Septic Systems: What You Need to Know


Do you have a septic system at your home? If so, you might be wondering about how to keep it in good working order. In this article, we will discuss septic system types and maintenance, along with how to avoid costly replacements and repair costs.

The three most common types

There are three main types of septic systems:

  • Gravity systems,
  • Pressure systems, and
  • Mound systems.

Gravity Septic SystemA gravity (conventional) system is the most basic and the most common type.  Wastewater flows from your house into a tank and then into a drain field. Gravity systems use gravity to move wastewater from tanks to drain fields, whereas pressure systems use pumps to move the wastewater to the drain field located at a higher elevation than the tanks. A mound system can be either gravity or pressure based and is used when the soil isn’t suitable for a drain field.  It involves building a raised area to contain the tank and drain field.

Maintaining your system

To maintain your septic system and avoid costly repairs or replacements, you should regularly check the tank and drain field for any signs of damage or leaks. Surfacing wastewater in your yard is a clear indication of failure.  It’s also a level 5 biohazard.  If you have kids or pets that play in the yard, you need to get this taken care of immediately.


  • Pump it regularly.  2 to 3 years is recommended depending on the size of the household and usage.  Expect to spend anywhere from $300 to $400.  Avoid using franchises or national chains; their business model is to upsell you on all kinds of non-essentials.  Mom and Pop shops are the way to go.Septic Tank Pumping
  • Clean the filter every 6 months.  A clogged filter is a regular thing and results in backups into the home.  It’s found in the outlet of the septic tank.  Open it up, take it out, hose it off, and reinstall it.
  • Use the right toilet paper.  In the realm of ultimate life decisions, few put much thought into their preferred TP.  Check out this video from Drain Help showcasing the best TP for your comfort and septic.Septic Safe Toilet Paper


Another important aspect of septic system maintenance is to avoid the following.

  • Flushing non-biodegradable items:
    • Flushable wipes.  Sure they say “flushable”… because, well, you can certainly flush them down the toilet.  But after that, they just sit in your tank and never break down.  It’s pure marketing hype.Flushable Wipes are bad
    • Feminine products.  Ladies, we know it’s gross, but do not put these down your toilet.  My wife has a specific wastebasket with a lid for these.
  • Dumping cooking grease.  Have you heard of “fatbergs“?  Cooking grease doesn’t just go away.  It lines and clogs the inner walls of your drain pipes and also disrupts the biology in your septic tank.Fatberg
  • Poisoning the biome.  The heart of the septic system is the anaerobic or aerobic biome (depending on the system).  The microbes within are responsible for breaking down the waste.  Avoid dumping:
    • Paint
    • Harsh chemicals (bleach, ammonia, etc.)
    • Septic Additives.  A properly maintained system has no need for off-the-shelf additives or treatments.  Most times these products do more harm than good.
  • Overloading the system.  Conserving water can also help reduce the amount of wastewater your system has to process.  Taking a 45-minute shower and running multiple back-to-back loads of laundry in a day should be avoided.

Repairs and potential replacement costs

When it comes to septic system repairs or replacements, the costs can vary greatly depending on the type of system you have and the extent of the repairs needed. A simple repair might only cost a few hundred dollars, moderate repairs can be several thousand dollars upwards of $5000 or more, while a complete replacement of a septic system can cost tens of thousands of dollars, ranging anywhere from $15,000 to $20,000.

In conclusion, knowing about septic system maintenance and types is essential. By becoming a septic system maintenance pro and taking care of your system now, you can prevent more costly problems in the future.  For more information, reference the EPA’s article How to Care for Your Septic System.

Get your system inspected!

Has it been a while since you even thought about your septic system?  Are you curious as to what condition it’s in?  Give Realm Inspections a call.  We will come out and inspect the system for you.  Schedule today Schedule Now!  Its advised to have your system inspected once every 4 to 5 years.


