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Protecting Your Home from Septic Disasters after Heavy Summer Rainfall

Not surprisingly, Southeastern Wisconsin has proved unpredictable this summer, with swings in temperatures, humidity, and heavy, sometimes unexpected rainfall. Fortunately, it is commonplace in our great state, so custom home builders today are well versed in preparing for extreme climate shifts when building luxury homes to minimize the maintenance and damage that comes with severe storms and flooding. When flooding occurs on properties, there are a few things to be concerned about, and the septic system is definitely one to keep an eye on.

Septic systems are particularly vulnerable after periods of heavy rainfall when they are due to be pumped or if they have not been properly maintained. In order to understand the susceptibility, it helps to know overall how the system works.

Modern septic systems have 2 major components: the tank and the drain field. Wastewater and sewage enter the system through the household’s plumbing, where solid waste settles at the bottom as sludge and lighter solids and oil float to the top. Enzymes in the tank go to work breaking down the solid waste and begin to treat the water. The partially treated water then flows out to the drain field through a series of underground, partially perforated pipes. This liquid material, known as effluent, flows into the soil to be purified by microbes, completing the treatment cycle.

Problems occur after heavy rains when excessive soil saturation clog the perforated drain field and it cannot release the effluents into the soil. If the water cannot flow out of the septic system, the water will collect in the septic tank, which fills it with dangerous levels of liquid. When this occurs, the effluent will travel backwards through the plumbing and find its way back into drains and toilets inside the house. Groundwater contamination is also a danger when water escapes through the pipes of the drainfield but is not able to filter down into the soil to complete the treatment cycle. This contaminated water will pool near the surface or run off into other nearby water supplies.

Symptoms of a flooded septic tank can be very similar to those of a clogged pipe or tank in need of a routine pumping; however, the treatment for a flooded tank is different. When water is not draining properly in any of the home’s drains and there was recent heavy rainfall and/or flooding on the property, a specialist should be called in to confirm the source of the problem. Pumping the tank when it is flooded is not an option as it can cause further damage to the septic system, and, likewise, adding chemicals to drains will worsen the problem. The best course of action once a flooded tank is confirmed is to greatly reduce and, if possible, eliminate water use in the home from machines and faucets to give the drainfield time to dry.

In order to prevent septic tank flooding:

  • The number one safeguard is regular maintenance to routinely inspect and pump the tank
  • Limit water use in the home during heavy rains
  • Only flush septic-safe, biodegradable materials, and use biodegradable cleaners
  • Avoid driving or parking over the system to reduce chance of soil compaction
  • Do not dig or work around the system when the soil is heavily saturated
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