Homebuyer’s Guide to Septic Systems Part 2 – SepticSmart Week 2017

Part 2: Inspecting and Maintaining your Septic System

How can I be sure that my septic system is working correctly?

Buying a home is one of the biggest investments you will make, so you want to avoid any surprises after you purchase the home. Just like your furnace, the septic system is expensive to repair or replace so you want it to be in good condition when you buy the home. It’s a good idea to have the system inspected by a septic system service provider before you purchase a home.   Inspections may be required by your local or state government or by your mortgage lender. Inspections are required in unincorporated areas of Washington County.  Inspection results can help you decide if the home is right for you.

If you have not already done so, you will want to determine if your house is on a septic system.  We talk about ways to determine if your home is on a septic system in Part 1.  In addition you can verify your septic system location on your property in Arkansas by calling your county health department. I

County Health Departments in Northwest Arkansas

  • Benton County Health Unit- Rogers at 479-986-1358
  • Washington County Health Unit – Fayetteville at 479-521-8181
  • Madison County Health Unit – Huntsville at 479-738-2612
  • Carroll County Health Unit – Berryville at 870-423-2923


What should happen during a septic system inspection?

The inspector will check for the following:

  • Pumping and maintenance records;
  • The age of the septic system;
  • Sludge levels and scum thickness in the tank;
  • Signs of leakage, such as low water levels in the tank;
  • Signs of backup, such as staining in the tank above the outlet pipe;
  • Integrity of the tank, inlet, and outlet pipes;
  • The drainfield, for signs of system failure like standing water;
  • The distribution box, to make sure drain lines are receiving equal flow; and
  • Available records, to ensure the system complies with local regulations regarding function and location


What can I do to help maintain my system every day?

A typical septic system should be inspected every three to five years by a septic system service provider. The tank should be pumped as recommended by the service provider or as required by your town, county, or state. Generally, you can plan to have the tank pumped approximately every three to five years. Just like changing the oil in your car, preventive septic system maintenance will extend the life of your system for a small cost compared to the cost of replacing the system.

The average lifespan of a septic system is 15 to 40 years, but it can last longer if properly maintained!

  • Think at the sink. Consider what you put into your toilet and sink and the impact it may have on your system. Many common household items can either clog your system or kill the microbes that treat the wastewater.
  • “Cloggers” include diapers, baby wipes, cat litter, cigarettes, coffee grounds, grease, and feminine hygiene products.
  • “Killers” include household chemicals, gasoline, oil, pesticides, antifreeze, paint, and high amounts of anti-bacterial soaps and detergents.
  • Don’t strain your drain.
  • The less water you use, the less your septic system has to work. Stagger the use of appliances, use high efficiency plumbing fixtures, and repair any leaks in your home.
  • Shield your field.
  • Keep your car and anything heavier than your lawnmower off your drainfield.
  • Eliminate or limit the use of a garbage disposal. This will significantly reduce the amount of fats, grease, and solids that enter your septic system and could clog your drainfield.
  • Plant trees away from the drainfield since tree roots can clog the field and cause the system to fail.
  • Keep excess water from irrigation, significant rainfall, or drains off the drainfield.


What are the costs associated with the maintenance of a septic system?

Your home’s septic system should be inspected every three to five years as part of its routine maintenance and pumped as necessary depending on the results of the inspection. The maintenance service typically costs between $250 to $500, based on nationwide industry estimates. Maintenance costs are much more affordable compared to the expense of repairing or replacing a septic system which can cost thousands to tens of thousands of dollars. Contact a local septic system service provider who can provide a cost estimate specific to your area and needs. They can also provide you with more accurate information on how frequently to service and pump out your system.


Beaver LakeSmart Video – Managing Septic Systems

Visit the Ozarks Water Watch Beaver LakeSmart homeowners education chapter on Septic Systems

Click here to visit the Arkansas Department of Health Onsite Wastewater Website for more information about owning and maintaining your septic system on your Arkansas property.