When it comes to septic systems, many people think of them as uncommon. In America, 1 in 5 homes has a septic tank, especially in the more rural areas. You see, a septic tank is a large underground tank that holds and treats your home’s waste. It lets homeowners safely remove wastewater from bathrooms, dishwashing, showers, and more, and transport it outside. So, how do septic systems work? We are glad you asked.
Septic tanks and the supporting hardware for them to function are located underground. Usually, the tanks are installed about ten feet away from your home for safety reasons. When installed, they must be placed far enough from a well so you don’t risk drinking contaminated water.
Septic tanks are most commonly made of concrete or plastic. Some newer tanks are made of high-quality polymers, such as polyethylene. And, septic tanks come in a range of sizes to suit different homes; they are built to hold between 1,000 and 1,500 gallons.
Read along to gain more knowledge from Flow Pros Plumbing on how septic systems work.
How Do Septic Systems Work
A typical septic system is a tank and drains field, better known as a soil absorption field. This septic tank breaks down organic matter and separates floatable matter like oils, grease, and solids from the wastewater.
In conventional or soil-based systems, the liquid is pulled out from the septic tank into a series of pipes with holes in them. These systems are buried in a chamber, leach field, or other special units that are made to release the effluents into the soil slowly. This area is also known as the drain field.
Alternate systems use pumps or gravity to help septic tank contents run through organic matter like peat and sawdust, sand, man-made wetlands, or other materials. These materials remove or neutralize pollutants like nitrogen, disease-causing pathogens, other contaminants, and phosphorus. Some systems are also designed to evaporate wastewater or disinfect the water before it’s discharged into the soil.
Breakdown of How Septic Tanks Work
According to epa.gov:
- “All water runs out of your house from one main drainage pipe into a septic tank.”
- “The septic tank is a buried, watertight container usually made of concrete, fiberglass, or polyethylene. It holds the wastewater long enough for solids to settle to the bottom, forming sludge, while the oil and grease float to the top as scum. Compartments and a T-shaped outlet prevent the sludge and scum from leaving the tank and traveling into the drain field area.”
- “The liquid wastewater (effluent) exits the tank into the drain field.”
- “The drain field is a shallow, covered excavation made in unsaturated soil. The soil accepts, treats, and disperses wastewater as it percolates through the soil, ultimately discharging it to groundwater. Pretreated wastewater is discharged through piping onto porous surfaces that allow wastewater to filter through the soil. If the drain field is overloaded with too much liquid, it can flood, causing sewage to flow to the ground surface or create backups in toilets and sinks.”
- “Finally, the wastewater percolates into the soil, naturally removing harmful coliform bacteria, viruses, and nutrients. Coliform bacteria predominantly inhabit the intestines of humans or other warm-blooded animals. It is an indicator of human fecal contamination.”
Inside a Septic Tank
The most common setup includes a:
- Septic tank
- Distribution box
- Drain field
- Network of pipes with holes
The septic tank is connected to the house by a single main drainage pipe called an inlet pipe. The water waste coming from your home goes through it and then into the septic tank. This is where solid and liquid waste is separated from the liquid.
Most septic tanks nowadays are made up of two compartments. This design essentially forces wastewater through two separate treatment cycles by removing the scum layer more effectively before sending the water out to the drain field.
Both chambers are watertight and separated by a thick wall. A small baffle allows liquid wastewater to flow in a single direction.
The Septic System Treatment Process
When wastewater enters via an inlet pipe, materials like grease and oil float to the top, while solid waste and sediment sink to the bottom. This keeps them out of the effluent when it reaches the drain field. Solids can block the perforated pipes there, while oils can cause damage to the leached soil.
At the bottom of the septic tank, a healthy population of anaerobic bacteria feeds on and digests organic waste. This helps keep the tanks from overflowing prematurely and removes specific contaminants from the mix.
At the other end, an outlet baffle prevents sludge and scum from leaving the septic tank and entering the drain field. Once effluent exits the septic tank, it seeps into the soil via perforated pipes.
The drain field is a shallow area of bare land close to the house that filters untreated wastewater through rocks, dirt, and sand to remove impurities naturally. Eventually, gravity forces the water back down into underground aquifers.
A good septic system is underground and out of sight. There are usually inspection ports over each baffle. Most septic tanks also include a manhole access port, which allows the pumping tank. These access sites are generally covered with a plastic lid around 4” in diameter.
