What to Do If a Septic System Fails

Follow these steps if your septic system is failing:

• First, call your local health department. Health department staff members have the expertise to assess your situation quickly and offer advice on how to cure the problem.

• Have your septic tank pumped. Frequently, this will help the problem temporarily. The empty tank can hold several days of waste. (This won’t be effective if a clog exists between the house and the septic tank, or if very high water levels are the cause of the problem.)

• Conserve water. This is particularly effective if your system has not failed completely. lt can help lessen the problem for a short time. Water-saving devices and reduced consumption, especially in your bathroom, can have a significant effect.

• Fence off the area. If liquid waste is seeping to the surface, prevent people and pets from getting in contact with the effluent.

In many cases, redesigning and replacing the system in a new location is the only practical long term solution. This type of work should be completed only by a qualified contractor. Local health department permits are required before construction can begin. The chemical cures sometimes advertised are ineffective remedies for severely damaged systems.

Other solutions may be of help in certain situations, including:

• Increase the size of the absorption field. This will help if the original field was too small for the size of your family or if the soil does not allow water to percolate very well.

• Conserve water in your home on a long-term basis. The smaller the amount of water flowing through your system, the longer the system will last. For systems that perform marginally or leak nutrients into nearby lakes and streams, this is a good alternative.

• If periodically saturated soils are a main cause of problems, consider installing perimeter drains. This system involves installing tile drains underground at a specified distance around the absorption field to help lower water levels. This works in some but not all situations and requires the assistance of a qualified contractor. Your system’s location should also be evaluated by your local health department.

• Connect to a community sewage system, if one is available. Although the long-term costs may seem high, the benefit of reduced worry is often worth the price.

• If septic system failures are common in your area, consider participating in the development of alternatives. There are systems designed for small communities and some rural areas that are generally much more cost-effective than large sewer systems.

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