How to Care for Your Septic System

Acreage living brings many wonderful things with it: fresh air, space to roam, and lots of friendly wildlife. But it also brings something else. Something that’s much less glamorous and rarely discussed: septic systems.

Though the idea of having to care for a septic system may scare some folks away from living their dream life in the country, I am here to tell you that these centuries-old filtration devices are nothing to be scared of. In fact, with a little regular maintenance, septic systems are often one of the most reliable parts of a home!


What Is A Septic System?

First things first, what exactly is a septic system.

A septic system is a method for providing basic treatment to wastewater leaving a home. It most commonly consists of a one or two-chambered underground tank – usually made of plastic, fiberglass, or concrete – access covers, an inlet pipe, an outlet pipe, a vent, and a drainage field.

Wastewater from your home comes into the septic system through the inlet pipe. From there, the treatment process begins, with solids falling to the bottom of the tank (called “sludge” in septic terms), and “scum” rising to the top (scum consisting of things lighter than water, such as oils, fats, etc.). In-between the scum and the sludge is what’s known as the liquid effluent, which travels through the tank, eventually making its way through the outlet pipe. This outlet pipe is strategically designed to only let the middle layer of liquid out, keeping the sludge and scum trapped inside the tank.

Once out, the liquid effluent travels to a drainage field, where the soil leeches away the remaining impurities, and the water eventually evaporates, joins other groundwater, or is taken up by nearby plant roots. During this same time, the scum and the sludge still trapped inside the septic tank will be eaten away through natural bacteria. 

How Do I Maintain A Septic System

While quality septic systems should remain “low maintenance”, that does not mean they are “no maintenance”. Keep your system running efficiently with a mix of preventative measures and ongoing maintenance, such as:

Inspect and Pump Regularly

Much like you would for your vehicle, having a licensed septic system expect review your system on a regular basis can prevent many major issues (not only that, but regular inspection is actually required in British Columbia – more on that below).

The frequency of inspection will depend on your unique system, but it’s often recommended that this is done every 1-3 years. In addition, every 3-5 years you will want to have your tank pumped. Though much of the sludge and scum is eaten away by bacteria, some will remain and eventually fill up the tank. Pumping your system before the sludge or scum levels reach the outlet value is crucial to ensuring you do not flood your drainage field with waste!

Use Water Efficiently

Like anything else, the more use something gets, the faster it will wear out. A septic system is no different, meaning that the more water you pump through, the sooner you will run into issues.

Not only is water efficiency great for the environment, it is great for your septic system too. Focus on ways to reduce the load on your septic tank by cutting down on shower times, reducing loads of laundry, installing high-efficiency toilets, facet heads, and more.

Dispose of Waste Properly

Because septic tanks have a limited capacity, the more solid waste that ends up in the system, the sooner it will need to be pumped.

The following is a government-recommended shortlist of items you should avoid flushing down the sink or the toilet if you run a septic system:

  • Cooking grease or oil
  • Flushable wipes
  • Photographic solutions
  • Feminine hygiene products
  • Dental floss
  • Diapers
  • Cigarette butts
  • Coffee grounds
  • Cat litter
  • Paper towels
  • Pharmaceuticals
  • Household chemicals like gasoline, oil, pesticides, antifreeze, and paint or paint thinners

In addition, be sure to limit the use of any harsh drain cleaners to tackle clogged drains, as these can mess with the bacterial balance in your tanks. Opt instead for drain snakes or boiling water to bust through bad clogs.

Fraser Valley Septic System Rules and Regulations

Because of the health implications, septic systems are heavily regulated by the Canadian Government. In fact, British Columbia’s Sewerage System Standard Practice Manual comes in at a whopping 367 pages!

Now, don’t get scared! As a home owner, no one is expecting you to learn this manual front to back. The primary thing you need to know is that, per regulations by the Ministry of Health, you are required to use only licensed “Authorized Persons” who have been registered with the Ministry to perform septic and sewage system construction and maintenance. Meaning that, unless you are licensed (or working directly under the supervision of someone who is licensed), you should NOT be installing or maintaining your own septic system. This is something you need to leave to the professionals!

British Columbia has varying requirements on testing, maintenance schedules, repairs and more depending on your specific system. By working with a licensed professional, you will be able to keep your system working properly and legally, ensuring you avoid any major issues.

While they may seem scary or inconvenient, septic systems are actually a routine part of country living. Just be sure to follow the tips above, find yourself a licensed septic company, and your system will be functioning fine for decades to come!