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A Conversation about STEP Systems

Hey guys,
It’s Amanda Gainey with The Brandon Group. Can you tell me generally how a STEP system works? I have a client I would like to connect with you, but for right now, we are trying to understand the general idea of a STEP system. You guys are always so helpful. Thank you in advance!

Good morning, Amanda.

The term STEP (Septic Tank Effluent Pumping) system refers to the sewer setup you will find in cities like Cave Springs, Bethel Heights, Elm Springs, and subdivisions where there is no city sewer hookup to a standard wastewater treatment plant. In our area, the infrastructure has not kept up with recent growth, so homebuilders are left with a dilemma.

In order for a lot to support its own septic system, it must be very large to accommodate the absorption lateral lines. One method of getting more houses into a smaller area is to incorporate a STEP system. The idea is that every home has its own septic tank, but instead of putting a lateral line system on each lot, the effluent water from all the tanks is sent to a central location where it can be collected, treated, and sent out to the community lateral lines.


In Cave Springs, for example, each house has its own septic tank and pump chamber, and each homeowner is totally responsible for its upkeep and maintenance. The effluent water is pumped from each house to a common pipe that runs to the collection plant behind The Creeks Golf Course. Once they treat the effluent water, it’s distributed throughout the golf course just below the grass and serves as an irrigation system.


Bethel Heights has several fields around town where their effluent water is distributed in the same way, just below grass level. Each house connected to the system has its own septic tank and pump chamber, however, the city takes care of all the upkeep and maintenance out of the sewer fees they collect. The homeowners use the system as if they were hooked up to city sewer.

Hi Jon,

When you say “each house connected to that system has its own septic tank and pump chamber, and each homeowner is totally responsible for its upkeep and maintenance,” what all does that involve? Is there monthly or annual upkeep and maintenance that I will need to factor in? Is there some sort of owner manual that will explain to me the proper way to maintain the tank? And is there an expected lifespan for how long a properly maintained system should last?


Hi Amanda,
Great questions.

  • The city will charge you a monthly sewer bill. There are no reoccurring fees besides that.
  • The septic tank needs to be pumped out every 3–5 years depending on occupancy and use.
  • The only other expenses will be repair costs if you have any malfunctions with the pump or alarm systems. This is not common but can happen. That being said, you don’t ever have to worry about a failure in your absorption lateral field because you won’t have one—the city has to maintain the lines for everyone. 

A septic system can last forever as long as those points are taken care of. There are no manuals about a STEP system’s operations. You can find out everything you need to know about septic systems and best practices for their care and operations on our website, bbbsesptic.com.

Blessings,

Jon J

Sewer Odors Inside

I was asked by a home inspector why there would be a bad smell inside a house that seems to be coming from the bathroom. Here is what I told him to look for:

Often, when a house has a few years on it, homeowners decide to upgrade their bathrooms. Many times, they change their flooring as a part of that process, and tile is a popular choice. When installing tile in a house built on a slab, typically you can just take up the original covering and cement the tile directly to the slab. It is a bit different when the house or bathroom is on a subfloor. You must first install a hard surface like HardieBacker cement board that adds roughly 1/2 inch to the height of the floor. Then you add 1/8–1/4 inch of cement and top it off with the tile, which is about 1/4-inch thick. When you are finished, you’ve added nearly a full inch to the height of the floor.

Why does this matter, and what does it have to do with odors?

When a house is first built, a flange is installed on the surface of the floor to which a toilet is bolted. A wax ring is used to seal the base of the toilet to the flange. Interestingly, toilets are different than any other drains in the house. All of the other drains like sinks, showers, tubs, washing machines, floor drains, etc., have a P-trap under them that always has a small amount of water resting in the bottom of a curved pipe. The purpose is to provide a vapor barrier to keep the sewer gases from coming back up through the drains.

The toilet has a P-trap built into it, and it’s a straight pipe once it hits the floor. Which translates to this: If the floor has been raised by an inch and the flange is still where it was originally, there will be a gap where vapors can escape. The toilet won’t leak at the base when you flush because it’s shaped like a funnel at the bottom and hovers over the flange. It will usually only leak if the plumbing backs up.

The remedy is to install a jumbo wax ring, which is on the same shelf in your hardware store and costs just a fraction more than the standard wax ring. This will fill in that extra gap and give you a good seal at the base of the toilet and should eliminate your odor problem.

