By Nate Smell
Members of the local cottaging community gathered at Cedar Lake Cottage Association president Ron Parkinson’s waterfront property on Cedar Lake Saturday, Sept. 5 for a septic system inspection demonstration. Parkinson said they decided to host the presentation to provide cottagers with accurate information regarding the Level-4 inspection process, and how to ensure their septic system is functioning properly.
The demonstration was provided by Michael Rahme of HomePro Inspections in Haliburton. According to Rahme, a septic inspection entails the close examination of all accessible components of the waste water system. While a Level-1 inspection can provide valuable information regarding how a system is functioning, he said the best way to confirm whether a system is operating correctly is to pump it out. By emptying the tank, Rahme said the inspector is able to verify the integrity, composition, and capacity of the tank to ensure it is adequate for the size of the home it is intended to serve.
Although the best time to pump out a system is when the volume of the tank is one-third full of solids, Rahme said the timing is subjective, determined by the property owner’s level of use. Despite this subjectivity, he said on average it is usually safe for property owners to pump out their system every three to four years.
Giving the group insight into what the composition of a properly functioning septic system looks like, Rahme said the best analogy he could use to describe the contents was as a “big brownie.”
“It’s kind of a weird analogy using food and waste, but it’s just a big, thick mass like that.”
To understand how a septic system works, Rahme said one needs to understand what a properly functioning system looks like. Describing the composition further, he explained how the composition of a tank consists of three parts: solids at the bottom; liquid in the middle; and, the FOG (fats, oils, and grease) at the top.
During the inspection, Rahme said the inspector will also measure all the pertinent set-backs to make sure the system is located far enough away from any structures, wells, lakes, rivers, ponds, springs, etc. Acknowledging the importance of a well-functioning septic system in terms of maintaining water quality, he stressed the importance of establishing a vegetative buffer zone of at least 15-metres between the septic system and a body of water.
With more than 20 years of experience conducting home and septic system inspections, Rahme said he has learned to “never underestimate the creativity of the cottage owner,” when it comes to the maintenance of septic systems. For example, he told the group how he has seen people add everything from yeast to roadkill to their septic tank, thinking that they were helping their system function properly.
As a rule of thumb, Rahme said home and cottage owners should only put substances in their tank that have passed through them. That said, because some medications are designed to kill bacteria, he said these medications can wreak havoc on a system. While there are many additives on the market to assist with establishing a healthy balance within one’s septic system, he said the only product he would recommend is an additive called EcoEthic. Speaking from his own experience and observations, Rahme said most additives do more harm than good.
Throughout his career, Rahme said there has been a significant change in the materials being used in the construction of septic systems. Recognizing that a great deal of system failure takes place in the piping used within a system, he said the evolution of septic systems has occurred in the materials being used for pipes. For instance, Rahme said in the 1950s it was common to see clay tiles used; whereas in the 1960s the industry standard was a product made of tightly wound tar paper called corrode-free pipe. In the 1970s, he said the industry made the biggest transition to the PVC and ABS piping that is commonly used today.
Rahme explained that there can be many reasons why a septic system fails, however one of the most common causes of system failure is a “change of use.” This occurs, he said, because over time the system and the ecosystem in which it is located develop what he describes as a “memory.”
“These septic systems develop a memory,” explained Rahme.
“They get really comfortable accepting ‘X’ amount of fluid over an ‘X’ amount of time.”
Explaining this memory in greater detail, Rahme provided a hypothetical scenario in which two senior citizens sharing a cottage develop a pattern of usage throughout the year that is maintained over a long period of time. He then pointed out how a system would be more likely to fail if the couple sold the property to a young family that has a heavier pattern of usage.
In order to properly maintain a septic system, Rahme said property owners need to look out for signs that their system might be failing. He said some of the signs of system failure people need to look out for include a linger odour of sewage; depressions in the ground in and around the septic bed; or, excessive vegetative growth patterns where the tiles are located.
Acknowledging that any irregularities in the vicinity of the septic system can mean that the system is failing, Rahme said the best way to ensure it is working correctly is to be diligent with proper maintenance. He advises anyone with concerns regarding their septic system to contact him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org; or by phone at: 1-800-832-0519, or 705-455-9055. For more information visit HomePro online at: www.homeproinspections.ca.