Class Is in Session … For Your Customers

NOWRA and partners introduce new training tools aimed at educating septic system users

Class Is in Session … For Your Customers

This aerial photo showing the installation of an EZFlow system installation is included in  homeowner training materials at the NOWRA website. (Photos and graphics courtesy of the National Onsite Wastewater Recycling Association)

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Sometimes onsite installers get so caught up in obtaining continuing education credits for their crews and efforts to learn new treatment technologies that they can forget another important role they play in wastewater training: schooling septic system users.

After all, unless the homeowners in charge of their own private decentralized wastewater systems understand how they work and realize the importance of routine maintenance, wastewater professionals will have a tough time providing essential services. While installers have voiced their frustrations to me over having to cover Wastewater 101 for every fresh and new customer, that’s really quite an important aspect of their job. 

Sure, you might thrive on excavating for and placing septic tanks, laying out piping and drainfields, and employing all of the latest advanced components to complete an effective treatment system. But before delivering equipment and materials to the work site, you need to sit down with your customers at the dining room table and declare that class is in session.

But one challenge is how to best cover highly technical subject matter that has taken you many years to master yourself. I have heard from installers who sometimes struggle with customer education because A) they aren’t educators by trade, B) they have no idea of the learning abilities and backgrounds of their customers, and C) they got into this business because they liked to be down in the trenches and that’s where they want to spend their time.

But the lesson quickly learned is that regular communication with customers goes with the territory. And National Onsite Wastewater Recycling Association leaders clearly know that. This is apparent because NOWRA — in partnership with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Rural Community Assistance Program — recently launched a comprehensive homeowner training program installers can share with their onsite system users.


The free course, including the informative Onsite Wastewater Treatment System User Guide, is available now at The training covers everything from flush to final treatment using terminology, simple graphics, detailed photos, videos and charts that are easy for the layman to understand.

The materials are designed for onsite professionals to share in seminars with homeowner groups, health officials, Realtors or any interested parties who would like to learn how a private onsite wastewater treatment system functions. The training sessions are broken down into four modules: overview of sewage treatment and typical OWTS, overview of management, home management tips and troubleshooting.

The materials include slides with speaker notes and recommended activities to get attendees involved with the coursework. An online version of the training program and a Spanish translation are in the works for 2024, according to information provided by NOWRA.

Or installers can simply share the user guide document ( whenever and with whomever they wish.

The user guide covers a lot of ground in its 12 chapters spread over 31 pages:

1: Importance of Sewage Treatment

2: Overview of Household Wastewater Treatment

3: Typical OWTS Features

4: Final Treatment and Dispersal

5: Management

6: Wastewater Strength

7: Safety

8: Landscaping and Land Use Near Your OWTS

9: Maintenance

10: Troubleshooting

11: Common Problems

12: OWTS Troubleshooting Guide for Homeowners

Here are a few lessons to give you an idea of the depth of information covered:

Knowing four primary components

This section explains plumbing/collection, pretreatment, advanced pretreatment and final treatment and dispersal. Homeowners will learn the sources of all types of wastewater entering the onsite system. Then they will follow the treatment train, learning how sewage is separated into liquid and solids in the septic tank; then how marginal soils can require further pretreatment; and then follow the effluent to the soil treatment area where it is filtered and returned to the groundwater or becomes water vapor through evapotranspiration through plants.

Every picture tells a story

Detailed graphics back up the written explanations of system performance, including cross sections showing the different layers of settling waste in the septic tank, the pump tank, controls and alarms, aerobic and advanced treatment systems. A variety of drainfields are illustrated showing soil profiles and many types of dispersal lines, including conventional, low-pressure pipe, mounds, evapotranspiration septic systems and lagoon systems.

Reducing water usage

Installers frequently reinforce the message that users should limit water flows so septic systems are not overtaxed. Room by room, the user guide makes good, solid — and hopefully familiar — recommendations for those who maybe have never previously lived in a household utilizing an onsite system. 

In the bathroom — Install low-flow shower heads and faucets, water-saving or dual-flush toilets. Replace tub baths with shorter showers (There are 5 gallons or more per inch in a filled bathtub). Consider a tankless water heater to curtail flow, and shut off the faucet while shaving and brushing teeth to save 2 gallons of water per minute. Ensure only human waste and toilet paper are flushed — never flush wipes, facial tissue, paper towels, cigarette butts, condoms,  personal hygiene products or unused medications. Avoid every-use toilet bowl disinfectant products. Do not use drain cleaners to remove clogs.

In the kitchen — Hand-wash dishes in a basin to reduce running water. Keep a pitcher of drinking water in the refrigerator rather than running the tap for cool water. Wash only full loads in the dishwasher. Avoid using a garbage disposal or drain cleaners, and do not allow vegetables, meat, fat, oil or coffee grounds down the drain.

In the laundry room — Select only front-loading or efficient top-loading washing machines and use a water/suds-saver feature. Wash only full loads or set the machine for load sizes. Spread clothes washing loads throughout the week to avoid overloading the system. Install a filter on the washer to remove lint and avoid detergents containing phosphates.

Around the house — Use a water meter to track usage and ask the maintenance provider if the system monitors water flow through the system. Address issues involving use of water softeners, iron filters or reverse osmosis systems with your service provider to protect your OWTS system from potential damage. Reduce use of cleansers in general, and be sure cleaning products do not contain phosphorus. Use minimal soaps. When allowed by regulation, consider rerouting water softener recharge water outside the OWTS.


And for instances where homeowners take part in system maintenance, a section on septic safety is valuable and warrants serious explanation. The training stresses never entering a septic tank because of lack of oxygen and presence of dangerous gases including hydrogen sulfide and methane.

It warns septic users to avoid working with electric lights or tools around open septic tanks, or to smoke in those areas, for risk of electrical shock or explosion. It also advises to avoid running vehicles or heavy equipment over septic tanks and to keep children away from tanks during maintenance. And of course, tank lid security is stressed as tragedy strikes every year when small children fall into unsecured septic tanks.


I was happy to see that NOWRA and other entities released these valuable education materials. They will be an invaluable aid to installers and wastewater service providers in general moving into the future. We see that many septic systems are aging and need maintenance or replacement, that more homes are being developed utilizing onsite systems, and that many people are moving away from homes served by municipal sewer and are living with septic systems for the first time.

All of these factors make it even more critical that we, as members of the onsite community, are keying in on educating consumers. It’s time well spent, both for the health of these systems and the environment in general. And every time we fully inform a homeowner about how to care for septic systems, we’re gaining the respect of the general public and proving decentralized wastewater treatment is a valid alternative to municipal sewer expansion.


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