More information about septic systems.

Ontario - Septic Smart

CMHC - Onsite Watewater Management

Note: if you want to compare the bottom-line sewage costs for properties that have a municipal system vs. those that have a septic system, it works out this way. The septic system costs money to begin with (perhaps $5000 to $15000), but the municipal system only needs a hook-up. The septic system has no monthly fees, but your monthly fees for a municipal sewage system can be expensive, depending on what share of the system for the whole community has to be recouped either through taxes or extra billing. The municipal system will keep working, with price adjustments, and upgrades that may be expensive at times. Your septic system may go on without problems and without costs for decades, but if it needs work, you will likely be looking at thousands of dollars for repairs, upgrades, or replacments of the tank and/or the septic field. In essense, you become the manager of your own waste management system when you own a property with a septic system.

Note: The opinions expressed on this website are those of the author. It is best to gather information from several sources before making a decision to purchase rural property, and this website does not purport to discuss all the issues that might arise. This information is provided on a "use at your own risk" basis and the author assumes no liability for subsequent use of the information provided here.


When you live in the city, someone else is responsible for making sure that you have a constant supply of water and that it is bacteria free (though not necessarily very good tasting). Someone else is also responsible for whatever happens to everything you flush down the drain. Of course, you are charged for these services, and you really don't have much say in what fees are charged or how the services are provided, but at least they are there and you don't need to think about them much.

When you move to the country, unless you live in a village, you will not have to pay municipal water or sewage fees. That's because you won't have those services..

Part of living in the country is personal responsibility. If you are planning on building a new home, you will have to count on the extra expenditures for a well and a septic system, and, if you buy an existing home you will need to keep your well and septic system in good operating condition. In fact, it will be essential that you do so. Wells are discussed in this section. What follows here are the basics of what you need to know about septic systems.

Your septic system takes all of the discharge from what you flush down the drain, including discharge from your washrooms. The drainage pipes in your home go outside to a septic tank, buried about a foot under the soil, which usually has two chambers with a sort of raised section between them that almost operates as a dam - when the first section gets full, the liquid at the top spills over into the second section.

SImply sending sewage from one container to another to another wouldn't do much good if it wasn't for what was happening inside these portions of the tank. Bacteria - billions of them in each thimbleful - are happily chewing away at the nutrients in the sewage.

After the liquid goes through the septic tank it moves out to a series of pipes that are laid in a grid pattern above sand or some other acceptable medium, and then covered wth about a foot of soil.

This is the septic field. The bacteria action continues here and the effluent gradually moves along the pipes and then out through drainage holes into the soil around the bed. Bacterial action continues all this time.

The water very slowly descends with further microbial action to return to its regular state in the earth. Of course, how well it does this, and how quickly, is hard to know, so building codes in the country do contain restrictions. For instance, you can't have a well with in a specified distance of a septic field (usually 100' or more), so, if your neighbour has a well near your property, that will affect where you can place your septic bed.


Septic systems need maintenance.

It is usually a good idea to have the tank pumped out every three years (at a cost of about $175 or more, depending on your area). If you don't, the solid waste in the tanks can create a blockage and you won't be able to send anything down the drain. (One of the plumbers in our area has this slogan on his truck - "In our business, a straight flush beats a full house every time!"

How often you need to have your tank cleaned out depends on some other factors. A septic system can't do its job if you are constantly sending things down into it that kill off the bacteria. That's why we try to be careful about how much bleach we send down the drain, or, at least, how much we send down all at once.

Over time, a clogged system will also send more solid material into the septic bed where it can fill in the drainage holes in the pipes and the spaces in the soil in the bed where the liquid is to drain. If this happens, you can be in for major costs, up to and including, replacing the entire bed (about $6000 and up). This is why some country residents use septic bacterial products like "SeptoBac" in their systems, to try to make sure that the bacterial action is constant.

Perhaps the strangest bit of advice I ever received about septic systems came from my former neighbour, Tony Wielemaker, who I have also mentioned in the section about heating your home.

When I asked Tony about septic systems, he said he had never had to have his cleaned out - not even once. "Of course," he said, "you have to feed them." The food for Tony's septic system, as it turned out, was hamburger, the more rotten the better!

While this sounded really strange at the time, and while I can't quite bring myself to rotting hamburger and flushing it down the toilet, I know that Tony was a smart man, and I suspect that he knew exactly what he was doing and why. Hamburger, rotting, is full of bacteria, and they are probably a good addition to the existing fauna in the septic tank. Tony's last bit of advice? "Use cheap hamburger."

Note: the opinions expressed here are just mine, as a country homeowner who has lived in homes with septic systems for about 30 years now. If this column is read by someone who really has practical knowledge about these things, and you find that I have made an error, please let me know and it will be corrected immediately. Even better, if you have information to add, send it along and I will publish it here with credit to the author.

Copyright, Bob Foster, 2015