Does Your House Have Septic or Sewer?
Where does the water go when you use the sinks and showers in your home? When you flush your toilet, do the contents stay in your yard in an underground septic system or leave your property and go through the sewer lines to a treatment plant? If you don’t receive a sewer bill, then you have a septic system on your lot. Knowing what you need to do to keep your system from malfunctioning saves you money, protects the environment, prevents contamination of your well water supply which can hurt your family’s health, and averts raw sewage backing up into your home. This webpage gives you tips on proper care of your septic system.
Some precautions, such as spacing laundry and dishwasher loads three hours between uses puts less of a burden on the system. This allows enough time for the septic tank to work correctly by letting the solids settle to the bottom of the tank. This allows the fluids to go out into the dosing tank and then into the absorption area (aka turkey mound).
Sparingly use detergents, soaps, conditioners and cleansers as they contain fats that clog and kill the bacteria needed to decompose the solid waste in the septic tank. (Use HE labeled and environmentally friendly detergents.) Chlorine bleach and anti-bacterial products are especially harmful to your system. Do not use a garbage disposal or put food, oils or grease, and harsh chemicals like antifreeze and caustic toilet bowl cleaners down your drains. Besides killing the good bacteria or clogging your system, in the event of a malfunction, they NEVER flush bulky, hard to decompose items such a sanitary napkins, diapers, paper towels, cigarette filters, plastics, eggshells, bones or coffee grounds down the toilet could pollute your well.
Also, do not build on, pave over, or drive over the drain field or turkey mound as this can destroy it.
Have the septic tank pumped out and the system inspected every one to three years, depending on how heavily it is used. If this isn’t done, the drain field can become clogged by solid waste and ruined. Seeing sewage or water around the edges of the system, or feeling sponginess system area, and having sewage back up into your house, are signs that the system needs to be repaired or replaced. If this happens, Stroud Township’s Sewage Enforcement Officer may require a permit application before you or a contractor makes repairs to ensure that it is done correctly. PA will soon be requiring residents to save receipts to show proof of having their tank pumped.
Contact Township Sewer Enforcement Officer Helen Beers at 570-421-3362, Extension 117 to leave a message or question, and she will get back to you if she is not in the office.
Where does your sewage go?
If you are new to our area and never had to worry about where everything goes when you flush the toilet or use the sinks in your home, there are things you need to be aware of. First, you should know whether your sewage goes to a public or private sewage treatment plant or into your own backyard septic system. If you receive a bill from from your development’s sewer office or the Stroud Township Sewer Authority http://www.township.stroud.pa.us/seweraut.htm , then it goes to a sewage treatment plant. You could also be on a community sewer system, such as in Penn Estates or Blue Mountain Lakes, so would receive a sewer bill from them. If you don’t receive a sewer bill, then you have a septic system on your lot and you need to know some facts so that you don’t inadvertently ruin it and have to replace it at great expense.
Knowing what you need to do to keep your system from malfunctioning saves you money, protects the environment, and prevents contamination of your well water supply which can hurt your family’s health. Some precautions, such as spacing laundry and dishwasher loads at least three hours between uses puts less of a burden on the system. This allows enough time for the septic tank to work correctly. This involves the solids settling to the bottom of the tank and the fluids going out into the dosing tank and then into the absorption area, which very often in this area is also referred to as a turkey mound.
Sparingly use soaps, conditioners and cleansers as they contain fats that clog and kill the bacteria that is needed to decompose the solid waste in the septic tank. Chlorine bleach and anti-bacterial products are especially harmful. Do not use a garbage disposal or put food, oils or grease down your drains.
Have the septic tank pumped out and the system inspected every one to three years, depending on how heavily it is used. If this isn’t done, the drain field can become clogged by solid waste and ruined. Seeing sewage around the edges of the system, as well as having it back up into your house, are signs that the system is beyond being able to be repaired and must be replaced. Do not build on, pave over, or drive over the drain field or turkey mound.
Stroud Township has a Sewage Enforcement Officer who will require you to fill out a permit application before you or a contractor replaces your system or makes repairs. The SEO can provide helpful information and will inspect it while it is being fixed to make sure it is being done correctly. Please call our office at 570-421-3362 for details. Ask for Helen Beers.
Besides all of the information on this page, Penn State Co-Operative Extension’s Monroe County office has some excellent Fact Sheets. You can follow these links or call the Penn State Co-Op. office for F-161 , F-162 and F-164 from their office 570-421-6430. Copies are also available in the Stroud Township office at 1211 North Fifth Street.
An Operation and Maintenance Guide taken from the PA Department of Environmental Education’s website is below: http://www.dep.state.pa.us/dep/deputate/watermgt/Wqp/WQP_WM/FACTS/pa1608.htm
Onlot System Operation and Maintenance
The best designed and properly installed onlot sewage disposal system will still malfunction if the homeowner does not properly operate and maintain the sytem. In addition to requiring costly repairs, malfunctioning systems can contaminate surface and groundwaters, cause various health problems, and spread disease as well as create unsightly messes and foul odors when raw sewage surfaces or backs up into the home.
There are two basic types of anaerobic (without Oxygen) onlot systems; those with gravity distribution systems and those with pressure distribution systems. In both types, there are three major components:
- the septic tank.
- the distribution box (gravity system) or dosing tank (pressure system).
- the absorption area.
