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By: Andy Bauman – FlowSpec Engineering Ltd.

You’ve purchased a home in the country, outside of the City, congratulations! Your home purchase likely involves the appeal of more space, a larger yard and some fresh air. Something that’s not typically top of mind, but requires your attention, is whether your new home is on a septic system. Away from city sewers and municipal wastewater treatment plants, septic systems (or wastewater treatment systems) are the traditional way of treating wastewater from toilets, sinks, showers, laundry, etc. within your home. This, as well as a drinking water well, are important parts of your rural infrastructure. When things are working normally, you’ll hardly notice your septic system. Working in the background, your system efficiently treats the wastewater from your home and reintroduces the treated water back into the natural water cycle. In the event of a malfunction due to improper maintenance, equipment failure, or simply reaching the end of its expected service life, significant investment may be required to get the system back on track.

There are a wide variety of types of septic systems installed today. The common elements though, involve a tank (typically made of concrete or plastic) which collects the raw wastewater from your home and provides varying levels of treatment. Wastewater then travels to the “leaching bed” (series of perforated pipe buried beneath the earth and situated in native or imported soil) where final treatment occurs. The wastewater is reintroduced into the underlying soil and finally back to the natural water cycle. Additional tanks or pumps may be involved for enhanced treatment of the wastewater or to overcome gravity flow. 

It’s important to remember that septic systems rely on a biological process involving bacteria that consume or break down household waste as it works its way through the system. With this in mind, washing paint brushes in your sink or putting harmful chemicals into the system will have a negative impact and should be avoided.

When assessing an existing septic system, there are a lot of things to look for, much of it is underground, and out of sight. Working with a trusted and reputable professional, who is familiar with septic systems, is the best way to ensure your homes system is in good working order. Items to be looked at would include: age of the system (building code requirements have been updated or changed over the years, though some older systems continue to work well), construction paperwork (design, installation or permit approval documents), maintenance records (regular pump-outs, replacement parts), visible items including access lids or soggy areas around the leaching bed (an indication that the wastewater isn’t going where it’s intended). A more invasive approach involves digging up areas of the leaching bed to uncover additional information about the performance of the system you simply cannot see on the surface.

If you plan on renovating your home, an addition, building a pool or workshop or simply landscaping the yard, this process may trigger an assessment of the septic system. In these instances, the existing system may be required to meet today’s standards in the Ontario Building Code. This could involve upgraded components or even a complete replacement. Meeting with an industry professional will shed some light on the situation.

In summary, a properly designed, installed and maintained septic system may service a home for a generation or more. Outside of routine maintenance, the system should continue to efficiently operate “out of sight, and out of mind.” Understanding what you have underground on your property, what condition it is in and how it plays into any future construction/renovation plans you have is imperative to ensuring you don’t have any unwanted surprises with your new home.

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