Septic Systems: How Your System Can Last Decades

Septic System Inspections, Maintenance, Pumping and Cleaning

When your sewer line, septic tank and drain field are all functioning as they should life is sweet. You get on with your day, do what has to be done and hopefully sleep soundly at night.

When your septic system malfunctions it becomes the only thing on your mind. Why? Well ask anyone who suddenly finds they can’t run water in their business or home.

Here at High Country Roto-Rooter Breckenridge we’ve been looking after customers’ septic systems for more than three decades. And we know from that experience that when the system clogs up – for whatever reason – and no longer drains away your waste water it can be a disaster.

Because once water cannot escape from your sinks, washing machines and toilets you can no longer use them. Which means that until the problem is resolved your property has become unusable.

So what would cause my septic system to fail?

Poor Maintenance
Not maintaining the system and keeping it in good order is a primary reason for system failure. Regular septic tank inspections – for example, checking the sludge and effluent levels so they don’t reach a level where the system can no longer handle them – prevents small problems becoming large problems – and spots real trouble before it gets completely out of hand.

Not pumping your septic tank
Septic tank pumping is a vital maintenance task that prevent solid waste – human or food – from getting into your drain field. Once it reaches your drain field it blocks the pipes and prevents wastewater from soaking out into the surrounding ground. And once this happens wastewater backs up and your septic system stops removing waste water from your property.

Clogged pipes
Sewer pipes that carry waste out of your property and to the septic tanks need to be free of obstruction in order to function properly. Pipes that have become broken or cracked, or that are clogged with improper domestic waste debris (sanitary items, condoms, fats, food pieces etc) or blocked up by tree roots are going to present serious problems. In all cases wastewater doesn’t flow away from the property efficiently and so can result in slow-draining appliances or a backflow of sewage into the home or building.

Design or installation faults
And then there are design problems with the system itself. There are right ways and wrong ways to design and install a septic system. If your installer didn’t do it the right way that can eventually lead to unpleasant consequences further on.

A little considered but very real danger to your system is simply the over-use of it. A system set up for a household of two people might struggle if the family and the building expands and so sends more wastewater into the system than it was designed for. Similarly, if you fit new guttering on your property and send all that rainwater into your septic system then a surge of rainwater can overwhelm the drain field and cause irreversible damage.

Septic systems are hardy things and under ideal circumstances with proper maintenance and appropriate use a septic system can last 40 years and longer. But in the end older systems simply need to be replaced.

How Do I Know Whether My Septic System Is Working Properly?

Regular septic tank inspections – as already mentioned – can spot some forms of problems before they have chance to occur. But things can still go wrong – here are some of the signs that all is not well with your septic system:

There’s a smell of sewage outside your property – perhaps the smell is new or, if not, it’s maybe stronger than it previously was. That suggests sewage isn’t draining properly from the drain field and so is working its way to the surface.

The presence of soggy areas or standing water in the area of your tank or the drainfield is another clear sign that not all your waste matter is draining downwards because of saturation of the field.

Bright green spongy grass or some other noticeable, lush vegetation growth again suggests the possibility of your wastewater spreading out – and upwards – from your drainfield rather than draining downwards. This is a glaring sign if the vegetation remains healthy even during the dry season.

Blocked drains or bathtubs, toilets and sinks where either they’re not draining as quickly as usual or they’re not draining at all. Attend to this immediately; once you can’t drain water out of your property you can no longer use water in your property. Which means no clothes washing, no showers or baths and no flushing toilets. And that’s serious.

Well contamination: prevention is clearly better than cure here so if you use a well as a water source test it regularly for nitrate, nitrite, and coliform bacteria.

Why Would I Have A Septic Tank Inspection?

Going to the small expense of regular maintenance of your system is a bargain when compared to the cost of fixing or completely replacing a whole septic system. Maintenance costs a few hundred dollars; replacement of your entire drain field costs multiple thousands – and can be a dirty and very inconvenient project if you find you suddenly can’t use water in your home or business.

Properly maintaining your system reduces the risk to your neighbors too. Leaking disease-causing water can potentially harm humans and animals leading to problems with neighbors – and possibly legal implications.

And a malfunctioning system can release pollutants into the environment that infects drinking water supplies and pollutes waterways and rivers. This can seriously damage local ecosystems, by killing native plants, fish, and shellfish.

The United States Environmental Protection Agency advises that the average household septic system should be inspected at least every three years by a septic service professional. (Source:

The Agency also suggests that septic tank pumping is a vital procedure that needs to take place typically every three to five years – although alternative systems with electrical float switches, pumps, or mechanical components should be inspected more often, generally once a year.

How Often Should I Pump My Septic Tank?

The off-the-cuff figure is every 3 to 5 years. Here’s a slightly fuller answer:

There are four primary factors that determine when your tank needs pumping:

The size of your household (the number of occupants, basically)
Total amount of wastewater generated
The volume of solids in that wastewater
The size of your septic tank size

How Do I Know When My Septic Tank Needs Pumping?

Provided you haven’t left your septic tank pumping so late that it’s actually causing you a real problem you should find that your septic tank inspection will tell you in good time when your tank needs pumping.

Here’s what the inspection can reveal:

There’s a T-shaped outlet in your septic tank. Its job is to prevent scum and sludge from escaping from your tank and then making its way to your drain field – where it can block the discharge pipes and prevent waste water from draining away.

Floating at the top of the wastewater (known as effluent) in your tank is a layer of scum. You do not want the bottom of the scum layer to come within 6 inches of the bottom of the T-shaped outlet.

At the bottom of your tank is a layer of heavier sludge made up of human waste. You do not want the top of this layer to come within 12 inches of the T-shaped outlet.

When either of these occurs septic tank pumping becomes essential and you should arrange that without delay.

If you’re having levels checked regularly as part of your septic tank inspection – and you’re making a note of the levels – then you’ll probably have an idea when your tank is becoming due for pumping.

How Can I Improve The Efficiency of the Septic System?

Here’s 8 ways you can look after your septic system and ensure it serves you well for years to come:

  1. Conserve water usage. The less water you pump into the system the longer it lasts.
  2. What you send into your drains affects how well your septic system works. Only flush human waste and toilet paper into the system. All other materials should be disposed of elsewhere.
  3. Avoid sending chemical cleaners down your sink or into your drains. Your septic system contains living organisms that digest and treat household waste. Your system’s smooth-running relies on them doing this job – chemicals will kill them off.
  4. For the same reason don’t send fats, oils, grease or food particles into the system. Avoid using a garbage disposal. As small as they are these materials can accululate and eventually clog your drainfield.
  5. As best you can spread heavy water use over a whole week. For example, doing a wash load per day rather than five loads in a single day prevents the system from flooding – and means the tank has time to treat the waste before it finds its way into your drain field.
  6. Don’t park vehicles on or next to your drain field. They’re heavy and may push the ground into the field, disrupting its smooth running.
  7. Do not plant trees too close to your drain field – their roots can interfere with the running and the efficiency of the system.
  8. Do not drain your hot tub into the system and do not allow rain-run-off from your property’s roof to run into the system. In both cases large amounts of water entering the drain field at once can overwhelm it and may cause irreversible damage

Look after your septic system and it will look after you. If you’ve queries or concerns about any aspect of your system then give High Country Roto-Rooter Breckenridge a call – we’re a family-owned firm that has been cleaning, pumping and maintaining septic systems in the Breckenridge, Frisco, Silverthorne, Dillon, Eagle, Vail, Avon, Eagle-Vail, Edwards, Gypsum and surrounding areas for more than three decades. We’d be pleased to help you with the same.