The scoop on septic

By Tosha Kelly

It's true: The septic system is the black sheep of the home. While more than one in four homes in Alaska are on a septic system, most homeowners would rather not think about it. In fact, they'd rather just forget about it. But don't, because your septic system can make the difference between enjoying your dream home and struggling with one of the ugliest problems a homeowner can have. So before you build or buy a home, learn about your onsite wastewater treatment options.

"When you combine the factors of buildable land in Anchorage getting scarce, home sites getting smaller, and many existing on-site systems aging and failing, the chances are great that you will be involved in decisions about a septic system," says Tom Varney of Anchorage Tank & Welding.

Under new rules of the Anchorage Municipal and State of Alaska DEC codes, he says, many homes must be served with "advanced" systems, but be wary because "in some cases, 'advanced' does not always mean better."

The AdvanTex Treatment System from Orenco Systems, Inc. is the "latest and greatest of septic systems," says Dan Roth, On-Site Supervisor of Development Services at the Municipality of Anchorage. AdvanTex uses a textile-filled, filter box that "polishes" the effluent of the tank before it is dispersed into the ground. "Think of it as a drainfield in a box," Varney explains. "As the effluent trickles through the box, microorganisms living on the textile remove impurities from the effluent."

Roth says that the best thing about this system is the VeriComm Monitoring System. Upon installation, the homeowner subscribes to a monitoring and maintenance agreement. The agreement provides an orientation, remote monitoring with the control panel, twice-a-year site inspections by the distributor and tank pumping when required. "The control panel is amazing," Varney says. "It is connected to the Internet via a telephone extension where it allows remote monitoring that can diagnose and correct problems without the homeowner's involvement. If there is any alert or alarm, the panel sends an email message to the distributor."

Garness Engineering Group, Ltd. is testing a second advanced system, Quanics Aerocell. "The systems that we have installed have been working great. We just want to give homeowners another option," says Jody Maus of Garness Engineering.

"These two products are virtually the same," Roth explains. They operate very similar to each other, with one difference being that AdvanTex uses geotextile fabric panels and Aerocell uses foam cubes. As long as these systems are maintained, "they will last forever," Roth promises. "It should never fail on you, unlike a conventional system."

Tips for a smooth running system

Now that you have the 4-1-1 on the technology, how do you make sure you are properly maintaining your system? The EPA gives us some ideas on how to keep septic system problems from clogging your lifestyle.

Use Water Efficiently

Using water efficiently is a great way to ensure that your system runs smoothly. Indoor water used in an average single-family home is about 100 gallons per person, per day. And toilet flushing (and leaky toilets) accounts for as much as one third or more of all indoor water use. The more water you conserve, the less water your septic system treats.

Some ways to decrease water consumption is to invest in a high-efficiency toilet. Faucet aerators, high-efficiency showerheads or shower-flow restrictors also cut down on water use. Check all of your water fixtures for leaks and drops. You'd be surprised how much water can travel to your septic system from just a little leak.

Watch your drains

Does your family know what they can and cannot flush? Toilet paper only. No dental floss, feminine hygiene products, cotton swabs, cigarette butts, coffee grounds, cat litter and paper towels – the list could go on.

Selecting the proper load size and not washing load after load will help restrict the amount of water traveling down into your system. Doing all of your laundry in one day seems like a timesaver but you could be drowning your drainfield.

Failure Prevention

Know what can cause your system to fail. Everything from household toxins and cleaners to hot tubs and garbage disposals can be potentially harmful; maintenance is key.

Before you take the plunge, Varney says to: "Be aware, be informed and shop around. The right on-site septic system will be an integral part of the home of your dreams.