Polybutylene (PB) Plumbing Pipe

Polybutylene (PB) was a plastic manufactured between 1978 and mid-1995 for piping in home plumbing systems. It was inexpensive and offered plenty of advantages over other materials, such as flexibility, ease of installation, resistance to freezing. Pipes made from polybutylene were installed in up to 10 million homes in the United States during that period. Despite its strengths, production was ceased in mid-1996 after scores of allegations surfaced claiming that polybutylene pipes were rupturing and causing property damage. In the homes containing this material, homeowners must either pay to have the pipes replaced or risk a potentially expensive plumbing failure. 

How Does Polybutylene Fail?

The University of Illinois at Chicago published two studies that have shown that disinfectants can react negatively with polybutylene. That reaction can cause it to flake apart at any location within the PB piping system. Minor fractures can deepen over time and eventually work their way to the pipe’s exterior, allowing water to escape. Some manufacturers, however, claim that the majority of leaks occur at joints and unions. Improperly installed unions are where a leak would likely appear. Despite this contention, class-action lawsuits filed against PB manufacturers have successfully resulted in payouts to homeowners reaching $1 billion. 

 Polybutylene Pipes Should Be Replaced

Although no regulations require replacing polybutylene piping with other material, many plumbers recommend doing this for several thousand dollars. PB pipes installed behind sheetrock can leak unnoticed for long periods and cause mold and water damage. Leaking can happen without warning and can result in flooding and severe damage to a home’s interior if it is not immediately stopped. InterNACHI believes it is far cheaper to replace polybutylene pipes before they fail and release their contents onto floors, appliances, and furniture. They can also reduce a home’s value or prolong its time on the market. Homeowners might face higher insurance premiums or be denied coverage entirely. For homeowners concerned about this problem and wish to replace the PB piping in their home with copper or other material, companies specialize in this type of work.

 Identifying Polybutylene

An inspector can use the following tips to identify polybutylene plumbing. Polybutylene pipes are:

  • usually stamped with the code “PB2110.”
  • flexible and sometimes curved, unlike rigid piping materials such as copper
  • not used for waste, drain, or vent piping
  • Most commonly grey in color, but they can also be white, silver, black or blue. Blue PB is used primarily outdoors and should only be used to carry cold water. Inspectors should know that black or white pipes might not be polybutylene (they might be polyethylene or PVC, respectively). Also, PB color is somewhat region-dependant. For instance, experienced home inspectors in California might never come across grey PB, while it is quite common elsewhere.
  • Piping is ½” to 1″ in diameter.

Polybutylene pipes can be in a home’s interior or exterior in any of the following locations:


  • protruding from walls to feed sinks and toilets;
  • running across the ceiling in unfinished basements;
  • near the water heater.


  • entering the home through the basement wall;
  • at the water meter;
  • at the main water shut-off valve.


  • Home inspectors are not required to note the presence of polybutylene, nor should tests for weaknesses be performed. Any deterioration of polybutylene pipes happens from within and cannot be detected without turning off the water and dismantling the pipe, which is far beyond the standards of practice of home inspection.
  • Inspectors should check an entire pipe for PB, not just a portion of it. Some copper piping systems have been found to use PB at junctures. A typical example of this union is PB pipe connecting with copper “stub outs” that feed bathroom fixtures. 

Other piping materials not to be confused with PB:

  • PEX: Cross-linked polyethylene is common in radiant-heating systems. PEX can be black, blue, or red, is more easily coiled, and more flexible than PB. It can also withstand higher temperatures than polyethylene.
  • PVC: Polyvinyl Chloride is a popular building material commonly used in residential plumbing. CPVC is derived from PVC and is also used in plumbing. Both appear white or off-white and can be flexible or rigid.
  • Polyethylene: This material is flexible and black.
  • Copper: Copper is a metal that should never be confused with PB.

 If in doubt, contact a licensed plumber to determine whether or not a pipe is made from PB.

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