It is important for New Jersey Home Inspectors and real estate agents to understand how septic systems operate in order to be able to educate their home buying clients about their function and maintenance. Inspecting septic systems is beyond the scope of a home inspection in New Jersey but having a basic understanding of septic systems is beneficial for home inspectors, real estate agents and their clients.
A septic system treats and disposes of wastewater from the home. A septic system has three main components. A septic has a waste pipe from the home, a septic tank, and a drain field often referred to as a lech field. Both liquids and solid wastes are treated and disposed of by the septic system. Solids are broken down into sludge and are separated from the wastewater which is called effluent. The septic tank is a below ground, concrete container. Septic tanks can also be made of fiberglass, or polyethylene. The septic tanks holds the wastewater long enough to allow solids to settle to the bottom of the tank. The septic system allows for the partial decomposition of the solids. The wastewater minus the solids leaves the septic tank and enters the drain field. In the drain field the liquids are then treated by microorganisms that remove contaminants and bad bacteria. The wastewater is treated by the microorganisms before it eventually peculates to groundwater. There is a T- shaped outlet that help prevent the solids and sludge from entering the drain field. There are also screens (baffles) installed that help keep the solids in the tank and help prevent them from reaching the drain field.
Baffles are installed in the septic tank in order to help prevent wastewater from entering the field too quickly. The baffles provide time for the solids to properly distillate and prevent solids from entering the drain field where they can clog the system and cause damage.
NJ home inspectors should educate their clients that the maintenance of the septic system is their responsibility. The client should understand that properly maintaining their septic system protects their investment in the home and that septic systems are very expensive to replace. A poorly functioning septic system can contaminate groundwater and if the home has a well the contaminated groundwater can make its way into the drinking water.
How should a homeowner maintain a septic system? The septic system should be pumped often. A homeowner should pump the system every two years to be safe.
Septic pumping is the process of removing sludge from the bottom of the septic tank. Pumping needs to be done before the sludge builds up to a level where it blocks the outlet pipe which is the pipe that delivers wastewater to the septic field.
Other tips in helping to extend the life expectancy of a septic system.
Do not use large volumes of water over a short period of time. Using too much water can cause solids to move into the drain field resulting in an obstruction. This issue happens most often with laundry. Try to space out your laundry needs over the course of the week rather than doing all the laundry in a day or two days. All household water a home uses ends up in the septic system. The more water conservation a house has, the less water enters the septic system and the longer the septic will last. Economical water use improves the operation of a septic system and lowers the chances of having a malfunction.
In the same vein reduce your water usage. Conserving water reduces the loads placed on your septic system. Make sure water in the home is not left on and repair any water leaks. Turn off water when brushing teeth and shaving.
Garbage disposal use is a hard NO. Using a disposal unit reduces the effectiveness of the septic system. In the septic tank bacteria have time to break down the solids and keep sludge levels in check. If a garbage disposal is in use the bacteria will get overwhelmed with food waste. Typically, you will find sludge levels rising, tank capacity decreases, and the ability of bacterial to do their job of breaking down waste diminishes.
Do not flush anything other than toilet paper. Using the toilet to get rid of items such as other paper products, sanitary products, paper towels, diapers, cigarette butts, and even tissues will cause damage to your septic system.
Do not put harsh chemicals down your drains. There are millions of living organisms in the septic system that can be killed by these chemicals. Do not pour chemicals, grease, paint, solvents, and cleaners into your drains. If it’s not water or organic, it should not end up in your septic system.
Although New Jersey home inspectors and real estate agents do not typically inspect septic systems it is beneficial for them to have a working knowledge about how a septic system operates and the proper maintenance involved in order to properly educate their clients regarding these very important and expensive waste disposal systems.
LookSmart Home Inspections
NJ Home Inspectors Lic # 24GI00058700
Board Certified Master Home Inspector
American Society of Home Inspectors (ACI) #244472
International Association of Certified Home Inspectors (CPI) # 200090933
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Commercial Pesticide Lic. (Termite Inspection License) # 27811B
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5 Preston Ave
East Hanover, NJ 07936