Septic systems, or Household Sewer Treatment Systems (HSTS) sit quietly underneath those mysteriously concrete or plastic lids you see when mowing the lawn. It’s the one component of the home that everyone knows is there, but knows little about and for that matter no one wants to know about. Your septic is also the one component of homes that receives the least amount of care or maintenance. It’s taken for granted and always expected to perform and work tirelessly with no human involvement. Yet when the system fails, we act surprised, then outraged when the invoices come in from septic and sewer contractors most often costing thousands of dollars.

Knowing your system and understanding how to works starts with a solid plan, or in this instance, a good set of accurate construction prints and drawings. Make sure you ask your builder for these or contact the local health department who maintains this information for you free of charge. Once you have a firm understanding of how your system is built and situated, understanding the inner works is much easier. The internet is an excellent source of product identification, components and parts, etc.

Now that you see your system in full detail, remember to create yearly checklists for maintenance and repairs. One of the most commonly overlooked issues is failing to have your system pumped and cleaned. Solids still account for 50 percent of the pass thru volume and those solids build up in your primary tanks. That buildup, if not pumped and cleaned, can cause backups, clogs, system foulness and mechanical failure of septic aerators and pumps. Establish a good working relationship with your local septic hauling company or ask the health department for a list in your area.

The second biggest issue with failing septic systems and HSTS’s is the presence of chemicals and other harmful containments. Septics rely on a healthy balance of living bacteria to help clean influent before it passes thru as effluent. Most homeowners don’t understand this flushing bleach, paints, cleaners and other harmful chemicals down drains and toilets which destroys the bacteria inside your system. Certain solids such as cigarette butts, potato peels, rice, cabbage, tampons and paper towels also can wreak havoc on your system clogging filters, pumps and sediment chambers.

Another important issue that’s often overlooked, or better yet, tampered with, is aeration. Most systems today still use some form of aeration using what’s called a septic tank aerator. Older units used drop in models, newer systems have more integral septic aerators installed. The two main issues associated with aeration problems are either mechanical failure (these expensive septic tank aerators don’t last forever), or where homeowners trying to save electricity usage either disconnect or remove the aeration septic system altogether. Mechanical failures in aeration equipment is easier to detect nowadays with alarms inside the house signaling the property owner of septic aerator failure. Removing or disconnecting the aeration septic system is more damaging than the mere dollars you will save each months on your electric bill. Air produced from the septic aerator is forced into the aeration chamber (usually the second lid downstream from the house) which aids the bacteria in your system to help break down solids and influent. Lack of aeration also is a direct contributor to premature tank failure in that the sewage and liquids in your system can begin to break down and eat away at the concrete chambers and baffles. One last note on aeration is to remember to isolate any backwashing feeds from your well water system softener from the septic or HSTS. Salt and brine backwashing systems contains high amounts of sulfurs and acids which allows for premature erosion of concrete tanks and components.