From forms and factsheets to faqs, here is everything you ever wanted to know about septic tank systems. You're welcome.
Forms and Factsheets
Frequently asked questions
Installations and Alterations
I need to install a wastewater treatment system. What are my options?
All properties not connected to the sewer network require either a ‘primary’ or ‘secondary’ wastewater treatment system, which treats and contains all wastewater from the household onsite.
A 'primary' wastewater treatment system is typically a standard septic tank and absorption trenches. These are not typically allowed to be installed in the majority of shires and blocks of land smaller than 1 hectare, due to the poor effluent quality that they discharge onto the land.
A 'secondary' wastewater treatment system typically contains primary treatment, with the addition of a further treatment and disinfection process.
While there are several secondary wastewater treatment systems on the market, the most common 'secondary' systems in Victoria are Aerated Wastewater Treatment Systems (AWTS) and Sand Filters. (For more information on AWTS, refer to our News and Articles section).
Wastewater treatment systems and irrigation requirements are different for all councils due to the diverse land and soil types, as well as proximity to water tables. It is important to realise that there are pros and cons of all types of systems.
SSA offers a free site inspection to evaluate and recommend the most suitable solution for you.
What steps do I need to take to have a new system installed on my property?
Step 1: Contact SSA to arrange a free site inspection and quote
Step 2: Obtain a “Permit to Install” from your local council Health Department (SSA can obtain all necessary documentation if required)
Step 3: Council inspects the installation of the wastewater treatment system (as part of Permit Condition)
Step 4: Provide all necessary Certificates (such as Plumbing Certificate and Commissioning Certificate) to your local council
Step 5: Obtain a “Permit to Use” from your local council Health Department before first use of system
Step 6: Ensure you comply with the conditions of your “Permit to Use” for the lifecycle of your system
Important: The Health Department operates independently from the Building Department. If you are building a new house or renovating, you will need a “Permit to Install” the wastewater treatment system to be able to secure your Building Permit and you will need a “Permit to Use” your wastewater treatment system to obtain your Certificate of Occupancy. So it is important to plan ahead and incorporate the installation of your wastewater treatment system into your building schedule.
SSA can take care of all the necessary documentation for you, including council permits.
Do you install in regional areas of Victoria?
Yes. SSA can undertake installations across Victoria.
I already have a tank. Can you assist with just the installation?
Yes, SSA can assist with all installation requirements.
Can I install my own system?
The installation of all wastewater treatment systems must be performed by a licensed plumber or drainer.
What types of plants and trees should I plant near my system?
It's important to plant the right types of plants around your wastewater treatment system as larger trees and shrubs with high moisture may cause damage to the treatment plant through their roots.
Smaller shrubs and ground cover such as grass are most suitable for the area around your wastewater treatment system, but ideally, should be planted with a setback of two metres from the treatment plant.
Grass is the most suitable type of vegetation for subsurface irrigation.
If in doubt, please consult with your local nursery.
What are effluent disposal fields and how do I choose the right one for my property?
An effluent disposal field is a system to safely dispose of the treated effluent from your wastewater system. This typically occurs on the same property where the wastewater system is installed through absorption trenches (underground trenches where the water soaks into the ground), or sand filters. Another common effluent disposal field is subsurface irrigation, where the treated effluent from the wastewater system is drained to underground (subsurface) irrigation systems, where the wastewater can be reused to water plants and shrubs in the garden.
The type of effluent system for your property may be determined by the climate and soil type of your property. SSA can help guide you through this process, if required.
What are some of the things I need to consider before altering my wastewater treatment system?
- Council Permits
- Existing system
Help! I have an emergency! Can SSA help?
SSA can be contacted, and can attend to emergency call outs, 24/7, seven days a week.
If you have an emergency, call SSA on 1800 800 333.
My system is alarming / red light is flashing, what do I do?
Most types of wastewater treatment system have a warning alarm function. These can consist of audible and/or flashing lights. These are not to be ignored. The alarm function is alerting you to a system fault, which needs to be attended to as soon as possible. Please contact SSA as soon as you are alerted to your system alarming.
There is a foul odour coming from my system. What does this mean?
For correct functioning, wastewater treatment systems need to operate under alkaline conditions. Some factors which can cause acid conditions and odour problems include:
- Excessive use water or cleaning products
- Use of the wrong type of cleaning chemicals
- Shock volumes of incoming water (e.g. from several loads of washing in quick succession or a large number of people at a party)
- Lack of use of the system while the house has been vacant (e.g. unused holiday homes)
The normal (good) bacteria may die off under acid conditions resulting in offensive odours. It is quite simple to restore the balance using hydrated lime available from hardware stores:
- Mix 0.5 kilograms of lime with 10 litres of water
- Flush the mixture down the toilet two or three times each day for three or four days, until a total of approximately five kilograms is used
- If desired, five kilograms of lime to 10 litres of water can be used at one time, however this can be more difficult to flush through the system, particularly with new dual flush cisterns
- If the odours persist, contact SSA. You may also need to get your wastewater treatment system pumped out (desludged).
Can SSA repair all types of systems?
SSA specialises in the repairs and maintenance of all types of wastewater treatment systems.
Do I have to have my system serviced?
There are three key reasons why your wastewater treatment plant requires regular servicing:
- All wastewater treatment systems are expensive assets. Regular servicing helps to protect this asset and reduce the severity of system faults and the cost of repairs.
- Regular servicing helps to protect your health, your family’s health and the local environment.
