Lake-Friendly Living Guide: Septic Maintenance

In this installment of our Lake-Friendly Living Guide, we dive into the world of septic systems. This post will guide you in understanding how your system works and how to guarantee your system functions properly. A properly maintained septic system not only protects Lake Hopatcong and its surrounding bodies of water but protects your health and the value of your home.

What is a septic system?

A septic system is an underground wastewater treatment system, containing four main components: a pipe from the home, a septic tank, a drain field, and surrounding soil. The pipe from the home transports household wastewater to the septic tank, where the wastewater is held for long enough to let solids settle to the bottom, and oil and grease float to the surface. Once separated, the wastewater is discharged into the drain field where microbes in the surrounding soil remove harmful bacteria, viruses, and nutrients.

By Tilley, E., Ulrich, L., Lüthi, C., Reymond, Ph., Zurbrügg, C.

How do I maintain my system?

Get your tank inspected. A septic system should be inspected by a licensed professional every 2-3 years and pumped out as recommended by the inspector or as required by local ordinances. Failing to pump out your septic system can result in system failures and drain field disasters.

Be conscious of what you dispose of down the sink and toilet. Be sure not to flush kitchen and bathroom items such as dental floss, feminine hygiene products, diapers, paper towels, cat litter, coffee grounds, cooking oil, and other items that can potentially clog your system. Do not flush or pour chemicals down the drain that could harm or kill beneficial bacteria in your drain field.

Care for your drain field. To maintain a healthy, fully-functioning drain field, be sure to plant only grass or shallow-rooted cover plants in your drain field. It is recommended to not drive or park cars on any part of your septic system and be sure to keep surface water runoff from flooding the drain field.

Why do I need to maintain my system?

Maintaining your septic is in the best interest of your personal health, and the health of Lake Hopatcong. Septic owners should maintain their septic systems to prevent system failures which may result in untreated wastewater being discharged into the environment.  Benefits of regular septic system maintenance to keep it working properly are:

  • Disease prevention
  • Reduction of pollutants such as phosphorus and nitrogen
  • Curbs the amount of excessive nutrient runoff from reaching Lake Hopatcong

Recognize the signs of a failed system: stop, look, and smell!

  • Pooling water or muddy soil around your drain field, or within your basement or crawlspace.
  • Foul smell surrounding the septic system area.
  • Back up or clogging in toilets or sinks.
  • Bright green grass surrounding your drain field, indicating over leaching of nutrients.

Dos and Don’ts of Septic Maintenance:

Do: Use commercial bathroom cleaners and laundry detergents in moderation. Many people prefer to clean their toilets, sinks, showers, and tubs with a mild detergent or baking soda or use US EPA Safer Choice products.

Don’t: Don’t use caustic drain openers for a clogged drain. Instead, use boiling water or a drain snake to open clogs.

Do: Use water efficiently to avoid overloading the septic system. Be sure to repair leaky faucets or toilets. Use high-efficiency fixtures.

Don’t: Drive or park vehicles on any part of your septic system when possible. Doing so can compact the soil in your drain field or damage the pipes, tank, or other septic system components.

Do: Keep records of repairs, pump-outs, inspections, permits issued, and other system maintenance activities.

Don’t: Your septic system is not a trash can. Don’t put dental floss, feminine hygiene products, diapers, cotton swabs, cigarette butts, cooking oil/grease, coffee grounds, cat litter, paper towels, latex paint, pesticides, or other hazardous chemicals into your system.

Do: Have your septic system inspected and pumped as necessary by a licensed inspector/contractor.

Don’t: Avoid proper septic maintenance!

Source: NJ DEP Homeowner’s Guide to Septic Systems.

Mandatory Septic Maintenance in Jefferson Township

The Subsurface Sewage Disposal System Management Ordinance was adopted in Jefferson Township on May 2, 2007, and lists requirements for the operation and maintenance of onsite sewage disposal systems. The ordinance requires homeowners in the portion of Jefferson Township within the Musconetcong Watershed to:

  1. Obtain a permit to operate an “individual or non-individual subsurface sewage disposal system.”
  2. Obtain a plot plan showing the type and location of your septic system.
  3. Pump out septic systems every three years.
  4. Provide evidence that the septic tank has been pumped by a licensed septic cleaner.

View Jefferson Township septic ordinance HERE.

Real Estate Sales and Septic Systems

NJ DEP recommends that when purchasing property that has a septic system, all interested purchasers have the septic inspected to avoid future expensive repairs or liabilities following a real estate transaction. New Jersey has established an inspection protocol: “Technical Guidance for Inspections of Onsite Wastewater Treatment and Disposal Systems

Lake-Friendly Living Guide posts

Lake-Friendly Living Guide: Stormwater Basics

Lake-Friendly Living Guide: Go Native! Install Vegetative Buffers and Rain Gardens

Lake-Friendly Living Guide: Smart Lawn Care

Lake-Friendly Living Guide: Fertilizers, Phosphorus, and Water Quality

Lake-Friendly Living Guide: Septic Maintenance

Lake-Friendly Living Guide: Alternative Septic Systems

Lake-Friendly Living Guide: Eliminating Pollutants

Lake-Friendly Living Guide: Conserving Water

This online series of Lake-Friendly Living Guide posts were funded through a grant from the Watershed Institute.

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