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Keep Your Septic System in Top Shape by Fixing Leaks

Keep Your Septic System in Top Shape by Fixing Leaks

The Environmental Protection Agency just wrapped up the annual Fix a Leak Week.  This is a seven-day event focused on resource conservation through repairing leaking household fixtures and appliances. The most recent estimate is that household leaks can cause more than 1 trillion gallons of wasted water each year.

Fix a Leak Week started in 2009 in a residential home in Arizona, when the EPA and several partners set up a demonstration to show how much water an average household lost due to leaks in two toilets, two faucets, and a shower head. In one week, those five fixtures leaked more than 200 gallons of water. To put that quantity in perspective, the average American drinks about 58 gallons of water each year. The recommendation is for individuals to drink about 92 gallons each year. Two hundred lost gallons of water in one week is an alarming amount for any household.

Homeowners with septic systems, however, should take extra precaution against leaking fixtures. Excess water in your tank can cause disastrous results.

Leaking Fixtures and your Septic System: Prevention is Key

Your septic system is your onsite wastewater treatment plant, allowing you to escape a municipal sewer tax. In return, you are responsible for the regular inspection and maintenance of your septic system. One way the EPA points out that you can protect your system is to use water efficiently.

With an average indoor water use of almost 70 gallons per person, per day, regularly opening and closing faucets for laundry, dishes, and personal hygiene can cause many opportunities for leaks. Keeping water from entering the septic system allows the system to operate at its optimal capacity and reduces the risk of failure.

In standard systems, solid materials settle at the bottom of the tank. The system when then disperse effluent water through the leach field. When the water input to the tank exceeds its capacity, the water will flood the system. It may also flush solids from the tank into the drainfield – possibly contaminating rain and drinking water.

Fix These Household Leaks First

In addition to conserving water and protecting your septic system, the EPA reports that a simple faucet or fixture replacement can save the average homeowner about 10 percent on their water bill.

  • Toilets: A leaking toilet, the EPA reports, can waste as many as 200 gallons of water a day. This is going directly into your septic system with your regular water usage. For older toilets, you can be wasting between three and five gallons per flush. Switching to a high-efficiency toilet that uses at most 1.6 gallons of water per flush is beneficial. Place a half-gallon milk jug filled with rocks in the toilet water tank to reduce the amount of water being sent to your septic system.
  • Shower heads and faucets:  A shower head that leaks water at about ten drips per minute could lose more than 500 gallons of water each year. If the faucet is losing one drip of water a second, you could be losing more than 3,000 gallons of water annually. As a frame of reference, 3,000 gallons of water is about the amount of water needed to take 180 showers.

Keep an eye on your dishwasher and washing machine. While these two appliances are the main culprits for leaks, they can be very damaging to septic systems. Due to the nature of operating these appliances, regular use can pump excessive amounts of water through the system in a very short period. It’s important for homeowners to be mindful of their use of these appliances. Rather than spending Saturday morning tackling 10 to 12 loads of laundry, which can send hundreds of gallons to your septic tank, consider breaking that down to one or two loads each day.

Finding the Leaks

Observation alone might show you some of the leaks in your house, but others may be well-hidden. It’s important to catch and repair leaks early to minimize septic system damage.

  • Gurgling drains can be a sign that your septic tank is flooded or overfull. It’s important to get your system checked because gurgling drains can also be a sign of a plugged main line or vent problem.
  • Check your water meter and utility bill. If you see spikes in the bill and haven’t knowingly increased your use, you may have a leak. If your meter shows an increase in consumption when the water is not being used, you most likely have a leak.
  • Putting a few drops of food coloring in your toilet tank can show you if the toilet flapper is leaking. If coloring appears in the toilet bowl in about 10 minutes, you have a leak.

Repairing leaking fixtures is one component of proper maintenance for your septic system. To ensure that your system runs well and performs at its best, check out this list of helpful tips, and get your system serviced and pumped every two to three years.


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  • emily bennette
    August 16, 2016, 10:24 pm REPLY

    This is some really good information about septic tank system. I like that you pointed out that you should pay attention to your unity bill. It does seem like it would be a good idea to have a professional come inspect your system if you notice an unexplained rise in your bill.

  • Kendall Ryder
    September 9, 2016, 12:46 pm REPLY

    It would also be a good idea to have someone come and regularly checkup on the system. That way, they can spot any leaks or problems with the system. That can hopefully prevent problems from getting worse!

  • Sarah Smith
    September 16, 2016, 4:51 pm REPLY

    I want to get a septic system but am worried about leaks. Thanks for the advice about how one way to prevent leaks is to use water efficiently. It would also be smart to get a licensed professional to install and inspect your system to make sure everything is okay.

  • John Ferrell
    February 6, 2017, 7:47 pm REPLY

    I didn’t know that older toilets can be wasting as much as 3-5 gallons of water. When I was remodeling my bathroom, I didn’t know what the difference between a normal toilet and a high efficiency toilet. Good thing I asked someone who knew, it helped me decide on the toilet that I should get.

  • Ivy Bakery
    February 23, 2017, 10:15 pm REPLY

    Wow, I had no idea that a simple toilet leak can waste 200 gallons of water a day. It seems like that would do a lot of damage to your septic tank as well. I wouldn’t have thought that I should pay attention to little things like that.

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