Septic tanks are not a very popular topic around the dinner table, for good reason. But protecting your home includes knowing how your septic tank works, what sorts of severe weather affect it, and what to do if you have problems with it.
What is a Septic Tank and How Does it Work?
A septic system has a septic tank and drain field and relies on the soil to treat wastewater before it goes back into the groundwater cycle. All the water from the house goes into the tank and separates into three layers, sludge water and a top layer of scum. The middle layer of water leaves the tank and then goes into the drain field and filters through the soil. The soil naturally treats the wastewater, removing bacteria, viruses and nutrients before it is discharged into the groundwater.
Common Septic Tank Problems
As with any appliance or section of a home, septic tanks can have problems that require maintenance. Too much water in the drain field is one of those problems. The septic system can overload and eventually stop the treatment of the wastewater, which may result in a backup of septic waste into the house. When it rains, the field can become too saturated to process wastewater properly, which can also result in problems.
There are a few steps you can take to minimize this risk, however. One of those is to make sure your storm water runoff is as far away from your septic system as possible. You can also create a slight mound over the septic system, so water flows away from it instead of sitting on top of it. An annual inspection is a good idea as is having your septic tank pumped on a regular basis.
Flooding and Your Septic Tank
When a heavy rainstorm causes flooding, your septic tank should be prepared. There are a few ways to do that, including having a plumber install a back flow preventer on the home so sewage cannot backup during a flood. You can also minimize water usage during the storm minimizing the amount of water going into the septic tank. Here are a few additional ways you can prevent your septic tank from flooding.
- Only flush biodegradable material that is safe for your septic system
- Do not dig or work in the area around the septic tank when it is flooded
- Keep trees away from the septic tank so the roots don’t damage the system
- Regularly inspect the tank and have it pumped
The common thread is to limit unnecessary water usage when there is a risk of flooding. If you know a storm is coming, consider backing off of sprinklers and beginning to reduce wastewater ahead of the rain is a good idea.
Recovery from a Flooded Septic Tank
If your septic tank floods and backups into the house, the biggest recovery step is health and hygiene-related. Keep everyone away from the area, both inside and outside, and fully disinfect all the areas the soiled water touched. If you have a well and think the water may be contaminated, get it tested before using the water again.
Your septic system will need to be professionally inspected and serviced, and in extreme situations, a new system may need to be installed. After the floodwaters have receded and the water in the soil absorption field is lower than the water level around the house, have your system pumped.
After a flood, your septic system will need some attention. Make plans now to make this part of protecting your home easier. And even if you’re not in a flood zone, consider adding a water back-up endorsement on your homeowners insurance.