The Everyday Home: Most expensive appliance

Sonya McDaniel, extension educator, FCS/CED
Pottawatomie County Extension Service

What is the most expensive home appliance?

The answer may surprise you. It is something many homes use every day, but hardly ever see (unless something goes horribly wrong!) It is a septic system. Many people who live within city limits are connected to the city’s waste management system, however it is surprising how many homeowners in Oklahoma have a septic system. In fact, based on the number of permits issued by DEQ (Department of Environmental Quality) 56% of new homes built in 2013 were installing on-site wastewater treatment systems.

Although many homes rely on these systems, very few homeowners know how to maintain them for efficiency, and to prevent back-ups or system failure.  This is especially true when we have prolonged high rainfall and flooding like Oklahoma has seen this spring. 

Know who the installer was or keep that information from new installations.  If you are buying a house with a septic system, ask for that information from the seller.  Buyer tip:  Ask that the tank be emptied as part of the contract.  You don't want them to leave their "stuff" behind!

 Work within the daily treatment capacity of your system.  A family of four should not exceed the treatment capacity of a system designed to treat 400 gallons of wastewater per day.  Be aware of visitors, running extra laundry, etc.

Be familiar with your system.  What type is it, where is the tank, lateral lines, etc.  If you have an aerobic treatment system with a spray application, you need to constantly treat your wastewater with bleach prior to surface-application to your yard. This keeps pathogenic microorganisms out of the yard where pets and children could go.

Be aware of what NOT to put down your drain.  Grease, solid materials (remember flush able, doesn't always mean biodegradable), chemical, Pharmaceuticals, etc.  These items can fill up you tank or cause a change in the microorganisms that help treat the sewage.

Maintain spray or drainage field.  Make sure to adequate grass cover, do not drive over lines, and make sure the system continues to drain away from the tank.

Have your tank inspected regularly.  This can simply be done by dipping a long stick into the tank to measure the thickness of the accumulated solids at the vicinity of the outlet baffle. The tank should be pumped if the sludge layer has built up to within 25 to 33 percent of the liquid capacity of the tank.

Maintenance is important - Unlike other major household appliances, if your septic system fails it takes more than a trip to the store for a replacement!  You can go without a washing machine for a day or two, but a day or two without this appliance will cause major issues for your family.

Here are links to two fact sheets for home maintenance and explanations on the different types of systems available.  The OkStateWaterCenter also has a timely YouTube video Septic Systems: What to do after severe weather

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