The New Owner’s Manual for Onsite Systems

Stress to homeowners that how they use and care for their septic system will directly impact how long the system will properly function

The New Owner’s Manual for Onsite Systems

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When meeting with your customer to give them a walk-through of the system you just installed, please consider the following to maximize their understanding and the longevity of their system.

Begin by stressing that onsite systems have a finite usable lifespan, and that how they use it will directly affect how long their system will properly function.

Show them the manhole covers, express the importance of the covers remaining exposed and how very important it is that the covers remain locked. Remove the covers and explain exactly what "normal level" means. Show them how to identify the difference between normal level (bottom of outlet pipe) and an elevated or high level (anything higher than the bottom of the outlet pipe). Too many homeowners mistake normal level for being a high level.

Explain what the filter is, what it does and how to clean it. Explain how sometimes high levels are caused by a filter that needs to be cleaned.

If there is a pump or dose tank and you have a weep hole in the force main, make sure to explain what to expect with the drainback. Many homeowners call for emergency repairs, when they notice that "broken pipe" in their pump tank.

Obviously make sure the covers are replaced and locked immediately during this in-person tutorial. While replacing the covers and locking them, stress the importance of keeping the covers locked and keeping kids away from the tanks. Stress the safety implications of not following those strong recommendations.

Present them with an owner's manual/management plan

1. Include an as-built site plan showing exactly where the manhole covers are located. It makes a lot of sense that you also keep a copy of this so when they call you three years from now because their landscaper buried them you can re-send this important info. Having measurements to each cover off of two different landmarks will make finding the covers easier. Some installers are using GPS coordinates as well.

2. Include a complete (approved) set of plans of the system.

  • This should include the exact model of pump that was installed, voltage and amperage of pump, horsepower and single phase or three phase.
  • Include warranty information on both the system, and the pump.

3. Include a system maintenance or management page that includes:

  • Clearly stated number of and gallon capacities of the tanks
  • Recommended frequency of pumping
  • Recommended frequency of having a service professional check the system to make sure everything is operating normally
  • Information about the filter and frequency of cleaning 
  • Contact info for a service provider (your company?) to call in case of emergencies
  • Contact info for the local regulator office in case they have concerns or questions

4. Include a "Do's and Don'ts" list

DON'T FLUSH WIPES (any wipes — baby wipes, personal wipes, dusting wipes, cleaning wipes, etc.) The only paper product that should be flushed is toilet paper. Wipes claim they are flushable, and they are. But flushable only means it will get past the toilet, once beyond the toilet they are bad news for the system. Let your customers know that the people who market wipes as flushable, never get the phone calls in the middle of the night that your system is backing up due to their flushable product

  • DON’T use liquid fabric softeners. Use dryer fabric sheets instead if needed.
  • DON’T use a garbage disposal. At least minimize the use of a garbage disposal and be prepared to pump your system more often if you do use one.
  • DON’T pour pans full of cooking oils and grease down the drain.
  • DON’T pour paint, paint thinner, gas, oil or any other toxic substance down the drain.
  • DON’T use the system as a garbage can. Don't flush cigarette butts, condoms, tampons or anything else that has other potential methods of disposal.
  • DON’T flush unused medications. Flushing unused medications is harmful to your onsite system, the aquifer and the environment. Contact your pharmacy or municipality for safe methods of disposing medications
  • DON’T drive over nor compact over the top of your system.
  • DON’T have water treatment devices such as water softener or iron filters regenerate into the onsite system. This makes a huge difference on the life of a system.
  • DON’T have a clearwater crock from draintiles pump into the onsite system. Having the clear water crock pump into the onsite system would reduce the life of the system considerably.
  • DON’T empty a hot tub or other large water source into the system all at once (if at all). Very large surges could flush solids from the tank into the soil component of the system. Empty in smaller increments, or determine if the source needs to go to the system at all.
  • DON’T have downspouts discharge near or toward manhole covers. Make certain surface grading is not pitched toward manhole covers and make sure surface water does not pond over or at the soil component of the system.
  • DO have your system inspected regularly.
  • DO have your system pumped and maintained regularly.
  • DO clean the filter, or have the filter cleaned on a regular basis.
  • DO know where your manhole covers are.
  • DO keep the manhole covers locked.
  • DO make certain that any drippy faucets are repaired to prevent hydraulic overload of the system.
  • DO periodically test toilets for "silent running" using the food color test in the toilet tank.
  • DO spread out laundry loads throughout the week. Try not to have one day per week with all the laundry loads.

5. Other considerations that help a system last as long as possible.

  • Consider using a lint filter on the washing machine discharge.
  • If having a really large party or other event, consider renting portable restrooms and have your system pumped the day before the party.

Assure your customer that systems are robust and should last many years depending on how they are used and maintained. The key to having a system that lasts as long as possible, with as little issues as possible, is how closely the Do’s and Don’t list is followed. 

About the author
Todd Stair is vice president of Herr Construction, Inc., with 34 years’ experience designing, installing, repairing, replacing and evaluating septic and mound systems in southeast Wisconsin. He is the author of The Book on Septics and Mounds and a former president of the Wisconsin Onsite Water Recycling Association. 


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