3 Steps for Successful Onsite System Service Visits

3 Steps for Successful Onsite System Service Visits

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As a septic professional, it is your responsibility to ensure the homeowner clearly understands their responsibilities in maintaining their new system. This will increase the longevity of the system (thereby making it cost-effective), improve customer satisfaction and protect our water quality.

The checklist and information below provides installers with a tool to guide discussions with the homeowner. Your task as you maintain the system is to help the customer understand that the long-term success or failure of an onsite sewage treatment system depends on:

  1. Proper design of the system
  2. Proper installation of the system
  3. Proper use of the system by the homeowner and occupants
  4. Proper maintenance of the system by maintainer/service provider
  5. Proper maintenance of the system by the homeowner.

Three activities should be part of maintenance for all systems. The first is to determine what maintenance is needed. The property owner may know this or you may need to do additional work to determine what is needed based on the type of system. Then you will actually need to perform the maintenance and finally communicate about your visit to the owner.

Activity 1. Septic system management plan/operating permit

Did the system designer or installer provide the property owner with a management plan for the system? If so, review it with the owner; if no management plan is available from the owner, you may want to check with the permitting authority along with the system designer/installer. If one still cannot be located, you will need to develop one.

Activity 2: Perform maintenance activities — for conventional systems

  • Maintenance holes
    • If no risers were installed, encourage the homeowner to add them. Be sure they are insulated (if needed), sealed and tightly secured.
    • If the maintenance hole is not on risers and below grade, discuss with the homeowner the need to expose the maintenance hole to ensure proper cleaning of the tank. Determine who will expose the maintenance hole and what, if any, additional excavating fees may apply if this is to be done by the professional.
This tank would benefit from the installation of a riser.
This tank would benefit from the installation of a riser.
  • Collect samples if required or needed.
  • Check tank level, scum depth and sludge depth, and record these. Pump if needed.
  • Verify and record baffle integrity.
  • Verify and record tank integrity.
  • Verify and record manhole/riser integrity.
  • Verify functioning of any alarms; make sure the homeowner understands the alarms.
  • Check inspection pipes — all in place, with good covers. Replace or recommend replacement of any damaged parts.
  • Pumps — Check that all pumps, controls, the pump vault and any alarms are operating properly. Clean the pump vault if needed. Check the drainback (if part of the system). Check the event counter/clock if there is one.
  • Walk the soil treatment area, preferably with the homeowner; check for any concerns. Watch for surfacing, odors, ponding and other issues. If any clean-outs are necessary, flush and clean as needed.
  • Effluent screen maintenance:
    • Clean it and be sure it is functioning correctly. Check the alarm if there is one.
    • Discuss with the homeowner any product and water use issues evident from cleaning the screen. 
    • If there is none, encourage the homeowner to consult a professional about adding a screen. 

Activity 3: Educate the homeowner about proper maintenance of the system

  • Discuss when the next visit should be and record on invoice.
  • Communication with the homeowner — If you have the chance to talk with them this is a great opportunity to educate by providing a system overview to the customer. If you notice any problems, discuss possible causes and solutions. Discuss how the system works, how pathogens are destroyed, how clean water reenters the groundwater. Check if the homeowner has any problems or concerns. Consider providing an education brochure highlighting:
    • Water and product use tips. Discuss how to prevent system overloading by excessive water and inappropriate product use and other household topics.
    • Provide a key list of toxics to avoid.
    • Provide basic best practices include using detergents without bleach, spreading laundry and other water uses out throughout the day and the week, avoiding the use of antibacterial products and automatic toilet or shower cleansers, and using natural cleansers when a cleanser is necessary. Do not use the toilet as a trash can — only allow toilet paper and human waste to enter the system. Do not use a garbage disposal, reroute clearwater sources and repair leaks immediately.
    • Discuss the benefit of maintenance.
    • If the home is in a jurisdiction/county with a maintenance or pumping requirement ordinance, determine with the homeowner who is responsible for filing the certificate.

About the author 
Sara Heger, Ph.D., is an engineer, researcher and instructor in the Onsite Sewage Treatment Program in the Water Resources Center at the University of Minnesota. She presents at many local and national training events regarding the design, installation, and management of septic systems and related research. Heger is education chair of the Minnesota Onsite Wastewater Association and the National Onsite Wastewater Recycling Association, and she serves on the NSF International Committee on Wastewater Treatment Systems. Ask Heger questions about septic system maintenance and operation by sending an email to kim.peterson@colepublishing.com.


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