well & septic questions

greenspun.com : LUSENET : Countryside : One Thread

Hi folks...it has been awhile since I have visited. We finally have a little getaway place on our land and I need info on proper well and septic use.

Our well is new - dug in February, but we just ran water from it for the first time on Friday. We ran it Friday off and on all day, and then again yesterday and today off and on. We are sending some to the state to have it tested tomorrow for potability, but I am a little nervous we didn't run water long enough to get out the sediment and new pipe goo. We'll see.

I am paranoid to run the water for too long because I heard a story of a woman who left her sprinkler on for a few hours and caved her well in. Apparently the well went dry and the pump sucked so hard it caved in. :) Is it a little obvious I have always been on city water?

But anyway, our well's production rate is 3.5 gallons per minute and has a static level of 75 feet, and a pumping level of 275 feet. What should we expect? Is this enough water for regular use for a family of 4? If we have friends down to visit and spend the night can we all shower on the same day - and be using the toilet normally? What are your experiences with this production rate?

This is a getaway home at this point - though eventually we hope to be down on our land permanently. Do we need to be extremely careful, or is normal use going to work just fine with our water production rate etc. Our pressure tank is 40.3 gallons - is this okay for our current use? How about if we lived there full time?

On to septic questions... What cleaners can I use in my house that would go down the drain? Can I use antibacterial soap? I don't generally, but want to know anyway. Bleach? How about laundry detergents, or dishwasher detergents? Do they need to be special kinds? Comet?

Kind of gross, but should I make sure to warn any girls to NOT flush tampons or their applicators down the toilet, or baby wipes?

I know so very little and I really don't want to damage anything!!! On the other hand I don't want to live paranoid that my well is going to implode and the ground will become a toxic waste dump. So... if you could give me some guidelines I would greatly appreciate it.

Thank you all so much.

-- andrea smith (a-smith@mindspring.com), May 16, 2001


I don't know anything about dug wells. I guess it would depend on your soil type and the flow rate. As to the septic, normal use of household cleaners is okay on a septic system. When we just had our tank pumped, the guy suggested we only use liquid laundry soap, not powder. Avoid putting grease into the tank as it will not breakdown easily and in time could plug your drainfield. Do not put anything other than human waste and toilet paper into the tank. Tampons and wipes belong in the garbage can, not the septic tank. I don't think that antibacterial soap would have a measureable affect on the functioning of your tank. There is plenty of nasty germs in there to overwhelm the soap. Avoid overusing strong chemical bathroom cleaners. Moderation is the key. Dishwashers are generally okay too, but again, in moderation. Another suggestion the pumper made was to space laundry out to one load a day instead of doing it all at once.

-- Skip Walton (sundaycreek@gnrac.net), May 16, 2001.

There's really no need to flush toilet paper down the commode. Just put a small wastepaper basket next to each commode and dispose of it as regular household trash. Not all brands and quality of toilet paper breakdown readily in the septic tank and become slush at the bottom.

Ideally nothing should go into a septic tank which hasn't passed through the human body first. However, there are compromises. The biggest offender will be a washing machine, both from volume and contents. It you can get under your house, it should be possible to vent it outside as a graywater system. Mine just dumps on the ground under my mobilehome. The second biggest offender is a kitchen sink grinder, since people have a tendency to put things down them, such as coffee grounds and chicken bones, which aren't digestible by the bacteria in the tank. As mentioned, grease, particular from frying, isn't septic tank friendly. Dispose of it otherwise.

There really is no need to use chemical commode cleaners. I just use Pinesol, although it can be argued it is a chemical also. Liquid dishwashing soap also does nicely.

-- Ken S. in WC TN (scharabo@aol.com), May 16, 2001.


Your well should provide you with plenty of water for all your needs with no worries. Depending on what type of pump you have and what type of water heater you have, you may run out of hot water once in a while if there is a heavy demand at once. Also if you run say a washer and a shower at the same time, the water is going to be divided between the two and may run more slowly.

About the story of the woman who caved her well in by running the sprinkler. If her well was not lined or the pipe was old, I might believe that happening, but not otherwise. There was something very wrong with the well for it to cave in. It certainly wasn't caused by leaving the water running.


First off let me say that disposable anything (excluding US toilet paper) should NOT go down ANY toilet. Tampons, rubbers, napkins, underwear - NOTHING, whether you be on city sewers or septic system. These things are a mess in the septic system or at the city sewer treatment plant and can cause lots of dollars in damage. Yes, people do it. Out of sight, out of mind sort of mentality. I wish they could see the results of their actions.

