Is My Septic System Safe?

Getting to know your system

These questions will help you determine the steps to keep your system safe.

Do you know where your septic system is?

Great! Review how to safely maintain it. Also, make sure that you keep records and receipts including plans, permits, maintenance and system updates. Review a full list of records you’ll need if you update your system or sell your home.

The septic system is a system that properly treats the wastewater generated from your bathrooms, kitchen, and laundry, disposing it into the ground. It’s up to you to understand your system, know where it is, and properly maintain it. Learn about your system.

Do you know where your drinking water supply is?

Is it at least 100 feet away from a septic system (200 feet if downhill from the septic system)? If not, you'll want to consider updating your septic system to be at least that distance away to protect your drinking water. When meeting with an engineer to consider an update, make sure you're prepared to have a good discussion with them.

Try to find the source of your drinking water to make sure it stays safe. Most property owners use a well as their water supply but many lakefront property owners still take their water directly from Lake George. You should protect this supply for personal health and one of the most important protection measures is proper separation from your septic system. Learn more about how this impacts your health.

Do you know the age of your septic system?

The average life expectancy of a conventional septic system is 30-40 years before the soils start to lose their ability to provide adequate treatment. If you’re within that window, make sure you're maintaining it well to get the full lifetime. If it’s getting up there or passed its lifetime, it’s time to contact an engineer to discuss a new system.

The average life expectancy of a conventional septic system is 30-40 years. Since most systems utilize the soil and its biological components for treatment, the soil will eventually become ineffective at treatment and water will start to collect and possibly surface. Review signs of a failing system and consider contacting an engineer to discuss a new system.

When was the last time your septic system was pumped and inspected?

Great! The most important thing you can do to make sure your system is functioning and effective is to perform routine maintenance, including pumping solids and inspecting the tank about every 3-5 years, depending on use. The timing depends on your water use and the size of your system. Talk with your maintenance company to make sure you’re on the right schedule and set a future maintenance appointment.

It might be time to schedule maintenance. The primary cause for septic system failure is buildup of solids in the septic tank that will eventually migrate out and clog the absorption field resulting in premature failure. Pump the tank every 3-5 years. Talk with your maintenance company to make sure you’re on the right schedule and set a future maintenance appointment.

Have you experienced slow drains, bad odors around your tank, or water surfacing near your system?

Good thing, because those could indicate that your system is failing. Keep up the good work with regular maintenance.

Sounds like it might be more than just Uncle Carl. A failing septic system is caused by the absorption field soils unable to properly drain due to clogging and overuse. This will cause a backup of sewage into the tank and eventually the house, resulting in slow house drains or not draining at all, offensive odors in the yard and water, and possibly tar colored, surfacing liquid in the yard. Check out more signs of failure, and learn why septic systems fail.

What goes down your sink and toilet?

As it should be. Keep up the good work. You might want to share the list of things that should never go into your septic system with any family members who may not know.

That could cost you. Items like household chemicals, oils, gasoline and paints kill the necessary bacteria in a septic tank that provide treatment. Items like diapers, cat litter, cigarette filters, grease and flushable wipes will clog a septic system and cause failure. See the full list of what shouldn't go into your system.

Do you use septic tank additives, such as Rid X®, to maintain your system?

You should never place septic tank additives or bio enzymes into your septic tank. The products claim to extend the life of your system by removing the solids, but they only move the solids into the absorption field, which will clog your field, resulting in failure. Read the best ways to maintain your system.

You should never place septic tank additives or bio enzymes into your septic tank. The products claim to extend the life of your system by removing the solids, but they only move the solids into the absorption field, which will clog your field, resulting in failure. Read the best ways to maintain your system.

How has the use of your property changed over the years?

Septic systems are sized for the number of bedrooms, assuming a certain amount of wastewater per building occupant. As your family grows and your children have children, you may be planning additions to your house that will require modifications and expansions to your septic system to maintain adequate treatment, protect your drinking water and the lake. Contact an engineer if you're considering expanding.

Instead of bathrooms, it's the number of bedrooms considered in sizing a septic system to estimate the water usage. Many families now provide short-term rentals to help offset lakefront property expenses, resulting in loading issues on systems from a high number of guests. Consider improving your system to handle any long-term increases in use.