How Does A Septic System Work?

What Is A Septic Tank System?

If you have lived in a house that is connected to a municipal or county sewer system the idea of having a septic tank can seem a little daunting. It needn’t be, as a septic system is very common to find in homes all across the country. Municipal and county sewer systems only make sense when there are enough homes clustered in a certain area .Once development moves further out from the more densely populated areas, the alternative to municipal sewer becomes a septic system. 

How Does A Septic Tank Work?

Image of a Septic System

A septic system works by taking all the waste water from the house, all the water from the showers, toilets, dishwasher, washing machine goes into a tank buried near the house.The tank holds the water until the solids sink to the bottom and oils and grease float to the top. The solids which are called sludge remain in the tank where naturally occurring bacteria break it down, this is why it is important not to use a lot of bleach or chemicals that will kill this bacteria. When the water reaches a certain level it flows out into  a second tank or chamber and then to a distribution box and is dispersed into perforated drainage pipes in what is called the leach field or distribution field. The number of pipes is usually the same as the number of bedrooms in the house but there are many factors to consider such as soil type and location. Over time the sludge builds up and it becomes necessary to pump the tank.  

Newer Versions Of Septic Systems

Septic systems have evolved as new techniques and materials are used to make them more efficient and easier to install and maintain. The amount of land required to have a septic system has been reduced as these improvements take hold. Depending on where you live, the type of soil and location of the lot will all have a bearing on the size and type of septic system required for a property.

What Are The Pros and Cons Of Owning a Septic System?

The first obvious benefit to owning a septic system is no utility bills for sewage from the city or county. This can be a significant saving over the years especially if compared to a private water/sewer company where sewer chargers can be quite high. If you are purchasing a property with a septic system and a well, you eliminate one entire utility bill. Being a self contained system another benefit to owning a septic system is the independence from interruptions in service that can happen with a municipal system. Owning a property with a septic system necessitates having a larger lot to facilitate the leach field and repair field which has a minimum requirement in most cases. Folks who are searching for a new home and would like a larger lot usually means they will be looking at homes with a septic system. When municipal sewer systems are used, developers build more homes per acre thus reducing the size of the lots. 

Septic Tank Installation And Maintenance

A typical septic system uses gravity, water flows into the tank in pipes installed on a slope and then the water flows into the pipes using the slope of the land. There are certain setbacks and minimum distances that the tank,and the drainfield must adhere to. The following must be taken into consideration for the placement of the tank and drainfield.

  • Property Line
  • Well
  • Nearby Structures
  • Large Trees
  • Lakes, Streams, Creeks
  • Driveway/Parking Pads
  • Swimming Pools
  • Property Lines

Pump Assisted Septic System

In some cases it will be necessary to install a pump to the system to move the water to the drainfield. When purchasing a property with a septic system it is important to take note of the setbacks listed. If you plan on putting in a swimming pool, you will need to determine if that is even possible. It is not recommended that you drive on the drainfield, or place heavy objects such as sheds on the lines. Additional parking pads or detached garages can also be affected by the septic system. A common problem for septic systems is roots from nearby trees growing in and around the pipes causing blockages.

Proper maintenance of a septic system is important to ensure you get years of trouble free use from it and they actually don’t need a lot of maintenance. Using the system at or under the capacity it was designed for goes a long way towards avoiding problems. The best way to prevent problems in a septic system is to only put in it what it was designed for. Certain household items should not be discarded in the sink, items such as cooking oil, paint, bleach or chemicals will have an adverse effect on how the system operates. Only items that are biodegradable should be discarded in the sink or toilets. 

Image of failed septic system

Septic systems can fail from time to time and there can be a number of reasons for this to happen. If the area where the drainfield is located starts to constantly be waterlogged or if you notice bad odors coming from the ground are signs the system is in trouble. If toilets are slow to flush or get backed up are also indicators you have a problem. This unfortunately is usually an expensive problem to fix. Many septic systems come with what is known as a repair field which is where a new drainfield is dug should the original fail.

Septic Tank Pumping & Cleaning

Septic tanks do need to be pumped out from time to time and the frequency of this depends primarily on how many people live in the house and how much water is used on a regular basis. Septic tank pumping costs a couple of hundred dollars depending on the size and condition of the tank. Septic tanks should be pumped and cleaned on a regular basis. How regular it is depends on how many people are using it, how much water they are using and if the system is being used properly. There is no hard and fast rule for septic tank pumping  and you will hear people say every two years or every five years and then you will hear of people who’ve owned a septic system for years and years and never had it pumped, wouldn’t even know where it was to begin with. 

Septic systems require only periodic maintenance such as pumping the septic tank and cleaning the leach field. Additionally, septic systems are cost effective and environmentally friendly, as they do not require the use of energy to treat the wastewater. Septic systems are also easier to maintain than a municipal sewer system, which can help to save money in the long run.

If you have any questions please reach out at (919) 601-2268 or [email protected] and we'll be glad to offer any assistance we can.



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