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Although the septic system is a critical component of your home, nothing is quite as unpleasant as experiencing system failure. It is usually messy, hazardous, and expensive to fix. Proper care and maintenance of your septic system is critical to ensuring your system’s proper function.

In addition to proper care, there are other common activities that we should be mindful of in our daily lives. Understanding the various factors that can contribute to the failure of your septic tank and taking proactive steps to prevent them is highly beneficial to the homeowner.


System Age

Unfortunately, one of the main causes of drain field failure is its age. The average life of a drainfield is approximately 25 years, depending on its usage and maintenance. When drain fields reach this point, they need repair or a new drain field needs to be created.


Excessive Water Use

A common reason for septic system failure is overloading the system with more water than it can absorb. A septic system is designed for a specific wastewater flow rate based on the number of bedrooms in the house served by the system. Dripping faucets, running commodes, and malfunctioning water softeners put extra water into the septic system, which can flood out your drainfield. Higher-than-normal usage on the system from occupants or visitors can overload the system as well.

Along with excess water from inside the house, drainage or runoff water outside also may overload the septic system. In particular, water from roofs, roads, or paved areas may be diverted onto the system drainfield. This surface water will saturate the soil to the point that it can no longer absorb additional water.


Flushing Foreign Objects Down the Drain

If you have a toddler in the house, you have probably experienced an object being dropped into the toilet. Once flushed, removing that object can be costly and time consuming. For households with small children, prevent unwanted objects from going down the drain by installing toilet seat locks. Other notorious septic system cloggers include baby wipes, paper products other than toilet paper, feminine products, etc. Purchase toilet paper labeled “Septic Safe” and keep excess kitchen grease out of the drain. Kitchen grease accumulates rather than breaking down in the tank, filling the tank quicker and ultimately shortening the time until it will need to be pumped. Dispose of kitchen grease in the trash rather than down the drain. The goal is to reduce the amount of solids entering the tank. Whatever is put in will have to be pumped out!


Garbage Disposals

Take care when using your garbage disposal. While convenient, frequent use of garbage disposals significantly increases the accumulation of sludge and scum in septic tanks and can result in the need for more frequent pumping.


Household Chemicals and Toxics

Large volumes of toxic cleaners, oil-based paints and solvents should not be put down the drain or flushed. Remember that your septic system contains a living collection of organisms that digest and treat waste.


Tree Roots

Many commercial products claim to prevent roots from clogging pipes, but nothing takes the place of careful landscaping practices. To prevent septic system damage, do not place a leach field near trees and shrubs and plant only grass or shallow-rooted vegetation around a septic system.


Crushing Damage

Driving, paving or building on top of a septic system can damage or destroy it. The pipes and septic tank can shift position or be crushed from repeated or even occasional pressure. In addition, the soil can be compacted, or ruts may form, exposing system components and possibly untreated sewage to the ground surface. Paving over all or a portion of the drainfield may prevent air from getting into the soil. Paving or building over the septic tank also will prevent required tank maintenance.


Poor Design or Construction

When installed or designed improperly, a septic system can experience problems from the outset. Some common construction and design problems that are seen in failed septic systems include installation in inadequate sizing, poor construction, soil layers that are too thin, impermeable soils and grading that is too steep for the system to perform correctly. Finally, installing a septic system when the soil is over-saturated with moisture or compacted after home construction can lead to its future system failure.


Lack of Maintenance

Scheduling regular septic inspections is crucial for optimal system performance. Most households need a septic inspection every 3 years and to have their septic tank pumped every 3 to 5 years. A lack of maintenance can allow small problems to become significant ones and lead to failure.



If you have noticed the above red flags about your septic system, do not procrastinate! Call West Coast Sanitation at (951) 780-5922 right away. We have professionals ready to answer your questions and get your system working properly again. We are experienced in septic system inspection, troubleshooting, installation and repairs.