Most urban residences are connected to the municipal sewer system in their community. In rural areas where the municipal services are not available, waste is disposed of using a septic system. So, what’s the difference you ask? It’s all in what happens after the flush…

When you are connected to a municipal sewer system, what happens in the drains is really of no import – as long as the municipality maintains the system. A septic tank however requires users to be much more vigilant not only about what goes down in the first place, but in making certain nothing comes back up!

So, what is a septic tank? Essentially it is a private sewage treatment plant. A septic tank is a large concrete or steel tank buried in the yard. In a nutshell, wastewater from the pipes flows into the tank at one end, and out at the other (I’ll leave the crappy details of what happens in between for another day). When it leaves the septic tank, the wastewater flows into a drainage field where it is absorbed into the ground.

Other than the smell, what are the signs that there is a problem with the septic system?

The lawn over the drainage field has patches of abnormally healthy-looking grass.

There are soggy areas near the drainage field.

Sewage begins backing up in the toilet and drains.

Sinks, showers and toilets drain more slowly.

If any of the above begins to happen while you are at the cottage, contact the owners immediately.

The gist of it is when things go bad with a septic system; your holiday can quickly go down the drain (no pun intended). Prevention is the key when it comes to septic. You should avoid putting anything into the septic system that doesn’t break down naturally or anything that takes a long time to break down. I’ve often heard cottage owners advise if it didn’t go through you, it shouldn’t go through the septic system. Materials such as oils, grease, and fat, disposable diapers, baby wipes, tampons, condoms, paper towels, facial tissues, cat litter, plastics, cigarette butts, coffee grounds, egg shells, and other kitchen wastes, should never be put into the septic system.

Just remember, when it comes to the septic game, a straight flush beats a full house every time!