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Power Outages and Your Septic System: What Homeowners Should Know

Power Outages and Your Septic System: What Homeowners Should Know

Q: What effect does a power outage have on my septic system, STEP system, or sewer system?

A: If you have a completely standard gravity system, it will function normally. However, if your system has a pump and/or alarm system, your sewer system could be heavily affected, depending on how long the power is off. Read more below.

More About Pump + Alarm Systems

In some cases, septic tank outlet water, otherwise known as “effluent”, has to be pushed uphill to the designated absorption area. This “absorption” area, can also be referred to as “lateral lines” or the “lateral field”.  If there exists a pump as a part of the wastewater system and the power goes out, the warning system that exists to alert that there is a problem also functions on electricity and will not work. 

Reasons for having a pump and alarm as a part of the system include: 

  • The absorption area is uphill from the tank location
  • A spider valve or hydro-splitter is used for distribution of the effluent
  • The city sewer hook-up is actually a city STEP system
  • The city sewer hook-up requires a pump (as with the Bella Vista Village Wastewater System)
  • The home has plumbing in a basement below the septic tank inlet and a pump is required to push everything from the lower area up to the tank

In all of these situations, there will be some storage for wastewater available; the storage capacity is generally from 200-250 gallons. Account for 50-75 gallons of water usage per person each day– it doesn’t take long to fill up that storage area! Once that capacity has been reached, the wastewater will begin to back up into the pipes and eventually will end up in the home if water is continually used– a situation neither the homeowner nor septic companies want to deal with. 

The Bottom Line

If you find yourself in the situation, use water sparingly and pay attention to warning signs. Additionally, take these steps to extend the capacity: 

  • Loosen or remove the cap on the main line cleanout, which is usually a 3″-4” white cap located just outside the foundation of the house
  • Loosen the lid to the pump chamber and/or septic tank. 
    • They are usually fastened with a series of screws that will require a regular Phillips or Allen head screwdriver, or possibly a hex bolt head, sized 7/16”, 1/2” or even 9/16”
  • NOTE: When loosening the cleanout cap or the lids, the idea is to allow the extra wastewater to relieve itself outside (as opposed to inside the house). This may be a bit messy, but a mess outside is far better than one inside!

At BBB Septic, we hope to provide you with the best information to keep your home’s septic system functioning properly– especially in times of emergency. If you live in the Northwest Arkansas area and have any further questions regarding power outages and your septic system, please reach out via phone or email. 

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

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.

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.

How Often Should You Pump Out Your Septic Tank?

Septic Tank Pumping Schedule

How often should you pump out your septic tank?  Good question.   The rule of thumb is usually every 2-5 years but the makeup of your household and your habits play a big part in this equation.

When a septic tank is operating properly, solids are contained and accumulate and must be eventually pumped out. If the solids are not accumulating in the tank and are washing out into the leaching field, there is a problem with the system and the household is possibly using too much water.

The amount of solids that accumulates in the tank depends on the size of the household, the habits of the members of the household and the water usage.  Every household is different.  Having a professional check the sludge levels on a regular basis can help you gauge if the 2- 5 year schedule is good for your household or if more frequent pumping is needed.

Having your effluent filter checked for clogging can give you an idea of the maintenance  needs of your system.   The filter is designed to stop solids from entering the leaching field but how quickly is it filling up?  If too quickly, you should review family and household water use habits.

The most reliable method for determining if your system needs to be pumped is regular inspection of the septic system including measuring the solids in the tank and distribution box.  Our maintenance plan gives you a report regularly of the solids accumulation in your system and coincides with a pumping recommendation.

The best idea is to have a professional check the septic system on a regular basis.

BBB Septic and Portable Toilet Services has a great maintenance program for your septic system and a team of professionals to help determine what your pumping schedule should be.

Call BBB Septic and Portable Toilets at 479-271-0058 to enroll in the maintenance program.  Prevention is key to preventing a failed septic system.

Visit www.bentonvillearseptic.com with all your questions.

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