Avoid Septic Backups With Preventive Maintenance

Updated August 17, 2011
close up shot of bathroom toilet
Photo: ArLawKa AungTun/ iStock / Getty Images Plus/ Getty Images

Chicago homeowners with septic systems who perform annual maintenance can avoid costly backups.

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 In the city of Chicago, homeowners are responsible for maintaining their septic systems. A properly working septic system helps treat wastewater and ensures harmful materials don’t contaminate the ground water.

When a septic system fails, often the result of a backup or clog in the septic tank, it can be a costly and messy fix. Fortunately, the risk of a septic system failure can be easily avoided with proper preventive maintenance.

Everyday items such as solid foods and grease are some of the most common culprits for backing up septic tanks. Grease doesn’t break down like other foods and can eventually clog up the outlet of the tank and cause serious damage.

Tree roots are another common culprit responsible for septic tank backup. Roots can actually grow into the tank itself, blocking the entry valve and leading to a backup.

Taking time to test the tank’s levels at least once a year will give a homeowner an idea of how much material has accumulated in the tank, and help determine the likelihood of a backup.

A common way to test a septic tank’s level is to use a stick with a coarse white towel attached to it. Taking the white towel, wrap it around one end of the stick and secure it at both ends with a couple pieces of strong wire. With the stick in hand, slowly lower it down through the inspection hole in the lid until the bottom is reached.

Leave the stick for about 20 minutes before retrieving it. If the level of scum or sludge is three to four inches from the top, the tank will need to be cleaned. Calling in a professional cleaning service is highly recommended because it can ensure the tank is cleaned properly, and provide a warranty in case additional problems arise with the tank itself. A professional will also know how to properly dispose of all septic waste in compliance with environmental standards.

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