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This is a much debated question. According to information from the Indiana State Department of Health and the Environmental Protection Agency:
There are well over 1000 different septic tank additives on the market, but there is no standard for testing them.
There is no evidence proving that a septic tank that is designed, operated, and maintained properly needs an additive to work effectively.
There is no product available that will allow a homeowner to escape regular pumping of the septic tank.
Some additives may actually harm your septic tank and/or absorption field.
There are products that can cause groundwater contamination.
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The soil is the system. As such, the area for the soil absorption field must be protected before and after installation. As stated in Indiana State Department of Health Rule 410 IAC 6-8.3, “No construction on the residential sewage disposal system may take place if the residential sewage disposal system site is disturbed or altered after the on-site evaluation by the addition of fill material, (other than construction necessary for the residential sewage disposal system) or by cutting, scraping, compaction, or the removal of soil, until a new evaluation has been conducted and a modified permit has been issued.” According to the rule, all Indiana septic systems must discharge into the soil. For soils to be suitable for a septic system absorption field, they must not be compacted or have fill. Compaction reduces the ability of a soil to disperse and treat wastewater effluent and can lead to system failure. Septic systems cannot be placed in fill due to the inability to predict permeability from the disruption of structure and the variability of the soil. The more natural and undisturbed the soil on your lot, the better your septic system is likely to perform. Do not put any structure on top of or immediately down slope of the soil absorption field. This office recommends a set-aside area for another soil absorption field in the event of system failure or future additions to the home.
Establishing a vegetative cover, such as native grasses, is beneficial to the proper function of your septic system and critical for mound systems. Plants with good root systems can stabilize the soil to prevent erosion, loosen the soil to allow air movement, and even draw water. While trees and some shrubs can remove a significant amount of water from the area, their roots can occlude sewer lines, damage septic tanks, and invade distribution lines. Aggressive water-loving trees such as poplar, willow and maple should be avoided near the soil absorption field. Most trees root systems are about the same size as the leaf canopy at maturity. A good rule of thumb is to plant trees at least this distance away. Even if you plant non-aggressive types, the potential for damage to the system exists. Before planting trees or shrubs, consult with a tree nursery professional or Purdue Cooperative Extension agent.
Septic systems in Indiana may function for 20 years or more. The Department of Health's responsibility is to make sure the system is properly sited, designed, and installed, but the homeowner is responsible for the use and maintenance. If the system is not maintained, the system will fail prematurely. For more information, you can contact the Department of Health at 574-235-9721.
As a rule, tanks should be checked for solids buildup every year and pumped every three to five years, more often if you have a garbage disposal which can increase solids buildup by 50%. In practice, however, how often solids should be removed depends on the lifestyle of the family using the system and the size of the tank. If you wait until wastewater begins to back up into your home, solids have already started over-flowing from the septic tank and into your absorption field. This can cause some very expensive damage to the soil absorption system. When choosing a company to remove solids from your tank, ask if they thoroughly clean the tank and remove all solids. It is not very useful to just pump the liquids without removing the solids. To effectively clean the tank, the removed liquids should be flushed back into the tank to thoroughly agitate and remove settled solids. In addition, the baffles on the tank should be checked to make sure they are functional and the tank’s effluent filter (if installed) should be cleaned. A riser installed on your septic tank makes solids removal easier, and septic tank maintenance companies may charge less if the tank is easy to access. If your tank has an effluent filter installed, it can be inspected and cleaned through the riser. A properly functioning tank effluent filter protects the soil absorption field much more effectively than a baffle. If your tank does not currently have one, consider installing one the next time you have your tank cleaned. Note: a septic permit is required for any alteration or repair to the system. If you have questions about what is required, contact the Department of Health.
There are many things you can do to reduce water use throughout your home without reducing your quality of life. Generally, don’t let the water run and fix leaky faucets. The more water and waste down the drain, the less time there is for settling of solids in your septic tank and the more effluent the absorption field must treat. Either of these can cause a system to fail prematurely, but together you have a recipe for failure. If your home has a septic system, you should be doing most of these even if you system is functioning normally.