As far as laundry detergents, soaps or anything, First and foremost - do not put greasy substances down the drain. These things do not degrade in a septic system or a city sewer system. They just accumulate and clog the system over time.

Let me say that I have always lived on a septic system save for a few years in the city. We have always put just about anything (excluding what I just mentioned) into the system with very little trouble, but I don't recommend doing that. Avoid toxic substances, and greasy substances. I have heard that liquid detergents are better than powder, but don't remember why. I suppose because the liquid are less greasy.

I do agree with what Skip just told you. I will add -

Keep in mind that your septic tank is a living, functioning organism. Don't do anything to kill that living, functioning organism and don't give it anything it can't break down. A septic system is composed of anerobic bacteria which live in an environment of little to no oxygen and little to no light. They need food (your waste) to survive and to do their job (breaking down that waste).

You probably also have a filter bed. Don't put anything into your system which will clog the filter. You do that and you have to clean it or make a new one. A well maintained septic system should last for years.

Every once in a while you may need to have the system cleaned out. The timing varies with the effectiveness of your system. You will find this out eventually. If you are unsure, after a year or two of heavy use have a septic hauler come take a look at the tank. He will be able to tell you if it needs cleaned. Then he can bring out the big vac truck. But don't tell him to bring it out before he looks at the tank. Those suckers are expensive to operate, and you don't want to pay for a trip when it wasn't needed.

I think there is a book or two about living on a septic system. I have not read them, so can not vouch for their efficaciousness. But you might take a look at them.

-- R. (thor610@yahoo.com), May 16, 2001.

Reading back over your question - Do you mean that your well was actually dug or was it drilled? At that depth I think you mean it was drilled.

Also, my answer came in after Ken - I didn't mean to imply that Skip was right and Ken was wrong. Ken's answer just wasn't there when I submitted. I'll quit before I stick my foot in my mouth any more.

-- R. (thor610@yahoo.com), May 16, 2001.

Thank you for all the info. My well was drilled, not dug BTW. Is there anything I should put in it her at the start to get the good bacteria going? I could make a gallon of homeade yogurt and flush it down the toilet - it is loaded with good bacteria. Maybe that is a dumb idea - just a thought?

Anyway - thanks again - we will possibly re-route our washing maching - with a mild detergent could it be routed to a flower garden?

-- andrea smith (a-smith@mindspring.com), May 16, 2001.

Another question about septics if that is alright. We close next month on our new place and the owners a few years ago put in a chlorinator. When we were in WI we had just a plain old septic with 3 fingers. How does the cholrinator differ from a regular septic tank?

-- Cordy (ckaylegian@aol.com), May 16, 2001.

Hello Andrea:

Pumps cannot create a vacuum that would cave in your well. Occasionally wells do cave in, but it is not caused from them being dry.

I assume that you have a submersible pump at a depth of 275'. With a static water level of 75', you have 200' of water in the well at most times. I will assume you have a 6" drilled well. If so, it contains about 1 1/2 gallons per foot in the casing or about 300 gallons reserve capacity.

The 3 1/2 gallon recovery rate is sufficient for your family with the 300 gallons in storage. It would take quite a while to run this well dry, but it is possible. That pump will probably move about 7 gallons per minute. Since your water is coming in at the rate of 3 1/2 gal. per minute, the pump would draw the well down at a net rate of 3 1/2 gal per minute if you had every faucet in and out of the house open at the same time. That's not likely. 7 gallons per minute is a lot of water. Theoretically this well could be runned dry in 57 minutes, but it's not likely. There's just never a time when you will have all those faucets wide open for that long.

-- Jim (catchthesun@yahoo.com), May 16, 2001.

Andrea, your well is plenty of water for any domestic use, and even for a "normal" sized garden. 3.5 g.p.m. translates to just about 5000 gallons per day.

I truly appreciate the fact that you are taking so much interest in learning about your well and septic systems. Many folks who've lived in the country for YEARS don't have a clue!

Andrea, a septic and well should be very little more trouble than being on city water and sewer. And the cost for yours, with your relatively shallow well, will be a very TINY percentage of the cost of city water and sewer.

