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The two most common methods of wastewater disposal in Gwinnett County are discharging to the sanitary sewer system or discharging into a privately owned septic system.
Also known as onsite sewer management systems, septic systems are personal wastewater treatment systems that accept wastewater from a home and disperse it into the soil around that home. Septic systems contain two major components:
1) A septic tank that separates and collects solids
2) An absorption field or drain field that infiltrates liquid waste
The tank and lines are buried underground, and treatment occurs in the soil as opposed to inside the tank, a common misconception.
According to the Georgia Department of Public Health, Gwinnett County has one of the greatest concentrations of septic systems in the United States, with an estimated 30 percent of the population using septic systems. That means millions of gallons of wastewater enter the soil daily and return to the natural water table. When a septic system is installed and used correctly, it is a safe alternative to sanitary sewer systems. However, if a septic system is not properly maintained, it will fail, leading to backups in the home’s sewer system, or the release of raw, untreated sewage into groundwater and/or our local streams. It can also mean very expensive repairs—a new septic system can cost $2,000 to $20,000.
If you own the home, you are responsible for the septic system, just like you are responsible for other major systems in your home like air conditioning and electrical wiring. Even if you have had a septic system for decades without any issues, being proactive and following a few simple steps will maximize the longevity of your system and reduce any possible negative impacts on the environment. Use the dropdown items below to determine whether you have a septic system, and follow the key maintenance tips if you do.
Find Out If You Have A Septic System
The simplest way to determine if you have a septic system is to check your Gwinnett County Water Bill. If you are assessed a sewer-use charge on your water bill, then you are using the sanitary sewer system. However, if your "Sewer Amount Charged" shows as $0.00 on the bill, it is very likely that you are using a septic system.
Another way to check if you have a septic system is by using our GIS Data Browser. In addition to a sketch of the septic system location, the GIS Data Browser can also show you past repair applications and permits when available. For new users, we have created a guide on how to use the GIS Data Browser and how to find your parcel.
If you are still unsure, or want to check and see if more specific details about your septic system are available, please contact the Environmental Health Department. Environmental Health maintains records for septic systems installed since 1959, and you can also obtain copies of septic system records directly from their office.
Note to home buyers: If you are planning to purchase a home with a septic system, it is advised to have it inspected to determine the condition of the system and ensure it is not in need of immediate repairs. An older home is more likely to have an older septic system.
Reducing Your Septic Costs
Homeowners are responsible for maintaining, repairing, or replacing all components of the septic system. Failing to properly maintain your septic system can result in raw sewage backing up into your home, negative impacts to neighbors, damage to the local environment, and even legal action.
Fortunately, taking proper care of your septic system can maximize its chance of lasting as long as possible! While you are using a septic system, you do not pay monthly sanitary sewer charges. However, the day will come when you will need to pump the tank, complete repairs, and pay for a complete system replacement. By putting aside the money you save each month for upcoming repairs and pump outs, you will be prepared when this septic system work is needed.
In Gwinnett County, we also provide a 10 percent stormwater utility fee credit for getting your septic tank pumped. Property owners who have their septic tanks pumped can earn the 10 percent credit each year for five years. All you need to do is include a receipt or paid invoice (dated and addressed from a licensed septic hauler) with the application. Visit our Stormwater Utility page to learn more about stormwater credits and apply. These savings over a five-year period can help offset a portion of the cost of pumping your tank.
Maintaining Your Septic System
There are a few simple things you can take to protect and maintain your septic tank system.
- Be proactive by getting your tank pumped and the system inspected every three to five years by a licensed septic tank contractor.
- The soil that receives the wastewater is like a sponge—it can only get so wet before it won’t take any more water. Conserve water by correcting leaking faucets and toilets in your home to avoid overloading the septic tank system.
- Adjust downspouts and surface drainage to direct rainfall runoff away from the septic tank and drain field.
- The more solids you put down the drain, the quicker the septic tank will fill up. Avoid using your garbage disposal and dispose of fats, oils, and grease properly. Check out What Not to Flush for more information.
- Be aware of where your septic system is located on your property and protect it from being damaged by not allowing anyone to drive or park over any part of the system. Don’t put any foundational structures within or plant trees over the septic tank or drain field area.
For more detailed information on maintenance and tips, download our Homeowner’s Guide to Septic System Maintenance.
If you know of an issue with a septic system or notice strange odors emanating near where a septic system is located, please call Environmental Health right away at 770.963.5132 or contact us.
Attend DWR’s Septic Tank Maintenance Workshop to learn how to recognize when a problem exists, how to find a good contractor, and what permitting requirements exist for new systems. You will also learn about various types of septic systems from different sizes, designs, capacities, and materials. This workshop is presented by a representative from the Gwinnett County Environmental Health Section of the Georgia Department of Public Health, who will provide valuable insight into the entire process of installing, owning, maintaining, and troubleshooting a septic system.
Residents of unincorporated Gwinnett County and the city of Lilburn may qualify for a 5 percent credit on their Stormwater Utility Fee for attending.
Check out our Events and Workshops page to see when the next workshop will be held.
Request a mailed copy of the kit for your home by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.