Septic System Care and Maintenance
Cleaning Out the Septic Tank
One in five U.S. homes has septic systems. Yours may be one of them. Your septic system needs to be adequately maintained. If you don’t maintain your system, you may risk your family’s health and hurt the environment.
How to Care for Your Septic System
Septic system maintenance is simple and can be inexpensive. Upkeep comes down to four key steps:
- Inspect and Pump Frequently
- Use Water Efficiently
- Properly Dispose of Waste
- Maintain Your Drain field
Inspect and Pump Frequently
A septic service professional should be scheduled to inspect an average-sized household system at least every three years. Household septic tanks are typically pumped every three to five years.
Alternative systems with electrical float switches, mechanical components, or switches should be inspected more often, generally once a year.
A service contract is important since alternative methods have mechanized parts.
These are the significant factors that indicate how often to pump your septic system:
- Size of your household
- Total wastewater generated
- The volume of solids in wastewater
- Septic tank size
What to Know for a Service Provider
When you call Flow Pros, your technician inspects for leaks and examines your septic tank’s scum and sludge layers.
**Keep maintenance records on work that has been performed on your septic system.
According to www.epa.gov, your septic tank should be pumped when:
- The bottom of the scum layer is within six inches of the bottom of the outlet.
- The top of the sludge layer is within 12 inches of the outlet.
- More than 25% of the liquid depth is sludge and scum.
When keeping track of when you should pump out your tank, write down the sludge and scum levels found by a professional.
The technician will note the repairs they completed and the condition of the tank’s system in the service report. If other repairs are recommended, hire Flow Pros Plumbing soon.
Use Water Efficiently
The average indoor water use in an average single-family home can be up to 70 gallons per person per day. One leaking or running toilet can add up to 200 gallons of water per day.
All the water a household uses gets sent down its pipes and ends up in its septic system. The more a home conserves water, the less it enters the septic system. Water efficiency improves the operation of a septic system while also reducing the risk of malfunctions.
Toilets account for 20 to 30 percent of the water in your household. Typically older homes have toilets with 3.5- to 5-gallon reservoirs. In contrast, new, high-efficiency toilets use 1.6 gallons of water or less per flush.
Replacing your current toilets with high-efficiency toilets is a quick way to reduce the amount of household water going into your septic system.
When doing laundry, make sure you select the proper load size to avoid wasting water on a small load. That avoids wasting water and energy.
If you get behind on laundry doing it all in one day might seem like a time-saver, but in return, it can hurt your septic system. By doing this, you’re not allowing your septic tank enough time to treat waste. This could result in flooding your drain field. Try to spread washing your clothes throughout the week.
Properly Dispose of Waste
It doesn’t matter how you try to get rid of it, down the bathtub drain, shower drain, toilet, kitchen disposal, and any other drain; everything that goes down your drain will end up in your septic system.
A Toilet is No Trash Can
An easy rule of thumb is not to flush anything besides human waste and toilet paper. Never flush:
- Cooking grease or oil
- Wipes of any kind
- Feminine hygiene products
- Dental floss
- Cigarette butts
- Coffee grounds
- Cat litter
- Paper towels
- Old Medicine
- Household chemicals like gasoline, pesticides, oil, antifreeze, and paint thinners or paint.
Think of The Sink
Your septic system holds a collection of living organisms that digest and treat household waste. When you pour toxic chemicals down your drain, it can kill these organisms and harm your septic system.
Whether you are at the bathtub, kitchen sink, or utility sink, practice caution in the following ways:
- Avoid using those chemical drain openers for your clogged drain
- Please don’t pour cooking oil, fats, or grease down the kitchen sink drain or the garbage disposal.
- Avoid pouring solvents, oil-based paints, or large amounts of toxic cleaners down the drain.
- Know your limits when it comes to your garbage disposal.
Hire Flow Pros and Get Your Wastewater Serviced
Now knowing how a septic tank works, it’s essential for homeowners to always call Flow Pros Plumbing for help with any issues.
Furthermore, If you are in the market to buy a new home, consider scheduling a septic inspection before buying the house. A typical home inspection only glances at the septic tank, so it’s best to hire a professional to look at the system thoroughly before committing to purchasing a property.
As always, we look forward to taking care of any other plumbing or septic service requests as well.