Is your septic system in the holiday mood?

November 17, 2012

Autumn is upon us, the days are getting shorter and the holidays are fast approaching.

We begin to think about turkey, Christmas trees and just how many penalties are the Dallas Cowboys going to get in their next game.

This is also the time of year when we begin to think less about water quality. As recreation decreases, most people consider water quality less. But there are still things you can do to help improve water quality.

One is with regards to septic systems. During the holiday season, it is not uncommon to see septic systems fail. This is often due to more wastewater entering the septic system than it can handle.

When Grandma, Uncle Tom, Aunt Deb and the three nephews come and stay the night, your water usage, and consequently the amount of wastewater going to your septic system, is going to increase. A large volume of wastewater might overwhelm your septic system. The result is either wastewater backing up into the house or surfacing in the yard and possibly entering our waterways. So try to limit and spread out your water usage.

There are several things you can do to avoid this type of failure with your system. You can: wait and do laundry until everyone leaves, use paper plates to cut down on dish washing, have some people shower in the evening and others in the morning, and limit the length of showers.

I can remember as a kid being hosed down outside with my brothers and cousins just so we wouldn’t overflow the septic system. If it looks like you are going to be having family stay with you over the holidays, keep in mind the amount of water that is entering your septic system. Hey … maybe you can even use it as an excuse to keep your in-laws from staying too long.


While often times this type of failure results in no permanent damage to the system, it can push solids through the leach lines and out into the soil resulting in clogged soil. This problem can only be remedied by either soil replacement or the installation of an alternative system, both of which are costly.

Along with ensuring that your system’s capacity is not exceeded, you should also make sure you guests are “septic educated.” Tell them what can and can’t be flushed down the drain. Outside of toilet paper and bodily waste, nothing else should go down the drain. Don’t put cigarette butts, food scraps (especially Grandma’s fruitcake – that will probably never break down in your septic tank), diapers, feminine products, or Uncle Chester’s toupee down the drain.

Also, avoid costly structural damage to your septic system by not letting people park their vehicles over the septic tank or its drain field. By doing these things you will not only save yourself some headaches and maybe money, but also improve water quality by keeping bacteria and nutrient-rich wastewater from entering our waterways.

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