Septic Tanks

Septic Tanks: what Tenants should know about them, and why they are AWESOME for the environment

Septic tanks in your rental home can be a little intimidating until you understand them, how they work, and how AWESOME they are for our environment. If you are sure there is a septic tank located at your rental home, and your landlord hasn't provided you with any information on it, where it's located or how to keep it running good... shame on them!  But it's definitely to your benefit to learn about it. Why? Your landlord may not have provided you with good information, but you could still be responsible for repair costs or "pump outs" if they believe you caused the issues directly as a result of misuse or negligence.

So what's a Septic Tank?

It's a natural system that works through natural bacteria and other elements to collect, breakdown and dispose of waste/wastewater.  The system is constructed in a large area of space below the surface of a yard that is dedicated to collecting, breaking down and disposing of any water and waste that is either drained from the sinks, bathtubs, toilets or showers within the property. NATURALLY!  These systems work ENTIRELY with nature, are incredibly eco-friendly and AWESOME for the environment.

Where IS IT?

There are several components to the system. The large part is the drain field. This won't be visible, because it's located under the ground. It could span a space 10' x 20 to 15' x 30 or more (think size of a small swimming pool). It could be in the front yard or the back. In addition to the drain field, somewhere on the property (may not be close to the drain field) is the pump out access. This is a large hole that is covered by a heavy metal manhole. IF or when the septic tank gets full, it may be necessary to have a septic tank company come out to drain the system. They have a truck and a large vacuum-type device they hook up through that pump out access, and pump out everything. Also, there is normally one or two strainers. These are the front lines for the whole system, where anything that shouldn't go down the into the drain field is caught.

For instance, we know of a case where a tenant continually flushed feminine products down her toilet. And complained when her bathtub wouldn't drain properly. When the landlord went to check the strainer, he found gobs of nastiness including those products. No, they don't disintegrate well and they are easily identifiable. She was held responsible for the emergency pump out cost of $350. Depending on the city, state, area... companies typically charge from $250- $400 for pump-outs for average sized septic tank systems.

Some DONT's:

-DO NOT...

  • flush anything that doesn't quickly and easily break apart in water (must be biodegradable): NO paper towels, newspaper, diapers, car/motor oils, sand, cat litter, facial tissue (Kleenex)
  • flush chlorine bleach, lye products, pesticides or other chemicals
  • plant small or medium-sized plants or trees within ten feet of the drain field, pump out access manhole cover or strainer(s)—as their roots can cause major issues 
  • park on top of drain field with any vehicle, boat, RV, etc
  • add any pools including inflatable or above-ground pools, swing-sets, trampolines etc in the drain field area

Septic tanks are very eco-friendly systems that dispose of waste/wastewater naturally. Care must be taken to ensure the system works effectively, or plumbing backups or damage to the system can occur.

It is important to NEVER dispose of items down sinks, drains or toilets such as paper towels, disposable wipes, feminine hygiene products, grease, coffee grounds, dental floss, colored tissue paper, or any non-biodegradable items.

Most plumbing issues are related to food sand (from washing pets, toys, kids) hair, kitchen utensils, bottle caps, etc and will clog drain lines,. Unused food should be treated as solid waste for the garbage rather than scraped into sinks/drains. Grease and oil will solidify in the lines when they cool, will build up over time, and slowly clog the plumbing and drain field. Grease and oil should ALWAYS be poured into a container (can, milk jug etc) and disposed of as solid waste (into a garbage can). Wash all dinner/food/plates/bowls/utensils etc AFTER food has been scraped into a garbage can.

The use of chemicals such as Drain-O are corrosive and cause damage to piping over time. Care should be taken to avoid clogged drains before there is a need for unclogging. No anti-clog chemicals should be used or needed. In the even of a clog, it will be necessary to call a plumber.

This system and it's multiple components are vulnerable to bleach, laundry detergents kill the bacteria needed for the septic system to function properly. These and any other chemicals must be used sparingly if at all.

If a toilet, sink or drain is clogged or the septic system fails, and the presence of any foreign materials noted above other than toilet paper (ie drain gets clogged, plumber goes out to repair and finds feminine hygiene products clogging the septic line) TENANT may be charged for associated damages, repairs and labor.

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