Sink and Toilet Leading to Septic System

How Do Septic Tanks Work?

Updated January 1, 1 . AmFam Team

If you live in a rural area and use a septic tank to process your home’s liquid waste, you may be wondering if your homeowners insurance offers coverage. Our septic backup coverage may be just what you’re looking for.

If you’re wondering how septic systems work, you’re not alone. Septic systems are commonly used in rural areas where sewer systems are not available. They rely on the natural sediment in your soil to filter and distribute the waste water from your home after it’s been treated by chemicals that help to break down the outbound effluent into a biodegradable state.

When septic systems are running properly, you hardly notice them. They do require maintenance from time to time to keep them functioning properly. But, what happens if you experience a septic system failure? Will your homeowners insurance (HOI) cover the issue? These are good questions. We’ll explore the design of your septic system and review your coverage options so you’ll know how septic systems work and how they’re covered under your HOI.

How Septic Systems Work

Your septic system can be thought of as an organic “digester” or holding tank that treats your home’s waste with chemicals. They help to neutralize the organic material, or effluent, and then it’s distributed into a drain or absorption field. Here are a few things to know about your septic system:

Septic systems separate effluent in a holding tank. Effluent is any type of solid waste produced by your home — from laundry, bathroom toilets, showers and sinks. Your kitchen waste and all plumbing for the home send effluent to a holding tank where it’s then treated and dispersed into the ground.

Solids typically settle at the bottom of the tank. This septic “sludge” that makes up the bottom of the tank can become a problem if it’s not managed and maintained. It may have to be professionally cleaned out on occasion to keep the tank working correctly.

Oils and fats float near the top of the tank. Materials like soap and cooking oil will create a layer at the top of the tank. Unpleasantly titled “scum” this layer consists of lipids that eventually break down and are released with the effluent.

Drainage of treated septic wastewater usually flows into a drain field. A series of perforated pipes release the waste directly into the soil below. These buried “lines” are located several feet underground in a “leach field” or other chamber which is designed to slowly percolate the effluent into the sand and sediment.

The drain field soil disperses and purifies the wastewater. The wastewater treatment process continues once the effluent is released into the soil and sedimentary layers further down. This is usually the final step in neutralizing any harmful bacteria that remain in the effluent.

Is Septic Back-up Covered by Homeowners Insurance?

Your homeowners insurance policy does not cover the system itself. It does cover your home however, if damage to your home were to occur because of a malfunctioning septic system or as a result of septic problems that caused overflow into your home.

Septic backup insurance provides dwelling coverage for water damage up to the endorsement limit for structural components, interior elements and mechanicals such as:

  • Wall studs and insulation
  • Electrical
  • Drywall and wall trim
  • Flooring and wall coverings
  • Furnace and water heater
  • Fireplace

What Is Service Line Insurance and What Does It Cover?

Service lines bring power, natural gas and water into your home — either through a buried line or above ground in the case of electric cables. Sewer pipes and septic lines leading to and from your home are also considered service lines. When sewer backups flood your basement, you may be covered with an in-force service line policy.

If a tree root should break your service line, this coverage would help pay for the cost of repair or replacement of the affected line. And if your home should become uninhabitable due to a service line failure, this coverage helps pay for a hotel during cleanup, repairs and restoration.

Am I Eligible for Septic Backup Coverage?

Eligibility for this added coverage is based on a number of important factors. For instance, your homeowners claims history can impact your ability to qualify for coverage. Here are a few examples of conditions that impact your home’s septic backup coverage eligibility:

Your home’s flood risk score can help to determine if you qualify. If your home is located outside of a flood plain you may be able to get septic backup coverage. You should know that even with a low score, flood insurance can be a smart investment.

Installation of systems to reduce backflow can help you qualify. You also may qualify if you’ve taken measures and installed hardware that helps to stop backflow. The installation of sump pump backup battery systems, backup generators and check valves can help you retain this important coverage.

Failure to remedy a known backflow issue can be a problem. If your home has experienced backflow that resulted in damage and claims filed in the past, you may not be able to qualify for coverage until preventative action or measures have been taken.

An excessive number of homeowners claims can work against you. A high number of claims made on your home’s insurance policies can sometimes prevent you from qualifying for this additional coverage.

