Do It Yourself : Water Softener Waste Is Slowing Septic System

From Popular Mechanics

QUESTION: I have a septic system problem. Once a year, I have to dig up my tank cover and clean out the tank. We have a water softener that uses about 20 pounds of salt weekly.

We switched soaps and softeners, but nothing helps. Waste foods and grease are kept to a very minimum. Can you help?

ANSWER: Cleaning or pumping out a septic tank once a year really is not that bad. Most health departments recommend that the tank be cleaned every two to four years, depending on use.

Even when a septic system is functioning properly, the tank should be cleaned periodically, or at least inspected for sludge buildup.


Apparently, the waste water from your water softener regeneration process discharges into your septic system.

This is a potential problem, especially if the leaching field is installed in a finely textured clay-type soil. The salt brine in the waste water is not broken down by bacterial action as it passes through the septic tank on its way to the leaching field.

As the salt accumulates in the field it can, and often does, clog the voids in the soil, thereby damaging and shortening the life of the disposal field.

The waste water from the water softener should not discharge into your septic system. It should run to a separate dry well or onto the ground surface away from the leaching field, plants and shrubs. Be sure, too, that this discharge area slopes away from your water well, if you have one.


Don’t Reduce Diameter of Kitchen Vent Pipe

Q: The previous owner of my house installed a kitchen range hood vent that exhausts into the attic. I will soon have my roof replaced and, at the same time, will run the vent through the roof.

However, the pipe from the hood into the attic has a 7-inch diameter, and I want to reduce this to 4 inches before extending it through the roof. Will such a reduction cause a dangerous buildup of grease in the pipe?

A: Yes, it could be a problem. The particles of grease that are in suspension will be deposited mainly on the reducing coupling and the walls of the 4-inch diameter extension.

All kitchen range vent pipes should be inspected periodically and cleaned if necessary, but since the reducer and extension would be located in the attic, they would probably be forgotten. The resulting buildup of grease would be a fire hazard.

The existing vent pipe should be extended through the roof without reducing its diameter. In addition to being safer, your exhaust fan will operate more efficiently without the added resistance that would result from the reduction.

The pipe should be flashed properly at the roof joint, and have a storm collar and a rain hood. Also, if there is no damper over the fan, one should be installed.

Replace Window Cords With Metal Chains


Q: I have double-hung windows in my home, with cords and weights, and I’m tired of fixing broken cords. Could you tell me how to replace them with springs?

What type of springs are available? Also, after I replace the cords and weights, how do I insulate the hollow space? What type of insulation should I use?

A: If you like the lifting action of the counterweight on the double-hung window, you should replace the broken sash cord with metal chains, which are available at hardware stores. The chain won’t fray or become brittle with age and break.

You can also replace the weights and cords with metal pressure channels. These channels do not provide lifting action, but they have spring-action strips on both side jambs that hold each sash securely in any position. This ensures a snug fit that prevents rattling and minimizes cold air leaks.

Before installing the channels, you can insulate the wall cavity for the cord and weights by loosely stuffing it with fiberglass. If the area is inaccessible, you can fill it using an aerosol foam insulation.

Pinhole Leaks Causing Deposits Around Pipes

Q: For many years I’ve noticed a white powdery substance like corrosion around valves and some sweat fittings on my copper pipes. Also, the screws holding the washers in the valves corrode away.

I spoke to a person who claimed the corrosion might be caused by the ground wire--running between my main electrical box and the water line coming from the street--setting off some electrical-chemical reaction. Is this true, and what can be done to stop the corrosion?


A: The electrical ground connection is not causing the problem. It sounds as if you have slight leaks around the joints of those fittings and valves. Water oozes out of the pinhole openings in those joints and around the valve stems. It then evaporates and leaves behind the mineral deposits you see.

Usually the deposits self-seal the leak. However, if the deposits get larger you will have to re-sweat the leaky fittings and repack the valves.

Your washer screws are deteriorating because of the chemical makeup of the water. Home treatment of the water to prevent this isn’t practical. The screws should be replaced with Monel screws, made of corrosion-resistant nickel-copper alloy. They are available at plumbing supply stores.

Savings Indeterminate From Spraying Cooler

Q: I’ve been wondering whether spraying a light mist of water on the cooling fins of my air conditioner would have any beneficial effect on its efficiency. I could use the unit’s condensate as a source of water.

A: The principle of cooling the condenser coil is a good one and is being used in many self-contained room air-conditioning units to improve efficiency.

The amount of condensate available from the evaporator coil varies with temperature, humidity and house size. There will be times when not enough condensate is available. Therefore, it’s difficult to evaluate any savings.

Do not, however, supplement the cooling water with city or well water. There could be chemicals in the potable water that are corrosive and could cause damage to the condenser fins.

For further information on any home problem, write to Popular Mechanics, Readers Service Bureau, 224 W. 57th St., New York, N.Y. 10019.