Title 5 Septic Systems
Septic systems can be called by several different names, including on-site wastewater treatment systems, individual sewage disposal systems and private sewage systems. These on-site wastewater disposal systems provide an effective means of treating household sewage. However, older, poorly designed systems, inadequate maintenance and many other conditions can affect the performance of such systems. Ineffective treatment of sewage can threaten the environment by polluting local wetlands and groundwater supplies; moreover, failing systems can harm public health by exposing residents to harmful microorganisms carried in wastewater.
Proper system maintenance is essential. It is recommended that the average household septic system be inspected and pumped at least every three years by a septic system professional. Septic pumpers are licensed under the Board of Health. Please call the office for an up-to-date list of licensed pumpers. Septic system plans and information can be requested by emailing us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Septic System General Info
- Caring for your Septic System
- Inspectors and System Failure
- Items Not to Flush
What is a septic system? Septic systems are used to treat and dispose of small volumes of wastewater onsite, usually from houses and businesses located in suburban and rural locations not served by a centralized public sewer system. Septic systems treat wastewater from household plumbing fixtures (toilet, shower, laundry, etc.) through both natural and technological processes.
Septic systems are also called:
- onsite wastewater treatment systems,
- decentralized wastewater treatment systems,
- cluster systems,
- package plants,
- on-lot systems,
- individual sewage disposal systems, and
- private sewage systems.
The various types of decentralized wastewater treatment, if properly executed, can protect public health, preserve valuable water resources, and maintain economic vitality in a community. They are a cost-effective and long-term option for treating wastewater, particularly in less densely populated areas.
One in five U.S. homes have septic systems. Yours may be one of them. If your septic system is not properly maintained you may be risking your family’s health, hurting the environment, and flushing thousands of dollars down the drain. An unusable septic system or one in disrepair will lower your property value, and potentially can pose a costly legal liability.
Proper maintenance keeps you and your neighbors healthy! Household wastewater contains disease causing bacteria and viruses and high levels of nitrogen and phosphorus. If a septic system is well-maintained and working properly, it will remove most of these pollutants. Insufficiently treated sewage from septic systems can cause groundwater contamination, which can spread disease in humans and animals. Improperly treated sewage poses the risk of contaminating nearby surface waters threatening swimmers with various infectious diseases, from eye and ear infections to acute gastrointestinal illness and hepatitis.
It also protects the environment! More than four billion gallons of wastewater are dispersed below the ground’s surface every day. Ground water contaminated by poorly or untreated household wastewater poses dangers to drinking water and to the environment. Malfunctioning septic systems release bacteria, viruses, and chemicals toxic to local waterways. When these pollutants are released into the ground, they eventually enter streams, rivers, lakes, and more, harming local ecosystems by killing native plants, fish, and shellfish. Learn more about how septic systems can help support greener, more sustainable communities.
Septic system maintenance is straightforward, and it does not need to be expensive. Upkeep comes down to four key elements:
- Inspect and Pump Frequently
- Use Water Efficiently
- Properly Dispose of Waste
- Maintain Your Drainfield
Inspect and Pump Frequently
The average household septic system should be inspected at least every three years by a septic service professional. Household septic tanks are typically pumped every three to five years. Alternative systems with electrical float switches, pumps, or mechanical components should be inspected more often, generally once a year. A service contract is important since alternative systems have mechanized parts.
Four major factors influence the frequency of septic pumping:
- Household size
- Total wastewater generated
- Volume of solids in wastewater
- Septic tank size
Use Water Efficiently
The average indoor water use in a typical single-family home is nearly 70 gallons per individual, per day. Just a single leaky or running toilet can waste as much as 200 gallons of water per day. All of the water a household sends down its pipes winds up in its septic system. The more water a household conserves, the less water enters the septic system. Efficient water use improves the operation of a septic system and reduces the risk of failure.
EPA’s WaterSense program has many simple ways to save water and water-efficient products:
- High-efficiency toilets
- Faucet aerators and high-efficiency showerheads
- Washing machines
Properly Dispose of Waste
Toilets aren’t trash cans! Your septic system is not a trash can. An easy rule of thumb: Do not flush anything besides human waste and toilet paper. Never flush:
- Cooking grease or oil
- Non-flushable wipes, such as baby wipes or other wet wipes
- Photographic solutions
- Feminine hygiene products
- Dental floss
- Cigarette butts
- Coffee grounds
- Cat litter
- Paper towels
- Household chemicals like gasoline, oil, pesticides, antifreeze, and paint or paint thinners
Maintain your Drainfield
Your drainfield—a component of your septic system that removes contaminants from the liquid that emerges from your septic tank—is an important part of your septic system. Here are a few things you should do to maintain it:
- Parking: Never park or drive on your drainfield.
- Planting: Plant trees the appropriate distance from your drainfield to keep roots from growing into your septic system. A septic service professional can advise you of the proper distance, depending on your septic tank and landscape.
- Placing: Keep roof drains, sump pumps, and other rainwater drainage systems away from your drainfield area. Excess water slows down or stops the wastewater treatment process.
Where can I find a Septic System/Title V inspector?
The New England Interstate Water Pollution Control Commission has a list of approved system inspectors and soil evaluators here: https://neiwpcc.org/our-programs/wastewater/mass-title-5/listings-of-approved-system-inspectors-and-soil-evaluators/
What do I do if my system fails an inspection?
If the subsurface disposal system fails an inspection, the owner normally has up to two years in which to correct the problem. However, the Board of Health may require that the owner address the problem within a shorter period should the failing system present a threat to the public health and the environment. If the property is sold, the new owner assumes responsibility for the failed septic system. The new owner may make an agreement with the town to connect to the municipal sewer system after taking ownership.
How do septic systems fail?
Most septic systems fail because of time and use. Eventually, the leaching field can no longer process the water entering the system due to biological conditions that evolve throughout time. Failure to perform routine maintenance, such as pumping the septic tank generally at least every three to five years, can cause solids in the tank to migrate into the drain field and clog the system resulting in a failed system. Occasionally there is failure because of inappropriate design. Some soil-based systems (those with a drain field) are installed at sites with inadequate or inappropriate soils, excessive slopes, or high ground water tables. These conditions can cause hydraulic failures and contamination of nearby water sources.
Items That Shouldn’t Be Flushed
|Do not flush anything besides human waste and toilet paper. Never flush:|