Tips to Prolong a Septic System Lifespan

Your septic (on-site wastewater treatment) system and some easy tips to prolong its lifespan and preserve your water quality.

On-site wastewater treatment systems, commonly referred to as septic systems, can be found at just about every rural residence or cottage.  An on-site wastewater treatment system is just that, a system that treats wastewater and is located on the same property as the building it services.  As many studies have concluded, ineffective septic systems directly affect water quality of lakes and rivers by adding nutrients to the system.

What Is An On-Site Wastewater Treatment System?

Most commonly, an on-site wastewater treatment system consists of a septic tank followed by a leaching bed; both sized accordingly based on the type of building it services.  A septic tank is ordinarily made of concrete or polyethylene and is buried near the building it services.  The role of the septic tank is to provide primary treatment by separating heavy solids (sludge) and lighter materials (oils and grease) from the sewage.  If a wastewater treatment system has been installed or upgraded since 2007, then the septic tank will also have an effluent filter on the outlet of the septic tank.  The effluent filter provides additional filtration of fine particles and further prevents scum from flowing into the leaching bed, prolonging the life of the bed.  Generally, the effluent then flows by gravity from the septic tank to a leaching bed that is developed based on the property area, soil characteristics, depth to groundwater, and distances to buildings, lakes, streams, property lines, and wells.  The leaching bed is typically made up of several equally spaced lengths of perforated PVC pipes which are laid in gravel overlying the native soil or imported sand.  The underlying soil dynamics are an important part of a septic system; the sewage effluent is treated by biological, chemical, and physical processes as it trickles from the leaching bed through the soil.  A wastewater treatment system designed in this fashion and in good working order has been demonstrated to provide excellent treatment of sewage protecting nearby lakes and rivers.

on-site wastewater treatment system

Cambium’s On-Site wastewater treatment system for a camp resort

on-site wastewater system Upgrades and Maintenance

Many wastewater treatment systems in Ontario are several decades old; however, this does not mean that the treatment system is no longer effective. Wastewater systems used only seasonally tend to last much longer than a wastewater system used year-round.  The lifespan of a wastewater treatment system initially set by the appropriateness of the design, technology, location, and construction of the system but proper maintenance and operation are equally important.

Since a wastewater treatment system is the responsibility of the property owner, it is up to you to ensure your wastewater treatment system is functioning properly in order to protect human health and the environment on and around your property, as well as prolong the life of your investment. For property owners that live near lakes or streams, this is especially important as malfunctioning septic systems can pollute both your drinking water and the lake or stream. Effluent is what the sewage treated by your septic system is called. Sewage is primarily composed of organic nutrients such as ammonia, nitrates, carbon, and phosphorus. Effluent that has been ineffectively treated by a malfunctioning septic system, disposes nutrient laden water into the ground and nearby water bodies. The nutrients act as a fertilizer increasing the rate of growth of water plants and algae, resulting the eutrophication (using up the oxygen) of lakes, which can be fatal to aquatic life like fish.

The following are some tips and minor upgrades that, if completed, will not only extend the life of your wastewater treatment system, but will make your system easier to service when needed:

  • Learn the components of your wastewater treatment systems and where they are;
  • Only have licenced contractors install, service, or repair your system and ask for proof of certification;
  • Have a licenced contractor add watertight sealed access risers to your septic tank lids;
  • Keep all records of service performed on your wastewater system;
  • Test your well water for bacteria regularly (consult your local health department for more information);
  • Have a licenced contractor inspect your septic tank every 3-5 years, and pump the septic tank if your scum and sludge is more than 1/3 of the volume of the tank;
  • Have a licenced contractor install an effluent filter;
  • Conserve water use and spread heavy water use appliances over the day;
  • Avoid pouring oils and grease down the drain;
  • Do not flush pharmaceuticals, chemicals, sanitary products, or paint;
  • Do not use a garburator;
  • Do not use special additives promising improved septic performance;
  • Do not encroach on the wastewater system with trees, buildings, vehicles, driveways, etc.; and,
  • Do not connect any rainwater downspouts, sump pumps, or water softeners to the wastewater treatment system.
  • Although not prominently visible, your on-site wastewater treatment system is a critical component of your home or cottage and must be maintained and cared for in order to prolong its lifespan, protect the lakes and rivers we enjoy, and protect your health. If renovating or building new, it is suggested that you contact a professional at the start of your project design to ensure your septic needs.

Septic on-site wastewater treatment system

Cambium’s new spectic system – onsite waterwater system.


 

Cambium’s professionals are experts in water and wastewater engineering. We have extensive experience with onsite wastewater treatment and water treatment programs. Our team has worked with a wide range of clients including school boards, campgrounds, resorts, commercial businesses, property developers, industrial users, municipalities and individual land owners throughout Peterborough, Barrie, Kingston, and central Ontario. Give us a call or email Kevin Warner or Stewart Dolstra, (our team page) if you have any questions, need advice or would like a quote for our services.