Much like our digestive system, a septic system harbors beneficial bacterial flora that help it function optimally. However, it isn’t uncommon for an important component of these systems, the septic tank, to function at less than its full potential.
As a result, the other components of the system begin to fail. Excessive water consumption often interferes with the balance of the initial decomposition process, which will ultimately have negative repercussions on the environment.
Owners of isolated residences should know that, in order to be in compliance with Quebec regulations (Q-2 r. 22 Wastewater Evacuation and Treatment), they must have their septic system inspected and maintained on a regular basis.
The demands placed on these types of systems influences their efficiency and lifecycle, which is generally not much more than twenty years or so. There’s no point in trying to increase their longevity by injecting bacteria or air in an attempt to revitalize the leach field, as any effects will be very short-lived. Furthermore, the use of treatments that include additives or hydrogen peroxide is strongly discouraged by the Ministry of the Environment and the Fight against Climate Change (MELCC).
The “digestive” capacity of a septic system bears a direct relationship to the quantity of water that reaches it within a given amount of time. Heavy water consumption within a relatively short period (when preparing meals, washing dishes or clothes, taking baths or showers, etc.) causes the wastewater to spend less time in the septic tank. As a result, less settling occurs, and the beneficial effects of the microorganisms in the tank are reduced. This, in turn, has a negative impact on the system downstream.
Allowing sufficient time for the processes to work
It’s important to understand that a septic tank—whether concrete, plastic or fiberglass—is the first line of defense. It was designed to perform a bacterial pre-treatment, forcing the liquids, solids and greases to separate. The fluid then enters a network of perforated pipes situated under a bed of stones covered with dirt.
This is known as a leach field. Any bacteria, viruses or contaminants are biologically decomposed there before the fluid percolates into the soil. Consequently, if too much water reaches the septic tank too quickly, this initial treatment loses some of its effectiveness and, as a result, too much solid material reaches the leach field, obstructing the pipes, hindering its performance and shortening its lifecycle.
Wastewater should remain in the septic tank for at least 24 hours for the septic system to function at full efficiency. However, significant water consumption that’s concentrated within a short period forces the wastewater to leave the septic tank prematurely. That’s why it’s important not only to reduce consumption, but also to stagger it.
It’s also critical to prevent things like hair, paper, paper towels, diapers, litter, condoms, napkins, sanitary napkins and dental floss from ending up in the septic tank, as they will decompose very little, if at all.
The septic system experts at Sanibert would also like to remind you not to “feed” your septic tank products containing detergents, bleach, pesticides, insecticides, paint, solvents or medication. All of these are detrimental to the beneficial bacterial flora.