Wash only full loads of dishes in the dishwasher. However, wash them by hand during problem times.
If you rinse your dishes before putting them in the dishwasher, fill your sink instead of letting the water run. You can do a quick rinse with clean water when finished.
Fill a bowl with water to wash vegetables, and do a clean-water rinse when finished.
Fill a jug with water for the refrigerator rather than letting the water run until it is cold each time you get a glass of water.
Do not let the water run while brushing your teeth or shaving.
Secure the tub stopper, then take your shower. You’ll be surprised to see how much water you use. Take a bath or a shorter shower.
Install a new low-flush toilet.
Install a low output shower head, preferably with a shut-off option.
Never install a multiple head shower.
Wash only full loads of clothes.
Replace your old washing machine with a water-saving model.
Don’t water the septic system.
A sprinkler system should never be installed over the septic system.
Only water the lawn around the septic system when it NEEDS it. Most of the year, a sprinkler system set on a timer will over-water the lawn.
Direct sump pump lines and downspouts away from the septic system and never connect these or other clean water drains into the homes plumbing.
The Department of Health has records of septic permits starting in 1970. Some of the information is incomplete, but a search can be made. A completed Schematic Request must be submitted to the office, but you can call ahead with as much of the following information as possible to see if we have the record:
Name of original applicant
Year the home was built
Address of home
Subdivision and lot number
You may sometimes hear gurgling in your drains, see bubbling in the toilet, or an occasional damp/wet spot in the yard, or after a large rain the plumbing seems… slow. These are all signs that your system may be “ailing” and headed for replacement. It is possible there may be a simpler solution, such as obstruction or your tank may need pumped. However, if the symptoms return after the tank is pumped, your system is headed for failure. You won’t know until it is evaluated. It will not go away by ignoring it! If you have an “ailing” septic system that is limping along, DON’T WAIT until it is a full blown FAILURE to start the process. The symptoms will get worse! If you complete as much of this process as possible, you can plan. Remember, once the “ailing” goes to “failing,” it disrupts the whole household.
If you have a septic system problem, you should immediately contact the Department of Health and review all the information available in this website, including: procedures, soil scientists, registered septic installers, schematic request, etc. Reduce water usage in your home, check the septic tank for accumulation of solids, and have it pumped as necessary to keep sewage from surfacing on the ground.
Septic systems are now designed specifically for the site based upon daily design flow, soil borings, and an on-site study of the property. The reason your replacement system must now have a bigger absorption field, a system with a dose tank and pump, a larger septic tank, or a mound system is because that is what the soil and conditions on your property qualify for. Most likely, if the existing system has been in use for many years, it was not designed; it was just the standard version of septic systems at the time of installation. Furthermore, due to lack of space, water wells, the addition of fill, compaction, and landscaping, soil and site conditions are different than when the property was developed. If you have questions about system sizing or type, contact an environmental health specialist at 235-9721 for further explanation.
Because of past negative experiences, both for us and the unfortunate homeowners, we recommend that you leave septic system design and installation to the professionals. The Department of Health maintains a list of registered septic installers for you to choose from. However, if you want to pursue your own installation, please be aware of the following:
The septic application and associated paperwork, while as straightforward as possible, will not be familiar to you, and incorrect submittal of paperwork often delays permit approval.
The Department of Health cannot design the system for you. Rule 410 IAC 6-8.3, Residential Sewage Disposal Systems, and County Code 51, will be provided to you for standards of installation and design.
You must submit plans with detail and accuracy showing how you are going to meet minimum specifications.
A homeowner design is seldom of sufficient clarity, accuracy, and completeness to receive approval on the first submission.
A pre-construction conference is required prior to installation of the system.
Many times, space is limited for system repair, and an installation mistake could damage the site beyond use.
You must do the work yourself.
The Department of Health will inspect your system and require corrections if it is not installed correctly.
An onsite septic system or any component thereof must be properly abandoned or removed when the useful life of the system or component has been exceeded or when it is to be abandoned. The property owner is responsible that it is done in compliance with the following: