’s not all there is to it.
You see, unlike the construction, electrics and internal plumbing, which are mostly visible and being consciously used every day, the sewage system is invisible and the, er, use it is put to is generally far removed from our conscious experience of it. That means that, as the years go on, it’s easy to spot any issues or give thought to making improvements to the ‘main’ build but you can be rather ill-prepared in the event of a problem with the sewage system.
Like any form of risk, when you actually start thinking about what can go wrong, bearing in mind the substances involved, you can quickly imagine a nightmare scenario – but that’s not helpful either. What then is the right level of concern to have – and how do you go from naive ignorance, by-pass pointless paranoia and arrive at a sensible level of understanding?
Predictably, common sense is a good start. There are plenty of helpful guides around on the internet to help you understand how septic tanks work and the more you read, the more comfortable you’ll become. Yes you can understand your septic tank’s design a little better but it actually helps most to appreciate that they even have a design – which is to say that they’re not worked by magic and that there are certain things they’re not really designed to do. I’ll avoid being too graphic but a good rule of thumb I’ve read is that “if it hasn’t come out of you, or wasn’t directly involved in the process, it probably shouldn’t go down there”. Sorry ladies, while it kind of sounds like sanitary items are included in that definition, nothing I’ve read has confirmed it – in fact, almost all advice is that they shouldn’t be.
Does that manage to sum up the basics without descending into unseemly technicality?
From there, the other ‘best practice’ aspects are a little more obvious:
- Sludge will build up and should therefore be removed (every six months, ideally)
- Bacteria is actually your friend and too much antibacterial matter down the sink will compromise your tank’s effectiveness
- Liquids should be effectively dissipated over a large area but give some thought of the effects of extremely heavy rain if it ever manages to flood your drainage area. It’s not a nice thought to contemplate the possibility but it’s far better to do that (and have a plan) than to have to deal with the reality
Above all, the knowledge that help is at hand is a great way to remove the majority of the concern. We don’t just foolishly live in fear of ever getting tooth-ache; we appreciate we can’t ever completely remove the risk so we do what regular maintenance we can and engage a dentist to help us. The point is, once we’ve found a professional who can help, most of the concern can, like the waste itself, simply dilute itself away to nothing.”
Have you done a self-build and installed a septic tank just when you’re busy dealing with the rest of the project? If so, have you fully considered the maintenance of your system? As long as you’re not at the point of dealing with a problem, there’s never a bad time to start and remember – we’re here to help!