Septic System Owner's Guide: Know the Ins and Outs of Your System

Dated: May 3 2023

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As a real estate agent covering Outer Banks and Northeastern North Carolina, I understand the importance of septic systems in rural areas or suburbs without access to a public sewer system. Septic systems are an effective and efficient way to treat household wastewater on-site. However, it's crucial for septic system owners to understand the different types of septic systems, their maintenance needs, and what to do if their system fails. In this article, I will provide a guide to septic system owners in North Carolina to help them become responsible septic system owners. By following these guidelines and working with local health departments and certified septic system professionals, homeowners can help ensure that their septic system operates efficiently and effectively for years to come.

If you live in a rural area or a suburb without access to a public sewer system, you most likely have a septic system. Septic systems are an effective and efficient way to treat household wastewater on-site. In this blog post, we will provide a guide to septic system owners in North Carolina to help them understand the different types of septic systems, their maintenance needs, and what to do if their system fails.

What type of system do you have?

Conventional Septic System

A two-compartment septic tank.

Wastewater treatment and disposal in the soil.

In North Carolina, most septic systems are slight modifications of the conventional septic system. This system includes a septic tank and a drainfield with gravel-filled trenches. However, newer gravel-less trench designs are now being used, such as long, narrow, tunnel-shaped chambers, or gravel substitutes like expanded polystyrene aggregate. Other alternative trench materials that are being used include large-diameter pipe, permeable concrete blocks, and recycled rubber tires. More sophisticated types of on-site systems have been developed over the past 20 to 25 years, such as systems with pumps, mechanical pretreatment units, or biofilters. These technologies require a higher level of maintenance than the more traditional septic systems. Do you know the location of your septic system and repair area? To properly maintain your septic system, you should know the location of both the septic tank and the drainfield. The location of the septic tank and drainfield can usually be determined with a copy of the permit and with the help of a septic contractor, consultant, or the local health department.

Dare County Request Form

Albemarle Area Request Form

Most housing sites permitted since the early 1980s are legally required to have a “repair area or replacement area” in which a second drainfield could be built if needed. The repair area was identified by the health department when the site was permitted and should be shown on your septic system permit.

Things You Need to Know About Your Septic System

It is important to know the type of septic system you have, its location, and the location of the repair area. You should also check if your septic system is working properly and has been maintained in the past. You should sketch your home, septic system, repair area, and other important features on the grid labeled Septic System Layout. When you have your septic tank pumped, measure and record the distance from the house to the access port on the tank. You might also wish to mark your tank location and the drainfield boundaries in your yard.

Is your septic system working properly?

If house fixtures drain well, many people do not investigate whether their septic system works. Unfortunately, untreated sewage on top of the ground can be a health hazard. If your system shows signs of problems, contact your local health department immediately. State law requires that you get a permit from the health department before repairing a failing septic system. Be wary of any contractor who wants to attempt a repair without a permit.

Signs that your system might have problems:

- Toilets, tubs, or sinks backing up with sewage.

- Fixtures draining slowly, especially after rainfall.

- Soggy soil or raw sewage smell in the air, accompanied by sewage discharged on the ground, nearby ditches, or woods.

- For pump systems, sewage may appear on the surface when the pump is turned on, disappearing when the pump turns off, but this is still a system failure that requires repair.

- A flashing red light or beeping alarm inside or outside the house, indicating a malfunctioning pump or a pump tank with a high water level that is close to failure.

- An increase in infections or illnesses linked to swimming in rivers or lakes near the septic system.

What maintenance has been done?

Before planning a maintenance program, find out what maintenance has already been done. If you are buying an existing home, ask the seller some important questions, such as how old the system is, where the tank and drainfield are located, when the tank was last pumped, and how frequently it has been pumped. You should also ask if there have been signs of possible failure, where a copy of the permit and records show how well (or poorly) the system has been maintained, and if there have been additions made to the house that would necessitate increasing the size of the system. If the house has just been built, ask the builder these same questions. Keeping track of maintenance records is important, as it can help you identify potential problems and plan for future maintenance needs. It's a good idea to keep your maintenance record, here is an example:

Being a responsible septic system owner means knowing the ins and outs of your system. You should know what type of system you have, where it is located, and where the repair area is located. It's also important to ensure that your system is working properly and to keep up with regular maintenance to prevent costly repairs down the line. By following these guidelines and working with your local health department and a certified septic system professional, you can help ensure that your septic system operates efficiently and effectively for years to come.

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Kateryna Rush

As a native of Ukraine, I have had the pleasure of calling the scenic Outer Banks region home since 2015. I approach the real estate industry with a level of passion and enthusiasm that is unmatched. ....

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