Folks living outside the reaches of city sewer systems have to provide their own means of disposing of water and waste with the help and approval of their local health department. While the contents of many toilets may eventually empty into a septic tank, Toiletology 101 does not cover the care and maintenance of the tanks.

For the last word on the subject, you’ll find many good articles at . One of which is “Get to Know Your Septic Tank” by Roger Machmeier, Ph.D., P.E., Professor Emeritus, University of Minnesota. “Get to Know Your Septic Tank” is the title of a popular bulletin of the University of Minnesota Extension Service.

Three recognized experts in the field of septic tank systems are Mary Garyman, Roger Machmeier and David Venhuizen. Ms. Gayman’s father was a pioneer in the scientific research of septic systems, and Mary has continued his work as a researcher and consultant. Dr. Machmeier is a professional engineer who writes articles for septic-tank professionals. Mr. Venuizen is a licensed engineer who advises governmental agencies on the best methods of on-site wastewater treatment. Other articles found on this site are:

The folks at The Septic Information Website: Inspecting, Designing, & Maintaining Residential Septic Systems wrote the book on septic systems. Here you’ll find extensive information on Septic Systems. A library of top notch illustrations, comprehensive on-line articles & a list of septic system consultants plus lots more.

The Septic System Maintenance website says, “When you buy a car, you are given an owner’s manual with instructions on how to care for your car. Septic systems can cost as much or more than a car, unfortunately nobody gives you a manual when they are installed. Some people don’t even know they have a septic system! As a result, many septic systems fail unnecessarily.

In a 2000 EPA report, 31 states listed septic systems as their second greatest potential source of groundwater contamination. Septic system replacement is also very expensive, with costs often running from $5,000 to $20,000 or more. Fortunately, there are some highly effective steps you can take to eliminate this problem.” For example, did you know that washing machines are a leading cause of septic system failure? The primary culprit is lint generated by washing machines, which clogs the soil in drain fields. You’ll find out how to avoid this problem at this site.

From the Septic Safe Toilet Paper Information website: “I started having problems with our septic system. I took your advice and had the tank pumped and inspected. What the contractor found was hundreds of wet-wipes (I have been using because it says safe for septic systems on the box) were plugging the baffles. He sucked them out when he pumped the tank and I had him jet the lines as well.

What is a Soil Percolation Test? The percolation or perc test is designed to determine the suitability of a site for a subsurface private sewage disposal system (i.e. septic system). More specifically, a percolation test measures the ability of the soil to absorb liquid. Septic system designers use the results of percolation tests to properly construct septic systems. A necessary test before you purchase any property in the country with the idea of building on it.

See also: Life and Death of a Building Lot Subject to Perc.

Oasis Design Consulting of Santa Barbara, California applies ecological principles to the design of water and wastewater systems to make them more efficient and elegant. New inventions which advance the state of the art are a regular part of their design work, and a significant part of the material in their books. Oasis Design considers their greatest design successes are with integrated rural water, wastewater, energy and landscaping systems in interesting, extreme sites.

The Washington Post published a lengthy article titled, “Septic Systems: Preventing a Stink; It’s Not a Pretty Picture, but Maintenance Is Simple If You Know What to Look For”written by Ann Cameron Siegal on Saturday, September 22, 2007; Page F01. This article includes a list of questions to ask the housing inspector before buying a new home with a sepic system. The list answers such questions as: What kind of a septic system is it? What is the tank made of? How old is the system? What about garbage disposals? In addition, there is a sidebar of suggestions for “Staying Out of Trouble With the Tank”.

How to Build a Septic System Doing anything yourself can be heroic or crazy depending on the outcome so why not do it yourself? John Glassco of ECO-NOMIC, who in more than 10 years spent designing site layouts and septic systems in the countryside of Washington State, says, I have seen more than one home-site ruined forever by sloppy excavation, poor water well placement and the dozens of other pitfalls awaiting an eager baron or baroness heading up the country with a heart full of dreams.

Homeowners can save money and prove to their friends that they have mastered this aspect of house construction. However, be warned that a few down days with a rented backhoe can quickly eat up any anticipated saving by doing-it-yourself. Remember also that digging up a power line and darkening your block cannot only embarrass you, but it could cost you more in repairs than your project budget.

The skills of an experienced septic designer or excavator increase in value with smaller sites and in poor soil conditions. If you know in your heart that you lack these skills, don’t risk your peace-of-mind.

More on septic systems:

American Ground Water Trust’s Pamphlet #4
Septic Systems for Waste Water Disposal

The Massachusett Department of Environmental Protection
Glossary of Terms

University of Nebraska
Residential On-site Wastewater Treatment