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Whether you’ve had your Lake House for years or you’re a new owner, you probably take your septic tank for granted. Most conventional septic systems (see illustration) work just fine with routine inspections every 2 to 3 years and a septic tank pumping from time to time. Typically, if we don’t notice a problem (smells, back-ups, or wet spots in the yard) we assume our septic system is working just fine. This isn’t a safe assumption and it’s time to pay some attention to our septic tanks!

Drawing is provided by the EPA ( and depicts the most common septic system configuration.

Important Facts about your Septic Tank

Most septic tank systems work through an anaerobic process (one without oxygen) utilizing enzymes and tiny microbes to break down waste material inside a large sealed septic tank. The microbes work to decompose the solid waste in the septic tank so it falls to the bottom of the tank as sludge. Those microbes are fussier than you think and can be killed or reduced in number easier than we realize.

Simply throwing the wrong stuff down our drains or running more than an average amount of water through the system on a given day can put the system out of balance. Simply said, if your family took some extra showers coupled with running a series of laundry loads all on the same day, these activities can change the chemistry of your septic tank! There’s a surprisingly long list of items (see chart) that should never be flushed down the toilet, dumped in the sink or ground up in your garbage disposal.  These items can change the chemistry of the septic tank so it can’t do its job.

Chart of unwelcome items in your septic tank:

Avoid putting these liquids, chemicals and items down the drain or toilet.

6 Signs your Septic System is in trouble:

There are several indicators that signal your septic tank system is failing or out of balance. These are the top 6 trouble signs:

1)  Slow drains in tubs and the shower

2)  Water backing up in the house drains or toilets

3)  Gurgling noises in your plumbing pipes

4)  Soggy or spongy grass or water ponds in the yard over your drain field

5)  Sewage smells in the house or the yard

6)  A smudged drain field vent (not all drain fields have vents)

If you notice any of these symptoms, you may need to schedule a septic tank pumping or you have a drain field problem. You don’t want to ignore these indicators because small septic issues can become expensive problems to solve and may lead to a full septic system failure.  Also, be aware that a failed septic system can pollute the ground water, the lake your house is on and even your well.

What Could be Wrong?

While septic tanks are dependable onsite waste processing systems, several features could fail.  Here are a few things that should be checked by your septic system expert if any failure signs appear. The plumbing air vent on your home’s roof might be plugged. Your septic tank may be full. Inlet or outlet baffles inside the septic tank may need cleaning. The drain field could be saturated or is failing due to excessive biomat build-up. Sometimes the drain field has been physically cracked or damaged such that the effluent isn’t being filtered into the soil.

Should I Put Commercial Additives into my Septic Tank?

 There are hundreds commercial products on the market today whose stated purpose is to improve your septic tank’s operation.  Be aware that many scientists believe that these products aren’t necessary and should not be used. Some states have posted their list of preferred septic tank additives.  These additives fall into two main categories: chemical and biologic. The chemical additives are typically acids meant to clear clogs but may do serious harm to the septic tank.  Biologic additives include active bacteria and enzymes to enhance the breakdown of solid material, paper and more.  The EPA rejects the need for these products and has pushed back on their effectiveness.

Most experts say that these additives are not a substitute for routine maintenance and septic tank pumping. It is probably best to only add biologics or chemicals if you’re told to do so by your septic system professional. Otherwise, you may upset the system’s balance and waste money, as well.

Lake House Entertaining and Guests

 As mentioned in the opening of the article, most homeowners take their septic systems for granted if they are working well. Keep in mind that your guests probably don’t even know you have a septic system, let alone how sensitive it is. Gentle reminder signs in your bathrooms will help your guests understand the simple ‘dos and don’ts’ when a septic system is in place!

Special COVID-19 Alert

 Your septic system is probably being stressed in unexpected ways during the COVID-19 pandemic. Here are the 4 reasons why:

1) There are probably more people at home and water use is higher than normal

2) If you ever ran out of toilet paper, you may have substituted wipes, tissues, or even paper towels which don’t dissolve in a septic tank

3) You may be handwashing with anti-bacterial soaps which kill the bacteria in the septic tank

4) If you use bleach in the laundry or harsh cleaning agents you can kill septic tank bacteria.

Your perfectly balanced septic system could be stressed and poised for failure at any time.  Lake House Livin’ recommends you be more vigilant on watching for septic system failure signs during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Finally, don’t ignore any of the signs of a septic tank failure. Call an expert immediately to resolve your system’s problem before it becomes irreparable, and you need to replace significant parts of the whole system. In severe cases, family members can get sick. Reminding your family and guests to be kind to your septic system is key to keeping your septic system in good operation.

Other resources: – very complete on every type of septic system


More fun bathroom signs:


All of these products are linked directly on Amazon so you can “Add to Cart” and move on with your day!








(*Before ordering, make sure to reference the section above where we discuss the pros and cons of additives)

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