About having your septic tank pumped: I've never had too. I check the level of sludge in the tanks every ten or so years, but so far, most of them have NO measurable sludge. If you tank does tend to build up sludge, it should be pumped out when it gets half to two thirds full, I have heard. Definitely don't let it get full, as all the solids will then pass through and clog up your drainfield. This would be very expensive.


Of course, this assumes that the well will actually produce 3.5 gpm continuously, for days at a time. This depends on too many different factors to go into here; you'll just have to live with it for a while, and see, unless you want to pay ten or fifteen thousand bucks for an aquifer test (don't jump, this is really unnecessary)

For this well, I would STRONGLY recommend you to use a pressure switch with a low pressure cut-out. This is a simple device which only adds four or five bucks to the cost of the pressure switch. What it does is turn off the pump, in the event that the pressure in the pressure tank drops below a certain pressure (the ones available here shut off below 18 psi.) This protects your pump from burning itself out in the event you leave the water running for too long, and draw the water all the way down to wherever you have the pump set. When it turns off, it is a nuisance, but not a big deal, to reset it manually.

The forty three gallon pressure tank is PROBABLY about the right size. If it's not a "captive air" type, it is almost certainly too small though. The size of pressure tank needed depends on the production of the pump. Big flow rate-big tank. Most pump installers will try to convince you to buy a tank that is a lot bigger and more expensive than you need; on the other hand, don't cheap out to the extent that your pump is cycling every ten or fifteen seconds. The rule of thumb we used when I worked installng pumps was that, when there is a valve or faucet (or faucets) wide open, the pump should not cycle more often than once per minute. Some installers use two minutes instead. I personnaly, for my own systems, use about thirty seconds instead. It is said that a sysem that comes on and off too frequently will burn out the pump motor. I dispute this; I've had deal with too many water logged pressure tanks which were causing the pumps to cycle maybe twice per second , day after day , to think that the difference between thirty seconds and a minute or two is significant.

IF your well driller knew what he was doing, you should be unable to collapse the well from overpumping. It should be cased to whatever depth is necessary to prevent that. Some wells are cased, or else "lined", all the way to the bottom. Wells that penetrate into hard enough rock generally are not.

With your static level at 75 feet, and your pump set at 275, you have approximately 300 feet of stored water in the casing, or bore hole, itself, plus probably some more in the rocks or gravels around the well. But you definitely have at least three hundred gallons of stored water. This is good. You might even be able to pass a four hour pump test requiring five gallons per minute for four hours.

The well is definitely fine for year round use, considering all the facts you've given us. Put in the proper pump (a good submersible three quarter horse WITH THE RIGHT NUMBER OF IMPELLERS would be my recommendation. I have a pump flow chart here, from Aermotor, which I happen to like, but any pump company should be able to sell you a pump with similar flow characteristics. Aermotor's A-5 series (nominally a 5 gpm pump) has a 3/4 horse pump which would pump 10 gpm at the static level, dropping to 6 gpm at the 275 ft. pumping level (actually, the pumping level is wherever the water level stabilizes at any given pumping rate--I'm assuming what you're calling the pumping level is where you''re setting the pump?)

You could get by with the A-5 series half horse pump, and it would use less power per amount of water delivered, but if you used this, I'd recommend setting it at 225 feet, so it would pump dry, and shut off the low pressure shut off, rather than straining itself to pump water from 275, which it would be physically unable to do.

The best thing for you to do in deciding which pump to use is to get a knowledgeable pump dealer to discuss this issue with you, instead of a dealer who's going to just say, "here's the pump you need".

I would disagree with whoever says that the result of running shower, washer, and so forth at the same time would be that these things would run more slowly. If the system is designed with the low pressure cut off, they will all run fine together (assuming you've got adequate pipe size in your house) unless they run long enough to draw the well down to the level the pump's at. At this point the system will shut off, you will decide which fixtures need to continue, shut the others off, and manually restart the pump. Or more likely, you'll get used to how much you can run simultaneously, and never have any problems after the first summer.

Jim, I see you've already told Andrea a lot of what I have here. Good info, but I think she can easily draw the water all the way down to 275 feet, if she is watering a lawn or garden while showering, etc. Which is why, at my house, and at my rentals, I program the sprinklers to come on, and be done, before people normally get up in the morning.

Septic: you don't need to add bacteria to a septic system. It's a waste of time and money. Your own shit has all the bacteria the system will ever need. While it is advisable not to use anything with bleach in it, since bleach kills bacteria, it is not necessary to get real anal about it. A little bleach will only kill a tiny fraction of the bacteria in your septic system.

