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- Septic Systems
Maintenance, Construction, Repair & Complaints
Sewage treatment and disposal is almost entirely performed by conventional septic systems, owned and maintained by property owners. In addition there are several community septic systems serving residential associations, which are maintained by the community served with oversight by the Madison Health Department/WPCA (Water Pollution Control Authority) and several on site sewage treatment plants serving particular properties with primary oversight by the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection and secondary oversight by the Madison WPCA.
Oversight of conventional septic systems consists of several parts: system maintenance, field investigations, new system and repair design, repair design, permitting, data collection and on-site inspection of all system installations.
Permitting & Appeals
All building permits and zoning appeals are reviewed by the Health Department to assess the impact of construction on sewage disposal needs. Guidelines for this review are part of the Connecticut Public Health Code.
Septic tanks should be cleaned on a regular basis, and commercial pumping companies are required to report to the town each time a tank is pumped. The WPCA maintains this information in a database and sends notices to property owners when tanks have not been pumped in five years.
Installation of new septic systems and repairs to existing systems are by permit and must be performed by licensed installers. Design and installation criteria are part of the Connecticut Public Health Code and permits are issued based on local interpretation of that code. Septic systems for new homes are usually designed by professional engineers, but engineered systems are not required for all new homes. That determination is based on space available and soil suitability. Most repairs are motivated by failure of an existing system or by system upgrades at the time of home improvement construction. System failures are usually reported by property owners or licensed installers. Occasionally failures are reported by neighbors or are discovered by Health Department during routine walkovers.
The Health Department investigates all reported septic system failures and property owners are notified of their obligation to repair them in a reasonable time. Each failure is entered into a database and is kept open until there has been resolution to the problem. For failures that are not repaired in a timely manner, there is a series of follow-up investigations and communications leading to issuance of a Public Health Order and court summons in worst-case scenarios.
Pump Your Tank Regularly
Septic tanks are underground concrete (or sometimes, plastic) boxes, filled with liquid, that allow solid wastes to settle out so that they don't enter your leaching area. If the level of solids in the tank becomes too high, they will enter the leaching area and plug the pores in the soil that allow the liquid to filter into the ground. If that happens, the water will either back up into the house or break out on the ground. Once the leaching area becomes clogged it will need to be replaced or extended. Adding leaching fields is far more expensive than pumping septic tanks. Regular septic tank maintenance is the single most important step you can take to extend the life of your system. Additional protective measures are listed below. Additional septic system information can be found on the Health Department page of this website.
Septic tanks should be cleaned (pumped) every 3 to 5 years, depending on their size and how heavily they are used. The Madison Health Department/Water Pollution Control Authority encourages home-owners to protect their septic system with regular septic tank pumping. In fact there is a Town Ordinance that requires septic tanks to be inspected, and pumped if necessary at least every five years.
Septic tank pumping companies are licensed by the state and they report each tank they pump to the Town, which we then enter into a database. Annually, we send notices to the addresses that have not been pumped in five years. If you receive such a notice from the town, you should arrange to have your tank pumped. If you receive a notice and your tank has been pumped in the last five years, contact the company that did the work and have them send us a record of the service.
Septic System Do's and Don'ts
- If you use a garbage disposal, use it moderately and pump your tank annually.
- Don't put fats and oils down your drain, especially when they are hot
- Minimize use of strong cleaners and disinfectants which reduce biological activity in the tank.
- Keep diapers, cigarette butts, coffee grounds and other solids out of your septic system.
- Dispose of caustic chemicals, pesticides, oil, paint, gasoline etc. through the Town Hazardous Waste Disposal program - not in your septic system. Go to the Regional Water Authority website for information.
- Don't allow construction, landscaping or other heavy equipment on your septic system.
- Direct roof and other storm water runoff away from your septic system.
- Don't grow large trees over your septic system.
- Minimize water usage.
The topics provide some discussion of the most common issues that arise for homeowners, prospective buyers and real estate agents. It is not intended to be comprehensive. Far more detailed information about septic systems, system inspections and home sales is available at the Department of Public Health website.
Homeowner's Guide to Septic Systems & Wells (PDF)
View and download our Homeowner's Guide to Septic Systems and Wells.
Number of Bedrooms and House Sales
Septic System Condition and House Sales
Septic System Variances
Septic Systems and Pool Installations
Septic Systems & Water Treatment Discharge
Building Permits and House Additions
Septic Tank Effluent Filters
Septic Tank Risers
Winterization of Seasonal Cottages
Sewage Backup Fact Sheet