February 8, 2021

Book Review: Septic System Owner’s Manual

Book Cover

The Fat Rancher appreciates his creature comforts. At the top of the list is the flush toilet.

Prior to moving to the country, The Fat Rancher didn’t give much thought to this basic need. However, during the pre-purchase inspection of our “little slice of Texas heaven,” it became apparent that education on private sewage systems was in order. You see, you want to inspect and drain the septic system at the outset, lest you have a bigger mess to clean up later. Fortunately, the septic system we were buying was in pretty good operating shape. We only needed to empty it, add cleanout port fixtures, and repair a broken effluent elbow. Pretty basic maintenance.

Reprinted from Septic Systems Owners’ Manual by Lloyd Kahn, illustrations by Peter Aschwanden. Copyright © 2007 Shelter Publications, Inc., Bolinas, California

Since then I discovered a book that might be essential reading for anyone treating their own sewage. Promising “subterranean mysteries revealed,” Lloyd Kahn’s book Septic System Owner’s Manual provides a plethora of information on private sewage treatment including technical and biological theory, mechanical construction, and operation, in addition to practical maintenance.

Lloyd is truly a renaissance man, the kind of earthy and intrepid individual you are likely to meet in the country. A refugee from the insurance industry, Lloyd taught himself carpentry and construction, eventually becoming the Shelter Editor for The Whole Earth Catalog. This led Lloyd to author several books on innovative shelter design, and most recently a book on his family’s homesteading experience: The Half-Acre Homestead.

Reprinted from Septic Systems Owners’ Manual by Lloyd Kahn, illustrations by Peter Aschwanden. Copyright © 2007 Shelter Publications, Inc., Bolinas, California

Don’t expect to download Lloyd’s latest tome onto your kindle, however. Lloyd knows the true value of the “handbook.” Many of his writings are only available in paperback.

However, Lloyd fully embraces his writing craft with an extraordinary layout of ink on paper, fully illustrating his owner’s manual with extensive diagrams and artwork by Peter Aschwanden. From intricate diagrams of mechanical systems to cartoon characters, Mr. Aschwanden’s illustrations add a lyrically lighten of weighty prose of recycling man’s worst.

Reprinted from Septic Systems Owners’ Manual

With chapters on septic system tanks, drain fields, plumbing systems, and the role of soil and microbiology, Lloyd covers the subject of waste reclamation end-to-end. He also includes chapters on graywater systems, composting, and other advanced treatment techniques. Also included are a history of wastewater disposal and commentary surrounding politics and sewage. It is, after all, an inevitable convergence.

Lest you think that Mr. Kahn is a low-tech renaissance man, you should check out his Instagram feed at There you will find Lloyd’s latest musings from composting to shelter design, layering for warmth to blowguns. Mr. Kahn also has a YouTube channel at

The Septic System Owner’s Manual is a practical, well written and fully researched guide on private sewage systems. It’s informative as well as entertaining, no doubt due to the author’s earnest nature. This is one book the homesteader should have on their bookshelf.

You can purchase Lloyd Kahn’s Septic System Owner’s Manual at the Shelter Publications website: or on Amazon.

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