R, what is it about US toilet paper that makes it ok to flush down the toilet? I have been doing so, with no problems to my septic for better than twenty years, but I never flush the paper in Latin America, where they always are very clear that they don't want me to. I always thought their sewer systems were built too poorly to handle the paper, but now you have me thinking it might be the paper itself. Do you know the answer?

I highly recommend using your grey water somewhere besides the septic tank, even though it may be illegal in some localities. But be careful to design it where you don't end up with a really yucky anaerobic swamp where you dump the water. If you can dump the water at the top of a rise, it works best, in my experience. Any food particles, and so forth, tend to settle out, while the water runs away down the hill. I've had excellent success with this method, also for over twenty years.

Be careful if you are carnivorous, though. My neighbor, who ate meat, ended up with a patch of what looked pretty much like congealed bacon grease, fifteen feet by twenty or twenty-five feet in size, which was COVERED with flies and yellow jackets (the kind that eat meat, and love to harass you when you sit outside eating meat, or drinking fruit juice)

The washing machine is an excellent candidate for a flower garden. Ironically, even detergents which have phosphates in them, which are so bad to put down the sewer (from whence they cause eutrophication of the receiving water) are not only ok, but actually good for, the flower garden, as the phosphate is a fertilizer in this instance.

Cordy, are you sure the chlorinator wasn't for the drinking water?

-- jumpoff joe (jumpoff@ecoweb.net), May 16, 2001.

To jumpoffjoe.

No, the clorinator is the septic system that they put in. We even have to papers from the county they had to have to put in the system. We have been told that is suppose to be more efficient but that is all I know.

-- cordelia (ckaylegian@aol.com), May 16, 2001.

Cordy, thanks. I don't get it. If nobody else knows about chlorination septic treatment, I'd be happy to take a look at the paperwork, if you have it. Just add an h to eco, turning it into echo and you'll have my mailing address.


-- jumpoff joe (jumpoff@ecoweb.net), May 16, 2001.

You really can't over emphazize to the kids in the family about the septic being another farm animal. In fact we talk alot about how a rumen is a mini-septic tank. Anything, milk, yogurt, sour cream, yeast etc, that ruins, flush it instead of waisting it down the sink. You really ought to think about taking your kitchen sink and washing machine and dish washer off the septic, grey watering it to the flower garden. Old timers start off a fresh septic tank with a dead chicken, and yes you can use one from the grocery store, throwen in the tank, to start the bacterial action. Don't waste your money on the septic starters, opt for buttermilk or yeast instead.

The only chlorinator in our contractor book is for installing before a holding tank, to chlorinate the water for longer term storage. Vicki

-- Vicki McGaugh TX (vickilonesomedoe@hotmail.com), May 16, 2001.


About US toilet paper.

Most toilet paper in the US is made to decompose easily in our sewer systems. Also the sewer plants here are made to handle this type of toilet paper. Some toilet papers here and most in other countries are made with heavier coarser materials and do not decompose easily. And considering that most countries do not have the advanced type of sewers and treatment plants that we have, the toilet paper adds up quickly and can clog their systems. When I visited Israel, a rather advanced country, (a first world country with third world problems as an Israeli told me), I was surprised to learn that most of their sewage is routed to the Dead Sea. That is the only treatment it receives.

For anyone traveling abroad, just remember that the wastebaskets beside the flush toilets are for your used toilet paper.

-- R. (thor610@yahoo.com), May 16, 2001.


I don't understand what you mean by the chlorination system being the septic system.

I might understand chlorination in addition to a septic system, but not a replacement for it.

Can you please describe it more thoroughly.

-- R. (thor610@yahoo.com), May 16, 2001.

Re: Chlorination in septic... I have a chlorinator that the water goes through just before it hits the pump tank, but only because I have an aerobic tank and it sprays as sprinkler system for the yard. Otherwise, I can't figure why to chlorinate a regular septic system. C

-- carole in texas (carle@earthlink.net), May 16, 2001.

I think you are right about it being in addtion to the septic. I am wondering if the cholorinator treats the water before going into the septic...it is about 125' away from the house, so that there is not as much of a build up so that you won't have to pump the tank as often.

I figure I will talk to the people about it when I go out there next week.

-- Cordy (ckaylegian@aol.com), May 17, 2001.

Here is a website with lots of good free information:


-- R. (thor610@yahoo.com), May 22, 2001.

Moderation questions? read the FAQ