Here’s another odor thought:

If your house has been vacant for a while, or if the kids have moved out and nobody has used their bathroom for a long time, the P-traps can dry out and allow sewer gases to escape into the house. This has an easy solution: Simply run water in all drains periodically to ensure there is always some water in the P-trap. You can also add a very small cap-full of vegetable oil to the drain. You only need to add enough oil to form a thin layer of oil on top of the water standing in the P-trap. The oil layer will protect the water from evaporating and water will easily break through it when the drain is used again. The key here is a thin layer. Don’t overdo it.

What’s So Important About Soil?

We just had a gentleman call us to ask if we could replace his lateral lines because they haven’t been working properly for the last two years.

The basic answer is yes.

However, we don’t take the old lines out and put new ones in the same place. Our caller explained that that’s precisely what he wanted because he doesn’t have anywhere else on his property for new lateral lines to go.

Let me take a minute to share with you what happens in these situations:

  • We have to order the original design from the Health Department so that we know what was installed.
  • Once we have the permit, we look it over to see what components make up the system. We also send one of our technicians to evaluate in-person and hopefully find a solution to bring the system back to a good working order.
  • If the system is too far gone, the client has to hire a licensed designer to come up with a design and submit it to the Health Department for permission.
  • Once permitted, we give the client a price quote and get the job done.

In all my years, I’ve only seen new lines go exactly where old lines were twice, and both times it was crazy expensive because of all the work that had to be done to make that happen.

You typically get one shot at using your soil for a septic system. If it fails, the new system has to go in a new, undisturbed area.

In its natural state, soil has passageways through it made by roots that have grown and then died. This leaves channels for the water to flow through as it makes its way down to the water table. Some of your water is wicked up through live roots and evaporates as the sun pulls it upward.

When you drive heavy vehicles over an absorption area, you compact the soil and close off these channels. The water finds it hard or impossible to make its way through and thus surfaces in ugly black pools in your yard. When you add soil or just move it around, there are no channels until many years of plant life have allowed new ones to form. When you clear or remove soil, you remove these channels and often leave the lower clay layers, which don’t work well for absorption.

The condition of your soil is the deciding factor when it comes to the size and type of septic system you will need. When the soil is good and untouched, things usually work well. When the soil has been moved, leveled, cleared, or fill dirt has been brought in, it makes it difficult or impossible to use. Often, that area has to have very specific equipment added to the system so it can be used, which almost always has a big price tag.

Finally, if you’re looking at land you want to buy, have a licensed professional check the soil to make sure it’s suitable for a septic system. If you already have a system in the ground, make sure you are keeping up with its care and maintenance so it doesn’t become full of solids, which will clog the soil.

Should I use my garbage disposal?

We get asked this question every day, so we thought we would write a quick explanation. The short answer is yes, however, beware that you do not abuse it.

Here is the longer explanation. When we eat food, we chew it, swallow it, and our stomach and digestive tract use acids and bacteria to break it down. All of this happens before we release it to be flushed into the septic tank. When you put food through the garbage disposal, you are bypassing the first digestive process, so the bacteria in the septic tank have a bigger job to do. (See our blog post on probiotics.)

You also have to remember that if you are on a septic system, your septic tank is capturing solids and debris and only allowing water to leave. It will only hold so much solid material before the debris overflows into your absorption area, clogging the soil and preventing the system from working. Overuse of the garbage disposal could fill your septic tank with solids, meaning it needs to be pumped out more often than usual to ensure proper care of the absorption area. (See our blog for more information on related topics.)

We have found the best practice is to scrape pots, pans, and plates off into the trash or compost bucket, then whatever is left is fine to run through the garbage disposal.

Water Saving Tips

The average person in the US uses 80–100 gallons of water each day. Here’s how to reduce that number and save big on your water bill as you protect your septic system:

  1. Turn off the faucet while you brush your teeth. This can save 1.6 gallons of water per minute.
  2. Make sure you have a low-volume toilet. A cheap alternative is to put a brick in your toilet reservoir tank to reduce the amount of water used with each flush.
  3. Take a shorter shower. Showers can use between 1.6 and 11.8 gallons per minute. Consider getting an aerated shower head, which combines water and air, or inserting a regulator in your shower, which puts an upper limit on flow rates.
  4. Only wash full loads in your washing machine and dishwasher. This cuts out unnecessary in-between washes.
  5. Fix a dripping faucet. A dripping faucet can waste 4 gallons of water a day—1,430 gallons of water a year.
  6. Fix running toilets. If your toilet is refilling from time to time when no one has used it, the internal flap is leaking. It may not seem like much, but this small leak can saturate a lateral field over time.
  7. Water your garden with a watering can rather than a hose. A hose can use as much as 260 gallons of water in an hour. You can also save water by mulching your plants (with bark, wood shavings, heavy compost, or straw) and watering in the early morning and late afternoon, which reduces evaporation.
  8. Fill a jug with tap water and place this in your fridge. This will mean you don’t have to leave the tap running for the water to run cold before you fill your glass.
  9. Invest in water-efficient goods when you need to replace household products. You can get water-efficient showerheads, taps, toilets, washing machines, dishwashers, and many other water-saving products.

