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Septic System Design and Repair 101: An Interview with Jeff A. Snowden of Snowden Onsite Services, Inc.

By Jeff Snowden

Tell us a little bit about your company and the services you offer.

Snowden Onsite Services, Inc. is a customer-centric, consulting septic company providing our customers with the services and solutions that they don't find elsewhere. Our staff are uniquely customer focused and are among the best trained and most technically advanced folks in this area. Customers who come to us are simply looking for honest, technically sound services and solutions, explained simply and delivered when and as promised. It's a simple concept that requires much more effort to execute properly.

Our largest investment is in our people. A well-trained employee is the most valuable tool we have. We have found that digging holes and burying things is not top on the list in providing the best customer service experience. Instead we find that properly scheduling and dispatching of personnel who are able to quickly solve the customer's problems is what provides a quality customer service experience.

What is one of the most important considerations when you're designing a new residential septic system?

It's most important to look at what is best for the homeowner--from their perspective, not ours. It's their system that they have to live with, so they need and generally want to be involved in the selection of the system. Our process is to offer the customer all the options available to them, with a good explanation of the advantages/disadvantages, and actual costs of ownership. Contrary to what many in the industry insist, most of the time the customer does not choose the cheapest option. They choose an option that fits with their unique and personal values. Frankly that's what our industry should deliver more often.

Can you briefly talk about some of the main options that homeowners have for their septic system, depending on the site?

In the simplest sense, there are two disparate needs that a septic system must somehow connect. Wastewater of some volume and quality is created by the activities of the homeowner in their preferred lifestyle. The site however will have limitations on what wastewater it can safely handle. The septic system is the way we safely and responsibly connect those two disparate conditions.

There is never just one solution that will work, and yet that's what homeowners are often told. If the professionals that the homeowner consults do not provide them with multiple options, then the homeowner must do their own research and education, or they can elect to find a different professional to advise them. Do not accept that there is only one solution. In our decades of experience, there have always been multiple viable solutions for a homeowner to consider.

As to the technical aspects, always remember that if you have 10 gallons of something, it will not fit into a 5-gallon bucket. You need a 10-gallon bucket for that 10 gallons of something. In that same line of thinking, if you are building a large house or maybe smaller home that will house a large family, you need a larger septic system. You need a large enough area of land that will fit your dream home and enough septic system to support that dream.

Is there anything that homeowners usually don't know about septic system design or repair that they should be aware of?

Our industry has not done a good job of explaining that a septic system can easily last as long as, and perform better than, a sewer system--if the same level of management is applied. The most important service a septic system owner can employ is "solids management." All systems accumulate solids in the tank(s), and those solids are supposed to remain in the tank(s) until removed by pumping--and not by additives. A proactive approach involving regular checking of the solids levels and timely removal is the highest value service a homeowner can get for their system, regardless of the type of system.

Can you describe some signs that a homeowner has a septic problem he or she should consult a licensed contractor about?

Certainly such things as slow draining fixtures, foul odors outside in the vicinity of the septic tanks or fields, audible or visual alarms, persistent wetness or lush vegetation in the vicinity of the septic tanks or fields can all be indications of problems. A system that has not been regularly pumped (for solids management) is also a sign of pending problems due to the lack of proper maintenance.

There are many problems with septic systems that frankly may not be obvious to a homeowner and require a knowledgeable professional to identify or correct. The most glaring concern, to us at least, are the surface spray systems that discharge any time during the day, are not achieving proper treatment, are not properly disinfected, and are therefore contributing to unsanitary conditions in people's yards and likely contributing to the excessive bacteria loadings being identified in our creeks and streams.

Just because the toilet flushes, doesn't mean the septic system is "working." Find a trustworthy septic professional and have them perform regular service checks on the system to confirm it is functioning properly and to help you maintain the system properly.

Are there any things that homeowners can take to help avoid unnecessary septic repairs?

Septic systems intentionally have limits, and operating the system within those limits will reduce the level of repairs on any septic system. The system will have a limit on the maximum gallons per day it can handle. It will have limits on how much non-sewage materials it can tolerate (grease, chemicals, non-digestible solids, etc.).

Do not poison the septic system and your property by pouring chemicals down the drain. Do no overload the septic system with solids that can be disposed better and cheaper in the garbage (don't use the garbage disposal) or trash can (don't flush cigarette butts, plastics of any kind, personal wipes). Do have a trusted professional check your system at least annually (more often for aerobic systems) for solids levels and physical/electrical/biological operation.

Do you have any tips for people who are considering purchasing a house in Texas with a septic system?

The "builder grade" septic system, like every other system in the home, is nearly always the cheapest choice. As such, it very well may not be a system with which you want to live your life. Find a trusted professional to advise you on how that system will function with the lifestyle you want to be able to live in your home.

A septic system on a home is just like any other appliance or convenience in our lives--it must be used and maintained properly. Consider this analogy: A car that has been well treated and maintained is worth more and is more desirable than the same car that has been abused and poorly maintained. It's the same with your septic system. Look for records showing the history of how the system has performed and how it has been maintained. Find a trusted professional to advise you, if you are unsure.

Last but absolutely not least: Be proud to be an owner of a home with a septic system. You have a solution that is just as permanent as "city sewer," but has proven that it can be much more protective of public health and the environment. Be happy that you are not contributing to the known and unknown pollution and resource depletion caused by "city sewer." Congratulations! You are not a contributor to or a part of that problem.

What's the best way for people to contact your company?

Our website www.snowdenonsite.com has literally hundreds of pages of tips, FAQs, and articles we've published over the years. There are links to contact us through the website. You can also call us at the office, (512) 338-1804 to inquire about or arrange for services from our staff.

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Jeff Snowden and Snowden Onsite Services have proudly set many of the standards that...

Phone: 512-338-1804

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