Septic maintenance and repairs

Published 12:04 pm Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Have you thought about your septic system lately? For most people, their septic system is likely “out of sight and out of mind.” They may go many years without worrying about their system until they have a problem. Although a septic system can be easy to overlook, maintaining it is an important part of being a homeowner. Routine maintenance can help prevent problems before they occur, so follow these steps to keep your system working properly.
As recommended by the Virginia Department of Health, get your septic tank pumped every 5-7 years by a licensed contractor. Solids that build up in the tank can cause problems, such as clogging drainfield lines.
Only plant grass over or near the septic tank and drainfield. Roots from nearby trees and shrubs can damage the system. Avoid driving over the drainfield to prevent damage to the lines. If you don’t know where your drainfield is located, contact the local health department to obtain a sketch or layout.
Do your laundry throughout the week instead of all on one day so that the septic tank doesn’t become overloaded. Divert roof drains and surface water from driveways and hillsides away from the septic system. Keep sump pump outlets and house footing drains diverted away from the system. Extra water can overwhelm the drainfield and cause problems.
Do not use toilets or drains as trash cans. Only toilet paper should be flushed.
Use of a garbage disposal is not recommended. Garbage disposal usage increases septic tank pumping frequency to every 1-2 years rather than every 5-7 years. Using septic tank additives, such as Rid-X, is not recommended. These products usually do not help, and they may hurt a system in the long run. Bacteria in human waste break down the waste efficiently, so additives are not required. In fact, some additives can kill the helpful bacteria that decompose the waste.
Signs of septic system problems include sewage pooling on top of the ground surface or soil over the drainfield that is always soggy; sewage backups into the house; strong odor coming from the drainfield; or slow-draining tubs, sinks and toilets. Contact the local health department if you notice any of these indicators.
Maintaining your septic system is important since failing to pump the tank every 5-7 years may cause the system to not work correctly. A malfunctioning system can cause sewage to leak onto the ground surface. When sewage washes from the ground surface, it ends up in local streams and harms aquatic wildlife. Additionally, a malfunctioning system can cause an unpleasant sewage backup in your house.
Funding is available through the Piedmont Soil and Water Conservation District to help homeowners pay for 50 percent of the costs of septic system pump-outs and repairs. This program aims to improve water quality in the Spring Creek, Briery Creek, Bush River, Sandy River and Saylers Creek watersheds of Prince Edward County by mitigating pollution from residential septic systems and providing a financial incentive for homeowners to pump-out or repair their septic systems. Financial assistance is available regardless of income level. The deadline to submit applications is Aug. 23, and all projects must be completed by Sept. 15. All applications must be approved by the Piedmont SWCD Board of Directors before any work can begin, and funding will not be used for projects that have begun before Board approval.
Emily Gibbs is the Residential Conservation and Marketing Coordinator at Piedmont Soil & Water Conservation. You can contact her at (434) 392-3782 ext. 131 or visit