Townies would simply not comprehend the amount of rural dinner party conversation that revolves around septic tanks. Whilst most of us just flush the loo and think no more about it, there can be no doubt that a problem with a septic tank will soon become apparent. And if you’re selling your property, that’s the last thing you want when buyers come round!

Where no mains sewer exists, as is the case in many rural properties, some form of septic tank is generally the only way to dispose of waste. Whilst the maintenance requirement is usually minimal, failure to do the basics can cause a bit of a stink.

In essence, a septic tank is uses highly effective natural processes which rely on common bacteria to digest sewage, underwater, in an underground tank made of brick, plastic or fibreglass. Solids are broken down, neutralised and liquefied by the bacteria and relatively clean water then flows into a water course or soil soakaway, where final purification is handled by soil organisms. Some tanks may require aeration filters for additional purity.

Treated well, septic tanks can remain unemptied for many years. However it is certainly worth emptying your tank every year or two, even if there is no apparent problem. This is especially the case if you have an older tank installed before the use of washing machines, dishwashers, waste disposal units, power showers, etc This is because alien solids (eg coffee grounds, fats, dishwasher sludge, hair, and things that should not go down the loo) can build up, eventually blocking the soakaway which can be costly to repair.

Additionally, disinfectant, shampoo, bleach (especially), washing powder and soap can kill off the friendly bacteria making the tank less effective at converting solids to liquids, although bacteria-friendly options are available.

Regulations introduced in 2020 prohibit discharge, even via a soakaway, into surface water courses such as a ditch or river and homeowners were given one year to comply with this, usually by installing a treatment plant meeting British Standard EN12566-3 if need be. Compliance with this is one of the first things a buyer’s solicitor will investigate, so if you are thinking of selling, it’s worth checking on this point well in advance.

So when it comes to looking after your septic tank, it’s worth “going through the motions” from time to time! Sorry about the unfortunate pun, but do let us know if you need a hand preparing your rural property for sale.

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