Where is the drainfield? What's the size of the septic tank? Here's an easy-to-follow guide to teach homeowners everything they need to know about maintaining their onsite systems.


As an installer, you play an important role when it comes to educating homeowners about the onsite system. There is a significant amount of information a new homeowner needs to know about their system to better maintain it and ensure it is performing properly.

With firsthand knowledge of how the system was put in and where it is located, you can explain the basic operation of the system and what homeowners need to know about maintenance. Helping homeowners understand their system will give them a better idea of what to expect if problems arise. Provide information on necessary maintenance for the septic tank and the drainfield.

Provide the basics so the homeowner can make decisions on maintenance and care of the entire system.

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Information the installer should provide:

1. Map of the property

  • Map showing location of house, septic tank and drainfield

2. Name of the installing contractor with address and contact information

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3. Sanitary permit information

  • Who it was issued to, date issued, legal description of property

4. Onsite system description

  • Septic tank type
  • Tank capacity
  • Pump tank size (if applicable)
  • Drainfield (lateral lines, drip irrigation, lagoon)

5. Effluent dispersal system/drainfield

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  • Lateral lines (length, location)
  • Distribution or drop box location
  • Motors/electrical components
  • Engineered system (drop, low-pressure pipe) — include name of engineer that designed system
  • Lagoon
  • Distance from property lines, wells, foundations, etc.

This information should be placed in a file and given to the homeowner. This isn’t all the information on the onsite system but is a good start in the right direction.

For installers that also pump or maintain onsite systems, there is more information that can be given to the homeowner that will help keep the system working properly for a long time.

You may want to create a page of tips for the homeowner that explains some of the maintenance needed and when it should be done. This should include the following:

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1. Septic tank

  • Date pumped, maintenance contractor and contact information, suggested date for next pumping
  • Condition of baffles
  • Effluent screen (if applicable) — should be cleaned when tank is pumped
  • Condition of manhole and inspection pipe

    2. Pump or lift station

    • Electrical service — Check that all electrical connections are done to code with no frayed wires, and they are secure from moisture. Check pump switch installation for proper height and to ensure it goes on and off as needed.
    • Pumps — Make sure pumps are sized properly, maintained and checked for proper function.

      3. Wastewater distribution system

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      • Drop box and distribution boxes — Adjustments should be made to allow the proper amount of fluid to move into lateral lines and make necessary modifications so all lateral lines work effectively.
      • Lateral lines (what to plant or not plant over the lateral lines, don’t drive heavy equipment over the lateral lines, don’t fertilize grass over the lateral lines)
      • Engineered system (what is it and basic maintenance requirement)
      • Lagoon (removal of trees, aquatic plants such as cattails, and other obstructions that prevent proper evapotranspiration of the wastewater)

      The information you provide a homeowner will save you time and save the homeowner money when it comes to maintenance. There are many sources of information available, but unless homeowners know the essentials of their specific system, they can easily get overwhelmed. Help them keep the onsite system working properly for many years.

      About the Author
      Bob Broz is a water quality specialist with the University of Missouri Extension. He teaches classes on soil percolation for onsite installers and developed a class for real estate professionals about understanding onsite systems. He has developed a class for homeowners on the care and maintenance of onsite systems. Readers are welcome to submit questions or article suggestions to Bob. Write to kim.peterson@colepublishing.com.


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