If your home or business relies on a septic tank, then you’ll understand how vital regular maintenance is to keep things running smoothly. Septic tanks require routine emptying, but an annual clean is a good way to keep your tank in the best condition possible.
Harsh winter weather may have affected the functionality of your septic tank, and as the climate moves from freezing conditions to the mild and wet weather of spring, problems can arise with your tank that you may not be aware of. Thankfully, most can be avoided with a good spring clean, so read on to learn more about how the weather can affect your tank, and what you can do to prevent future problems.
What is a septic tank?
A septic tank is a simplified, onsite sewage facility for liquid waste removal, most commonly used in rural areas that aren’t connected to a main sewerage system. An underground chamber made from concrete, fibreglass or plastic collects sewage for basic treatment, and wastewater enters the tank which is then separated into solids (which sink to the bottom as sludge) and oil or grease which floats on top as scum. Some solids are anaerobically digested, and the treated excess liquid drains out from the tank to be absorbed by the surrounding soil. Not all of the solid sludge is able to organically decompose, which is why it’s vital to get your septic tank emptied – the frequency of this will depend on the tank’s size and how many people it serves.
Winter septic tank issues
Freezing weather can put your septic tank under a lot of stress, and may seriously damage it if left untreated. It’s not all bad news though – being able to recognise potential problems goes a long way towards prevention, so see below for some of the most common winter issues and how you can prevent them.
Sub zero temperatures and the accompanying frost and snow can infiltrate parts of your septic tank system, or even freeze the entire thing. Even one frozen part will slow down the rate of anaerobic bacteria in the tank, meaning that solid waste will not be broken down as effectively. Luckily, something as simple as covering the septic tank with a blanket, or running water at regular intervals can prevent the chances of freezing.
Clogged or leaking pipes can cause havoc to your septic system at any time, but particularly during the colder months. A leak can cause water to freeze outside of the pipes, causing further damage to the entire system, and a clog prevents wastewater from flowing into the tank chambers. A buildup of wastewater in the pipes is also prone to freezing, and could even contaminate your drinking water. It’s important to fix any leaks as soon as you notice them (ideally before cold weather descends), and pay extra attention to what you can and cannot flush to prevent the build up of clogs.
Hard, compacted ground
Frozen ground and compacted snow around the tank and drainfield can lead to less effective drainage and poor insulation of your tank. If the ground of the drainfield is too compacted and hard then wastewater cannot be filtered and drained as easily, and it will also make it much more difficult to pump your septic tank if it needs emptying. Aim to have your septic emptied before winter if necessary, and aerate the soil around the tank to reduce the risk of the ground becoming too compacted.
Signs of a problem
Even if you’ve taken care to avoid the winter issues above, come spring you may still notice some signs that your septic tank is not operating as effectively as it should. It’s essential to have your tank cleaned or emptied if you notice any of the following signs:
Pools or puddles of water on the grass near the drainage field area is a serious sign that your septic tank is not functioning as it should. Poor drainage can cause a health hazard, as dirty water is accumulating in places where it shouldn’t, so call the experts immediately to talk about septic tank drainage.
It’s unpleasant, but a bad smell is another sign that your septic tank isn’t functioning properly and a ‘rotten egg’ smell indicates the presence of toxic sulphur. A stronger smell outside around the tank might mean that raw sewage has leaked out, or if you’re smelling odours inside the house it’s likely that the tank is full and needs to be emptied.
Water backup or slow drainage from your kitchen sink, bath or shower could indicate blocked pipes in your septic system. If sewage has begun to back up from the pipes call for professional help as soon as possible – this can be the sign of a failing system.
Frequent gurgling noises after flushing the toilet or running water is usually a sign that the pipes are blocked or the septic tank is full. This can be easily resolved by pumping the tank, and septic tank emptying costs aren’t as high as you might think.
There’s no substitute for a professionals septic tank service, but there are some things you can do to maintain your tank throughout the spring. This season is the best time of year to get your tank back in optimum working condition after the winter, so see below for some of our top spring cleaning tips.
Change the filters
Most septic tanks have filters nowadays – with the exception of some old models – and it acts as an extra screening device to catch solid particles and prevent them interfering with the soil absorption. Filters can become clogged with twigs, leaves or other debris from winter storms or spring rain, which can stop the entire system from working properly. In some cases you’ll be able to clean the filters yourself, or call a professional company if you think they need replacing.
Even if your tank doesn’t need emptying, it’s a good idea to schedule an inspection in the spring for some general septic tank care. A professional will be able to spot any issues you might have missed, such as a cracked lid or faulty pipes.
Pump the system
This is simply another way of describing emptying the septic tank; as stated the size and frequency of use will affect how often you need to empty, but most tanks are pumped once every one to five years. This is something that should never be attempted without calling in a professional, but regular pumping can help prevent flooding, reduce the buildup of potentially unhygienic toxins and stop water backing up into your property.
Clean your drains
It might seem unrelated, but the more you take care of the internal drains, the less work the septic tank has further down the line. Keep drains and pipes free of clogs by monitoring what you flush down the toilet, and avoid pouring cooking oil down the sink where possible. Clear drains mean less chance of your tank flooding or water backing up through the pipes.
It’s not just April showers – there’s a lot of rainfall throughout all the spring months, so it’s wise to redirect your gutters away from the drainage area to prevent flooding. Too much water directed towards the septic tank can interfere with the settlement of sewage and disrupt the flow rate with the potential for sewage to leave the tank untreated.
If you’re in need of domestic or professional septic tank emptying or maintenance, give J H Willis & Son a call. With over 50 years of experience in the waste management industry, we make sure all waste is disposed of to licensed premises and work with the Environment Agency and Cheshire Council to minimise the environmental impact of waste disposal. Call us today on 0151 356 0351 or visit our website to learn more about our septic tank services.