Septic System

How does Covid-19 plug a septic system?

Welcome to our blog on septic system care and maintenance.  Our current series discusses the impact of Coronavirus and Shelter-in-Place orders on septic systems.  Increased water use at home is creating more stress on the systems and leading to failures in many cases.  This segment explains how systems become plugged because of higher water use.

Most septic systems have two primary components, the septic tank and the disposal area.  The tank’s main job is to protect the disposal area, which is more expensive, does the most work, and is much more prone to failure.  The tank protects the disposal area by retaining solid materials, or particulates.  It works mostly by slowing down the water flow.  When water is not moving quickly, dense materials sink to form sludge, and lightweight materials float to form scum.  As separation occurs in the tank, a middle, sediment free layer of liquid forms.  An outlet device in the tanks lets only that sediment free layer pass through to the disposal area.

The most common disposal areas are drainfields, drywells, and chamber systems.  They depend on small holes in piping and porosity of the soil for final treatment and disposal of the sewage liquid (effluent).  However, sludge and scum from the tank (the material that sinks and floats) can plug the piping and soil pores.  When that happens, the disposal area loses efficiency and it can fail.

With Shelter-in-Place, people use much more water at home than normal.  That means much more water is flowing through the septic tanks.  The higher flow rates prevents settling of the sludge and scum.  Instead, they move to the disposal area and restrict the natural drainage.  An effluent filter can be installed in the septic tank to minimize the amount of particulates passing through.  However, the filter will need cleaning as it becomes plugged.  And the more water used, the faster it plugs.  Use of chemical, enzyme, and bacterial additives to the septic tank are not a viable solution, as will be discussed in a future blog.  The best all around approach to protect the system is general water conservation to reduce flow through the tank.  See our previous blog for proven methods to reduce water use and protect the septic system.

Thank you for reading, and stay healthy!

Enviro-Assist, Ltd of South Lyon, Michigan provides:

Septic System Inspections
Septic System Engineering
Septic System Troubleshooting & Consultation
Well Inspections
Drinking Water Sampling
Water Supply Consultation
Educational Seminars
Call Enviro-Assist Today: (248) 486-1753

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How to prevent septic system failure from Coronavirus.

As we discussed in the last blog, Shelter-in-Place orders are increasing stress on septic systems, and many will fail as a result.  Most of the stress is caused by increased water use.  Other issues causing increased stress on the systems are septic tank particulates and suffocating the drainfield.  Both of those will be discussed in a future blog.

So, what can you do to lighten the load?  Although the following list is far from exhaustive, it provides many water conserving ideas that are simple or low cost but have great impact.

1.      Ensure that all plumbing valves, including toilets, close properly.  One ounce per minute adds up to 11 gallons per day.  A sticking toilet valve can send over 1,500 gallons of water to the septic system in just 8 hours!

2.      Add aerators to all faucets or replace the units with water conservative models.  Older faucets produce more than 2.5 gallons per minute.  Flow restricting aerators can reduce flow to 1 gallon per minute without jeopardizing comfort!  Similarly, shower heads can produce from 1 to 8 gallons per minute.  Install conservative models, and shower without fear of sewage backing up in the house.

3.      When grooming, allow water to run only when actively rinsing.  Reducing shower times saves 2.5 gallons per minute with a standard shower head.

4.      Automatic dishwashers are much more water conservative than washing by hand, depending on pre-rinse habits.  Use a basin full of water for rinsing rather than under running water.  (Your actual water savings can be measured with a simple test: Close the drain while rinsing under running water and observe how much water accumulates in the sink)

5.      Dialing down clothes washer sizes helps, but not nearly as much as combining loads to maximize load size.  The trick is to minimize the number of cycles.  Surprisingly, cleanliness is not lost by maximizing the load size.

6.      Use disposable paint equipment.  Water based paints are designed to adhere, so it takes incredible amounts of water to clean rollers and brushes.

The status and limits of your septic system can be determined with an evaluation.  But with or without knowing the limits, the best advice for maintaining a septic system is water conservation.  See our next segment on how sludge plugs septic systems during Shelter-in-Place.

Thank you for reading, and stay healthy!

Enviro-Assist, Ltd of South Lyon, Michigan provides:

Septic System Inspections
Septic System Engineering
Septic System Troubleshooting & Consultation
Well Inspections
Drinking Water Sampling
Water Supply Consultation
Educational Seminars
Call Enviro-Assist Today: (248) 486-1753

Read More →

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