If you live out in the country beyond the reach of a municipal sewage system, you probably have a septic tank on your property. Septic tanks work just like a city's sewage treatment facility, separating the solids and fats from household waste and allowing the leftover liquid to seep into a drainfield where beneficial bacteria complete the process.
Septic systems require some special care and maintenance that city folk take for granted. If you flush the wrong chemicals down the drain or fail to pump out your tank, you could end up with a system-wide failure. The cost of digging up the old system and installing a new one could cost anywhere from $2,000 to more than $15,000 [source: Huber].
Therefore, you should have your septic system inspected annually by a professional. He will check the water level in your tank and measure the level of solids on the bottom and greasy scum on the top (lovely job, isn't it?). In general, the inspector will advise that you pump out the tank every three to five years, but it could be more often depending on your household. For example, using a garbage disposal in your sink adds more solids to the system [source: EPA].
In between inspections, look for signs of septic troubles, including:
- Backed-up toilets and foul smells in the house
- Standing water or wet soil in yard above the tank or drainfield
- A patch of bright green grass above the septic tank
These symptoms could point to clogs or leaks in the system.