How to Avoid Septic Backup During the Holidays

During the holidays, you may have a large number of guests at your home—and that means a large amount of wastewater. If you want to avoid having your septic tank back up in the middle of Christmas dinner, here is a list of best practices when it comes to having unusually high wastewater volume around the holidays.

The general idea is to space out your water use so that the system has some breathing room and doesn’t get slammed all at once. 

  • Be sure you have low-flush toilets. If you don’t have low-volume toilets or don’t have time to change them out before the holidays, an old trick is to put a few bricks inside the reservoir tanks to reduce the amount of water storage and flushing capacity. Also, check to make sure that none of your toilets are leaking.
  • Do laundry at off-times. Maybe you can do your laundry in the late evening; then the water can be absorbed in the lateral or drain field while your guests arent using any water. Also, make sure you are washing full loads—don’t fill up the washer for a shirt or two.
  • Run the dishwasher at off-times as well. Go ahead and load it after your meals, but wait to run it until a time when there’s not a lot of water usage (perhaps start it on your way to bed). As with your laundry, only run full loads.
  • Take shorter, scheduled showers. At our house, some people take morning showers, others take evening showers, and the kids don’t mind either way. When your guests arrive, you can suggest a shower schedule that will help even out the water flow. Setting a timer on showers also helps, and if you need to remind them and youre feeling a little bit ornery, you can shut off the hot water at the water heater (while cousin Jeffrey is taking a shower, of course).
  • Conserve in small ways. Put a reminder by each sink asking folks to turn off the faucet while brushing their teeth. If you’re doing dishes by hand, turn off the faucet between rinses.
  • Keep cold water on hand. Fill a jug with tap water and place this in your fridge so that you dont have to leave the tap running for the water to run cold before you fill your glass.

Our BBB team wishes you and your family the happiest Christmas and New Year! 

What You Can do Today to Avoid Septic Problems

We all use water on a daily basis—for cooking, washing, flushing, etc. The byproduct of our water use is wastewater. Whether your house or business is connected to city sewer, a septic system, or an advanced treatment system, its wastewater must be treated before the water can be released back into nature.

Most people flush anything and everything down the drain when they are on city sewer. But if you have a septic system, you may not know about a few things that can’t go down there.

In both sewer and septic systems, all of the trash, debris, and solids must be removed and/or treated. City wastewater plants have people and machines to clean and treat everything you flush. When you are on septic, your tank captures your waste and allows space for bacteria to grow and treat the solids in the water before it is released underground.

Here are the best ways to keep your septic system working properly:

  • Avoid flushing as much trash and debris as possible.
  • Don’t use more water than you need to.
  • Make sure you’re introducing more good bacteria than you’re killing off with chemicals.
  • Hire a professional to service your tank periodically.

All of these practices will help your ground accept the effluent water you are sending through your septic system. Remember that, as a general rule, anything that doesn’t deteriorate naturally when lying on top of the ground (e.g., diaper wipes, feminine products, cigarette butts) won’t degrade inside your septic tank. If items like these build up in your tank, they can cause serious problems.

Probiotics for Your Septic

Probiotics have long been a hot topic in the health community, and they are currently taking the media by storm. The idea is that some people need to add enzymes and good bacteria to their digestive system because, for whatever reason, they have a deficiency.

At BBB Septic, we’ve been promoting probiotics for your septic or advanced treatment system for 20+ years! Unless your home’s water source is a spring-fed well, the water coming in has been chlorinated to kill bad bacteria. That’s great, but the problem is that chlorine is not selective. It kills all bacteria—including the kind that is a necessary part of your septic system. Antibacterial hand soaps, laundry detergents, fabric softeners, bleach, and other everyday chemicals also make it difficult for natural bacteria to grow in your septic tank or advanced treatment system.

We recommend boosting your system every month with a rich bacteria source. Some septic bacteria products are sold in yearly doses. While these start strong, we have noticed that they are eventually killed off over time because of the chemical inflow. A monthly introduction of bacteria is the best way to ensure the health of your system.

