If your home or cottage has a septic system instead of a sewer connection, keep these 10 tips in mind to help keep it in good working order.

  1. Use water efficiently. All of the water that goes down your drains or your toilet ends up in your septic system, so the more efficient you are with your use of water, the less strain you put on your entire septic system. Here are a few ways to improve your household’s water efficiency:
    • Upgrade to high-efficiency toilets and showerheads
    • Use faucet aerators to help decrease your water consumption
    • If you only want to wash a few items of clothing but don’t have the option to select a smaller load size or shorter wash cycle, consider waiting until you have a full load of laundry before running your machine
    • Don’t do all of your laundry in one day (this puts unnecessary strain on your septic system; try to spread out activities that require lots of water)
  2. Repair leaky faucets and running toilets. A single leaky faucet or running toilet can waste a lot more water than you might think — and put a lot of extra pressure on your septic system.
  3. Don’t treat your toilet like a trash can. The only (we repeat, only!) things that should be flushed down your toilet are human waste and septic-safe toilet paper. Never flush diapers, dental floss, hair from your clogged drain, cigarette butts, cat litter, paper towels, or personal hygiene items down the toilet — even if they say they’re “flushable.”

    Bonus tip: If you rent out your cottage, it’s especially important to remind renters what can and can’t be flushed down the toilet. Consider leaving a sign in the bathroom to avoid any accidents.
  4. Limit your use of heavy-duty cleaners. Cleaning products with harsh chemicals in them can kill the good bacteria in your septic tank, making it less effective at breaking down solid waste.
  5. Don’t flush toxic chemicals (or pour them down the drain). Gasoline, paint and paint thinners, antifreeze, solvents, oils, pesticides, and other toxic chemicals also kill good bacteria, so don’t let these get into your septic system.
  6. Mind your landscaping. Avoid root damage by keeping trees at least 30 metres away from your septic system. Trees with more aggressive roots (like willows, for example), should be kept even farther away.
  7. Don’t disrupt the drain field. The drain field (or leach field) is the area on your property (underground, likely at least six metres from your house) where wastewater from your septic system is dispersed into the soil to be further processed and distributed back into the environment. Never park a vehicle, build a structure, or plant trees or a garden over your septic system’s drain field. You should also prevent excess water from flowing over your drain field by making sure your downspouts are pointing away from it (a soggy drain field won’t property absorb and filter wastewater).
  8. Ditch the garbage disposal. Eliminate or limit use of your garbage disposal unit. This will help reduce the amount of grease, fats, and solids that make their way into your septic system.
  9. Follow the maintenance instructions. If you know who installed your septic system, ask them what kind of maintenance it requires and follow their directions. If you’ve recently moved into a house or cottage with a septic system and don’t know who installed it or when it was serviced last, have it inspected by an expert as soon as possible — and while you’re at it, ask how often it should be emptied and serviced. Most household septic systems need to be inspected by a professional at least every one to three years, but guidelines vary by tank and household size, so you’ll need to find out what’s required in your situation. It’s a good idea to keep detailed records of services performed on your septic system (or even consider setting up an ongoing service agreement) to help you stay on top of regular maintenance.
  10. Watch for signs of trouble. Call a professional if you notice any of these telltale signs of septic tank trouble:
    • You smell rotten eggs (or sulphur) coming from your septic tank
    • You notice puddles of standing (often smelly) water near the drain field or near where your septic tank is buried
    • The grass is getting significantly greener or growing much faster in one isolated area of your yard
    • Water is backing up when you run your washing machine or sewage has started backing up into your house through your toilets or drains
    • You hear gurgling sounds coming from your pipes (generally right after you rush the toilet or run the water)
    • Water in your toilets, sinks, showers, or other drains is going down slower than normal (while this could just be a clogged pipe, it could also be a sign that there’s a problem with your septic system)

Keeping your septic system in tip-top shape and following its proper maintenance schedule can help prevent inconvenient (and messy!) plumbing issues down the road. It can also help you avoid an insurance claim that may not be covered by your basic home insurance policy. Contact your group’s licensed broker to find out how your own home insurance policy would respond to damage to your septic system or damage to your home caused by a backup.

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