Sewage flows to the septic tank, where the primary treatment process takes place. In the tank, the heaviest matter settles to the bottom (forming sludge) and the lighter matter (scum) floats on top of a somewhat clear liquid called effluent. While the sludge and scum must be pumped out regularly, the clear liquid flows out of the tank to a distribution box or dosing tank, and is then directed to the absorption area by gravity flow or through pressurized pipes. Within the absorption area, this effluent exits through pipes into a layer of gravel and then percolates through the soil for additional treatment. The bacteria in the soil neutralizes many of the contaminants in the wastewater.
Signs of an onlot system in trouble include:
- Toilet runs sluggish.
- Sewer odors in the house and/or drinking water.
- Illness, often to household visitors.
- Sponginess around septic tank, distribution box or dosing tank and absorption area.
- Surfacing raw sewage.
- Dosing pump runs constantly or not at all.
- Dosing tank alarm light is on.
- Backup of sewage into laundry tubs or other fixtures.
Many of these signs indicate an onlot system malfunction. If you wait to take care of it “later”, the chances of being able to repair your system go down. You will be faced with a multi-thousand dollar bill to replace it instead of a more reasonable repair. So, at the first sign of trouble, have your system pumped and inspected. If repairwork needs to be done, it will require a permit from the Township SEO, which will most likely be applied for by the person doing the work. the permit will ensure the work is done to code and less likely to cause you problems later on.
Homeowners can help prevent malfunctions and ensure the long-term use of their onlot system by doing the following:
- Conserving water and reducing wasteflow into the septic tank.
- Having the septic tank pumped at least every 3-5 years, depending upon tank size and household size.
- Avoiding putting chemicals in the septic system.
- Not using the toilet to dispose of bulky, slowly decomposing wastes.
- Inspecting the septic tank, pipes and drainage field annually.
- Maintaining accurate records of the septic system (design, installation, location, inspections, pumpings, malfunctions, repairs.)
- Preventing run-off from downspouts, sump pumps, and paved surfaces from getting into the septic system.
- Keeping heavy vehicles, equipment and livestock away form the septic system.
- Not planting trees and shrubs over or close to the septic system.
Conserving Water and Reducing Wasteflow
Onlot systems not only treat and dispose of domestic sewage from toilets, they also receive wastewater from various other household fixtures, including baths, showers, kitchen sinks, garbage disposals, automatic dishwaters and laundries.
Conserving water and reducing the amount of wasteflow from household activities is an important step to ensuring long-term use. The more water-using devices in a household, the greater the burden is on the onlot system.
Following are some helpful water conservation tips and a comparison of water usage between conventional fixtures versus water-saving fixtures.
- Use the dishwasher and laundry washer only when the
are loaded to capacity.
- Top Loading Laundry Washer 35-50 gal./load
- Front Loading Laundry Washer 22-25 gal./load
- Fix leaky faucets and plumbing fixtures quickly.
Install flow control (regulator) devices on faucets.
- Regular Faucet Aerator 2.5-6 gal./min.
- Flow regulating Aerator .5-2.5 gal./min.
- Take short showers instead of baths. Install flow
control or water saving devices on showerheads and other plumbing fixtures.
- Conventional Showerhead 3-15 gal./min.
- Water Saving Showerhead 2-3 gal./min.
- Reduce water use each time you flush the toilet. Put
a heavy device such as a brick in a plastic bag or a water-filled plastic bottle in the
reservoir or install a low flow toilet.
- Conventional Toilet 4-6 gal./flush
- Water Saving Toilet 3-1.6 gal./flush
- Use the garbage disposal sparingly. These wastes
place a greater burden on the septic system. If you have garden space, compost the
Pumping Your Septic Tank
A septic tank accumulates solids (sludge) and scum which should be pumped out at least every three to five years. The frequency of pumping depends upon tank size and household size. Larger households (families with 4 or more people) generally require more frequent pumpings (every one or two years). Being careless about putting cooking grease and garbage down your drains will require pumping more often also. The state of PA will be requiring all septic system owners to provide proof of pump-outs at determined intervals. Keep your records of any septic system pump-outs or work.
In Pennsylvania, specific tank sizes are generally based on the number of bedrooms in the home because the number of bedrooms is an indicator of household size. For example, a home with three bedrooms must have a 900 gallon or larger septic tank. The more bedrooms, the larger the septic tank.
For more information on the recommended frequency of pumpings, contact your local agency (normally your local township) Sewage Enforcement Officer or the Department of Environmental Protection.
Your Toilet Is Not A Trash Can
Trillions of living, beneficial bacteria constantly treat and decompose raw sewage in a septic system. The effectiveness of these bacteria can be impaired if harmful substances and chemicals are put into the septic system. Harmful substances/chemicals include:
- oils and grease
- varnishes and paints and solvents
- harsh drain and toilet bowl cleaners
- laundry detergents with high sudsing elements
Remember, what goes into your toilet and drains many eventually end up back in your drinking water. So instead of using caustic toilet bowl cleaners or bleach, try mild detergent or baking soda or one half cup of borax per gallon of water.
Also NEVER flush bulky, hard to decompose items such a sanitary napkins, diapers, paper towels, cigarette filters, plastics, eggshells, bones or coffee grounds down the toilet because they can clog the system.
General Huidelines On How Often To Have Your Septic Tank Pumped
Table I. Septic Tank Pumping
|Household size – Number of Occupants|
|Tank-Gallons||Septic Tank Pumping Frequency in Years|