- It is a requirement of state and local government authorities that all AWTS are serviced quarterly by an accredited service technician (for more information on this, refer to the excerpt below from EPA Victoria’s Code of Practice).
The Environment Protection Authority Victoria’s Code of Practice for Onsite Wastewater Management states:
“The treatment and irrigation/disposal systems must be operated and maintained in accordance with the conditions in the Council Permit to Install/Alter, the CA, and this Code to ensure that human health and the environment are protected. Where a property is served by a treatment system, it is mandatory that the property owner has a service contract with an accredited and trained service technician who will routinely service and maintain the treatment unit and land application system in accordance with the Permit conditions. Council may fine a property owner under section 53N and Schedule A of the Act for failing to have the treatment system regularly serviced on an ongoing basis in accordance with the conditions on the relevant CA and the Council Septic Tank Permit.”
What is desludging and how often do I need to do it?
As you use your system over the years, your system will gradually build 'sludge', a layer of solids that settle at the bottom of the system and 'scum', the layer that floats on top of the primary septic tank, which typically consists of fats, oils and grease.
Desludging (or pumping out) your wastewater treatment plant is essential for the performance of the system.
Your accredited service technician will monitor the sludge and scum levels in your system if lids are accessible and will advise when a pump out is required.
Desludging should take place every three years (on average), however, this depends on how well you maintain your system, as well as the number of people living in your home (i.e. the number and intensity of loads).
If a pump out is required, it should be performed as soon as possible by an accredited liquid waste removal contractor. A record of the pump out should be provided to your local council as well as your service provider.
What does a service technician do during a routine service?
It is important that you choose an accredited service technician to perform the servicing of your wastewater treatment plant.
Servicing should take place every three months and should include (at a minimum):
- Check sludge and scum levels in the primary septic tank (if lids are exposed)
- Check aeration pump for correct operation
- Clean and check aeration equipment
- Clean and flush treatment filters
- Check dissolved oxygen levels
- De-sludge settling chamber/s
- Check control panel, alarms and pumps
- Onsite testing of water quality
- Add chlorine tablets to chlorine dispenser (for surface irrigation only)
- Remove and clean irrigation filter (if applicable)
- Inspect irrigation area
- Complete service report^
^ Each service report should be provided to you (the customer), as well as your local council, as per council requirements. Service reports should provide information such as:*
What was done during the service;
Details on the general performance of the system; and Recommendations on what the home owner can do to improve the function of the system, including pump out/desludge requirements. What do I need to do in between services to care for my system? There are important things you MUST do to care for your system in between services. These include:
- Clean your irrigation filter (as per manufacturer's recommendations): This ensures the system is able to discharge the effluent to your irrigation system. It also prolongs the life of your submersible pump.
- Be careful about what household cleaning products you use as these can really affect the performance of your system. For more information, refer to the following questions.
How do I care for my system?
All domestic wastewater treatment systems are designed to treat all wastewater produced from household kitchens, bathrooms and laundries.
To enhance the performance of your system, to maximise its service life and to save money on repairs, please find a guide below on how to best care for your system.
- Ensure your system is properly maintained with regular servicing and pump outs
- Use all cleaning products in moderation
- Use cleaning products that are labelled as 'biodegradable' or 'septic-safe'
- Use low-phosphorus or phosphorus-free detergents. Phosphorus is a major pollutant of waterways and contributes to the growth of algal blooms.
- Use natural or alternative cleaners such as bicarbonate of soda, pure soap, borax, vinegar, lemon juice, cloudy ammonia, where possible
- Use biodegradable toilet paper
- Minimise your water usage as much as possible
- Avoid shock loads of wastewater entering your system (e.g. several loads of washing in quick succession or a large number of people at a party)
Are there any products that should NOT be used in my house?
Some materials simply MUST NOT enter your system, as they will adversely affect the functioning of the system. These include:
- Bleaching agents
- Antibacterial products and unused medicines^
- Paint, petroleum products or other solvents, strong alkaline and acid
- Storm water from downpipes or rainwater tank overflows
- Backwash water from pools, spa pools or water softeners
- Solid materials such as paper, plastic, sanitary napkins, tampons, condoms, nappies or baby wipes
- Food scraps, fats and oils
- Insecticides, herbicides, pesticides
- Trade waste from commercial or industrial premises
^ Some strong medications, such as blood pressure tablets, chemotherapy and antibiotics, can destroy the natural processes of a wastewater treatment system. These systems may require more regular pump outs and/or maintenance.
If any of the materials listed above enter your system, please contact SSA for advice on what action you may be required to take.
Can SSA undertake installations for commercial projects?
Yes. Please contact SSA to discuss your requirements and organise a site inspection.
Billing & Payment
What are SSA’s costs and payment methods for domestic routine servicing?
Each domestic routine service costs $90.
SSA offers flexible payment options so have the choice of two types of contracts:
- Annual Contract
$360 annually. Includes four services - one every three months.
- Pay-per-Service Contract
$90 per service. Service recommended every three months.
Payment methods available: Cheque, Money Order, Bank transfer or Credit Card Credit Card only
Click below to download our contract forms:
- Pay Per Service Contract
- Annual Contract
What are SSA’s costs and payment methods for commercial routine servicing?
The cost of servicing commercial systems will depend on the type, size, location and other special requirements, please contact SSA to discuss specific requirements.
Got questions? We've got answers.
We're happy to talk septic tank systems all day, every day. Got a burning question you need answered? Contact us!