While you’re considering adjustments to your septic system to help keep your home safe, remember to get in contact with your American Family Insurance agent (Opens in a new tab). They can help you find insurance coverage that best protects your home from the unexpected.

Related Articles

Related article test
  • Woman sitting at table writing a home inventory for homeowners insurance.
    Woman sitting at table writing a home inventory for homeowners insurance.
    9 Steps to Create a Home Inventory for Insurance Claims

    Your home is more than a roof over your head. It’s where your dreams grow, your family thrives and memories are made. But the possessions you keep inside are important, too.

    Whether you’re renting an apartment or own your home, you’ve most likely got an insurance policy designed to protect your dwelling and the things inside. Should the unthinkable happen and you have to use that insurance policy, it’s important to have a plan in place. And a home inventory list is a great way to get started!

    We’ll walk you through how to create a home inventory so — in the event of the unexpected — you’ll be more prepared and have a streamlined recovery.

    What Is a Home Inventory?

    Quite simply, a home inventory is a complete list of all the items, especially valuables, in and around your home. The best home inventories include photos, descriptions and dollar values of each of your belongings. The more detail, the better! It’ll help you provide a comprehensive list to your agent of items lost in the event your home is damaged or destroyed, allowing you to get the most out of your coverage.

    When your describing the items in your list, remember that the more information, the better. Here’s a quick reference list of the type of information you should include in your home inventory list:

    • An in-depth description of the items. For example, rather than writing down “diamond ring,” be more descriptive, such as: “an emerald cut diamond ring, with white gold shank, accent stones and initials inscribed below the bridge.”
    • Make, model, and/or serial number of the items.
    • Date of purchase, receipts and photos.
    • Estimated replacement cost if you bought it today. Do note that the value of the items might be different today than it was when you first bought them. This is especially true with jewelry, and other valuables.
    • Appraisals at time of purchase. Especially if your items were appraised for insurance purposes.

    Why Do I Need a Home Inventory?

    Whether you’re a homeowner or a renter, everyone can benefit from a home inventory!

    If you ever have to make a claim, a home inventory is a great asset to have, especially after stressful events like theft, storm damage or a fire (take a look at how one renter used their home inventory after facing an apartment fire).

    When you make a claim, you typically submit information on everything that was lost — which can be difficult to do off the top of your head for all your possessions. Remembering to replace your TV or computer are no-brainers, but when it comes to remembering each piece of jewelry in your jewelry box, things tend to get overlooked. Having a personal property inventory will help, along with knowing how to properly insure your jewelry.

    When you have your home inventory checklist, you know exactly what needs to be replaced, and you’ll have peace of mind knowing your entire household is protected.

  • A row of houses in a neighborhood with storm clouds that will bring strong rain and roof leaks behind it.
    A row of houses in a neighborhood with storm clouds that will bring strong rain and roof leaks behind it.
    Reasons Why a Roof Leaks

    You’re admiring the rain from the comfort of your home when you notice a sound — the unmistakable drip of water dropping onto your floor. The first and hardest step is figuring out why your roof is leaking. And with these tips, you’ll find the culprit in no time!

    Here’s Why Your Roof Is Leaking

    The list of reasons why your roof is leaking may seem long, but don’t worry — when it comes to finding the leak and fixing it, the finding is the hardest part. And the good thing about these problems? They can all be fixed. Check out the list and see what’s troubling your roof:

    Your roof is old

    Roofs don’t last forever. Protecting your home and everything inside it from the elements comes with a cost. And with all that rain, snow, ice, wind and even sunlight wearing down your roof, it becomes more susceptible to leaks. Every roof will eventually need to be replaced, so learn more about how long your roof should last based on what it’s made of.

  • A home with a wet roof after a storm.
    A home with a wet roof after a storm.
    How to Check Your Roof for Storm Damage

    There’s no good time to find out your roof needs repair — but you may be able to mitigate that pain by routinely checking your roof for damage after severe weather. Waiting for a leak or damage to present itself gives the problem time to grow and worsen.

    And sometimes, you’ll be faced with expensive roof and interior damage repairs if you’re not diligent. By being proactive and checking your roof for damage after severe weather hits can help your roof — and your savings — stay healthy.