Other best practices for septic maintenance include pumping your tank out every 3–5 years to keep the solids content down. This allows for the highest possible amount of water for good bacteria to live in and multiply. Finally—think before you flush. Using quilted or lotion-coated toilet paper is asking your septic bacteria to work overtime. Items like diapers and handy wipes (even though they say “flushable” or “septic safe”) as well as feminine products, contraceptive products, and cigarette butts don’t ever degrade. They just take up valuable working room in your system and, if not cleaned out regularly, can cause severe damage.

BBB Septic offers a maintenance program with packages starting at just $12/month. This includes all of the bacteria your system needs as well as a septic tank pumping every five years. Please visit bbbseptic.com or call 479-271-0058 for more details.

Every Business Should Have a Plan: Preparing Makes Good Business Sense

How quickly your company can get back to business after a terrorist attack, tornado, fire, or flood often depends on emergency planning done today. While the U.S. Department of Homeland Security is working hard to prevent terrorist attacks, the regular occurrence of natural disasters demonstrates the importance of being prepared for any emergency. While recognizing that each situation is unique, your organization can be better prepared if it plans carefully, puts emergency procedures in place, and practices for all kinds of emergencies.

This guide outlines commonsense measures that business owners and managers can take to start getting ready. A commitment to planning today will help support employees, customers, the community, the local economy, and even the country. It also protects your business investment and gives your company a better chance for survival. Every business should have a plan. Get ready now.

Plan to stay in business

Business continuity planning must account for both man-made and natural disasters. You should plan in advance to manage any emergency. Be prepared to assess the situation and use common sense and available resources to take care of yourself, your co-workers, and your business’s recovery.

Continuity Planning/Risk Assessment can be a sophisticated area of expertise that ranges from self-assessment to an extensive engineering study. Your organization’s risk needs will vary according to the specific industry, size, scope, and location of your individual company. Start by reviewing your business process flow chart (if one exists) to identify operations critical to survival and recovery. Carefully assess your internal and external functions to determine which staff, materials, procedures, and equipment are absolutely necessary to keep the business operating.

You should also establish procedures for succession of management. Include co-workers from all levels in this plan as active members of the emergency management team.

Make a list of your most important customers and proactively plan ways to serve them during and after a disaster. Also identify key suppliers, shippers, resources, and other businesses you must interact with on a daily basis. A disaster that shuts down a key supplier can be devastating to your business.

Plan what you will do if your building, plant, or store is not accessible. Talk with your staff or co-workers and frequently review and practice what you intend to do during and after an emergency.

Just as your business changes over time, so do your preparedness needs. Review and update your plans at least annually and inform your employees of the changes.

Proper Septic System Care and Maintenance

The EPA’s SepticSmart program educates homeowners about proper septic system care and maintenance

On Monday, September 19, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency – in conjunction with federal, state and local government and private sector partners – will kick off its fourth annual SepticSmart Week (Sept. 19-23) to encourage American homeowners to properly maintain their septic systems.

“By taking small steps to maintain septic systems, homeowners not only protect our nation’s public health and keep our water clean, but also save money and protect their property values,” said Joel Beauvais, Deputy Assistant Administrator for EPA’s Office of Water.

Here are some of the simple tips from the website:

• Protect It and Inspect It: Homeowners should generally have their system inspected every three years by a qualified professional or according to their state or local health department’s recommendations. Tanks should be pumped when necessary, typically every three to five years.

• Think at the Sink: Avoid pouring fats, grease and solids down the drain. These substances can clog a system’s pipes and drain-field.

• Don’t Overload the Commode: Only put things in the drain or toilet that belong there. For example, coffee grounds, dental floss, disposable diapers and wipes, feminine hygiene products, cigarette butts and cat litter can all clog and potentially damage septic systems.

• Don’t Strain Your Drain: Be water efficient and spread out water use. Fix plumbing leaks and install faucet aerators and water-efficient products. Spread out laundry and dishwasher loads throughout the day — too much water at once can overload a system that hasn’t been pumped recently.

• Shield Your Field: Remind guests not to park or drive on a system’s drain-field, where the vehicle’s weight could damage buried pipes or disrupt underground flow.

The EPA’s SepticSmart program educates homeowners about proper septic system care and maintenance all year long. In addition, it serves as an online resource for industry practitioners, local governments, and community organizations, providing access to tools to educate clients and residents.

Source: EPA.gov

BBB Septic and Portable toilets is proud to bring you these common sense tips to protect your septic system. Call us today to schedule your service.