AWRI Information Services Center
Lower Grand Watershed Interactive Tool (WIT) - Septic Systems
Did you know that as a homeowner you're responsible for maintaining your septic system? Did you know that maintaining your septic system protects your investment in your home? Did you know that you should periodically inspect your system and pump out your septic tank?
If properly designed, constructed, and maintained, your septic system can provide long-term, effective treatment of household wastewater. If your septic system isn't maintained, you might need to replace it, costing you thousands of dollars. A malfunctioning system can contaminate groundwater that might be a source of drinking water. And if you sell your home, your septic system must be in good working order.
A typical septic system has four main components: a pipe from the home, a septic tank, a drainfield, and the soil. Microbes in the soil digest or remove most contaminants from wastewater before it eventually reaches groundwater. The septic tank is a buried, watertight container typically made of concrete, fiberglass, or polyethylene. It holds the wastewater long enough to allow solids to settle out (forming sludge) and oil and grease to float to the surface (as scum). It also allows partial decomposition of the solid materials. Compartments and a T-shaped outlet in the septic tank prevent the sludge and scum from leaving the tank and traveling into the drainfield area. Screens are also recommended to keep solids from entering the drainfield. The wastewater exits the septic tank and is discharged into the drainfield for further treatment by the soil. Microorganisms in the soil provide final treatment by removing harmful bacteria, viruses, and nutrients.
You should have your septic system inspected at least every 3 years by a professional and your tank pumped as necessary (generally every 3 to 5 years).
Use water efficiently
Average indoor water use in the typical single-family home is almost 70 gallons per person per day. Dripping faucets can waste about 2,000 gallons of water each year. Leaky toilets can waste as much as 200 gallons each day. The more water a household conserves, the less water enters the septic system.
Dental floss, feminine hygiene products, condoms, diapers, cotton swabs, cigarette butts, coffee grounds, cat litter, paper towels, and other kitchen and bathroom items can clog and potentially damage septic system components. Flushing household chemicals, gasoline, oil, pesticides, antifreeze, and paint can stress or destroy the biological treatment taking place in the system or might contaminate surface
For more information on septic systems, consult the following resources:
- Principle and Design of Septic Systems
- Taking Care of Your Septic System
- Septic system alternatives
- Kent County Septage Management Program
- Septic system owner's guidebook
- Model ordinance for septic system maintenance
- Model ordinance for septage disposal
- Michigan Septage Hauler's Directory
- Michigan Wastewater Treatment Plants Accepting Septage
Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) Homeowner's Septic Guides
- Homeowner's Guide Short Version
- Homeowners Guide Long Version
- Homeowners Guide Long Spanish Version
- Septic Checklist
Information and images displayed here were taken from "A Homeowner's Guide to Septic Systems" developed by the Environmental Protection Agency.
Grand Valley Metro Council
40 Pearl St. NW, Ste. 410
Grand Rapids, MI 49503
Page last modified January 19, 2011