Septic system maintenance important

Septic tank maintenance is like changing the oil in your car — you don’t want to wait until there is a problem, said Ashley Austin-Neehan of Austin Sewer and Septic in Okeechobee.

Onsite septic systems do work, she said. “There is science behind them. But they have to be maintained.”

Septic tanks should be pumped out regularly, every one to five years, she explained. How often the tank should be pumped depends on the size of the tank and the number of people in the household. The more people in the household, the more often the tank may need to be pumped.

For example, a household of two may be fine with pumping the tank every five years; a household of four may need the tank pumped every three years.

Materials flushed will also make a difference.

“In the 1980s, when they put a septic system in, a lot of people wouldn’t even flush toilet paper,” she explained. “Now people flush anything and everything.”

Materials that will not break down naturally in the septic tank will stay there until the tank is pumped out.

Additional factors may also come into play. For example, some cancer patients must have their septic tanks pumped out annually because the medications they take kill off the bacteria that would otherwise help break down the waste.

Anything that goes down the sink or the toilet winds up in the septic tank and can affect its function.
Having the tank pumped out and inspected on a regular basis can also protect the homeowner and the community from a potential health hazard.

A broken septic system will leak sewage into the groundwater, Ms. Austin-Neehan explained.

Vacation homes may need the septic tank pumped out more often than those occupied year-round, she said.

“If the tank isn’t used every day, the bacteria can die off, and sludge builds up.”

She said while there is currently a push for septic-to-sewer conversions, connecting to a “big pipe” sewer system is not possible in rural areas where people live many miles from the nearest town, and it would be too expensive for a utility company to run the pipes. Septic systems can and do work if they are installed and maintained properly by responsible homeowners, she said.

Publisher Katrina Elsken can be reached at

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