For your home's septic tank and sewer works to keep functioning like they should and to maximize the life of the septic tank and pipes, a careful design of the system, proper installation, and regular maintenance of the septic system are required. Basic maintenance of the septic tank is necessary to prevent dirty, foul-smelling odors and bacteria from threatening your family's health and surrounding groundwater free of sewer pollution.
Proper maintenance and regular pumping of the septic tank system greatly reduces the risk of contamination to the surrounding well and ground water, and may save you from costly septic system repairs or a complete septic system replacement.
Simply ignoring small and common problems with your septic system will eventually not save you any money!
How a Septic System works
How a septic system works depends on how the septic system is set up and on where the sewer works takes the waste and sewer water to the septic system. The septic tank has two sections. The first section is where the waste enters from sewage works of a house or other another type of building. The waste is broken down in the first tank by natural bacteria that comes from our own bodies.
The second part of the system is set up to have the sewer water soak down through a setup of gravel, sand and other filtering materials to disperse the sewer water back into the ground.
Septic tank systems consist of two basic components:
1. the septic tank
2. the septic drainfield / leaching field or a dry well / seepage pit
Your waste water flows through the sewer works from the house into the septic system. The concrete septic tank is designed to hold the waste water and allow heavy solids and materials to settle and gather at the bottom of the septic tank. The solids are gradually decomposed by bacteria inside of the septic tank to form sludge. Grease and other light materials float to the top of the septic tank and form a layer of scum on top of the wastewater. The baffles installed in the septic tank at the septic inlet and outlet of the concrete tank try to prevent the scum and solids from getting out.
Often newer type concrete septic systems are divided into two compartments by a partial concrete wall in the center of the concrete septic tank. This helps ensure that the sewer sludge does not get pushed out of the baffle from the septic tank into the drainfield / dry well or the sewage works. These newer types of septic tank systems also have two manhole covers, one above each baffle.
A sewage pipe leads from the septic tank to the distribution box. Inside the distribution box the waste water is channeled into one or more perforated pipes set in trenches filled with gravel or rocks. This is know as the septic systems drainfield, also called a leaching field or trench. Here the wastewater slowly seeps (infiltrates) from the drainfield into the ground. Dissolved wastes and bacteria in the sewage water are trapped or adsorbed by the earth and decomposed by microorganisms. The purified wastewater then either goes into the ground water or evaporates from the earth. Trench septic systems are the most common type of system used in new home construction.
An alternative to the more common drainfields or leaching fields is a seepage pit also called a dry well. In this type of septic system the wastewater flows through the sewage works from the septic tank into a pre-cast comcrete tank with holes in the sidewall. The dry well itself is surrounded by gravel or rocks. Older dry wells often consist of a pit with open-jointed brick or stone walls. The wastewater seeps through the holes or joints to the surrounding earth.
Some of the more common signs of problems with your septic system include: Nasty odors and gurgling sounds comming from the septic system, slow drains and standing water. Sewer odors comming from the septic system could come from the septic tank itself or the field line. A clogged and backed-up septic system can cause the drains to gurgle. Standing water above your field line indicates that a septic tank system is full. Slow drains are often caused by too much sewer sludge (solid waste) in the septic system.
Your septic system has not been cleaned or pumped out in the past five years.
Even if the septic system appears to be working well, sewer sludge may have built up to the point where wastewater is released without sufficient time in the tank for treatment and settling of particles. This situation may result in sewage pollution of groundwater or cause eventual clogging of the drainfield.
A wet area or standing water occurs above the drainfield.
This situation can develop when sewer sludge particles clog the drainfield, when roots cause broken pipes that keep the waste water from dispersing through the entire drainfield, or when water use in the house regularly exceeds the capacity of the system. When these conditions occur, waste water does not move through the soil as it should, and instead rises to the surface creating a serious health risk and odor problems.
Toilets are running slowly or water is coming backup.
Over time you may notice that your toilet drain is running slower and in the worst case scenario, the whole basement could get flooded with sewage water. This is often the result of clogged sewer lines to the septic tank, clogged inlet or outlet pipes, a full septic tank, or a failing drainfield.
Septic odors in the house, around the septic tank and drainfield, or from vent pipes.
If the septic tank system is functioning normaly, there should be no strange odors. If there are any odors comming from the tank or system, it could be a very early warning sign that the system has a problem somewhere.
Depending on the size of your household, the sewer sludge will build up in the bottom of the septic tank over time. When there is too much sewage sludge in the septic system it can eventually flow into the distribution box and drainfield and rapidly clog the distribution pipes. A clogged septic system can be a) hazardous to the environment and to your family’s health and b) it also represents an expensive plumbing repair bill.
Install Septic Risers and Inspection Pipes.
Easy access to the septic tank and system is a good way to ensure that routine maintenance can be performed without too much hassle. For Septic tanks that are below groundlevel it is a very good idea to install septic risers, septic tank risers extend the tank manhole cover to or near to the surface. Should you need to access the tank during the winter, risers will make the job a lot easier. Typical septic risers are made out of plastic or concrete. The septic riser must be protected against unwanted entry.
Have your Septic System regularly Pumped.
Depending on the number of persons in your household, the sewage sludge inside the septic tank will build up at the bottom of the septic tank. sewage treatment works On average a septic system should be pumped out roughly every 3 to 5 years or when 1/3 of the septic tank is filled with sewage sludge. Some states define how frequently a septic tank must be pumped out.
Normaly the best time to have your septic system pumped is from early summer to early fall. When you pump your tank during this period the biological activity inside the septic tank can re-build itself before winter. In the spring high groundwater levels can sometimes create pressure on the underside of an empty septic tank that pushes it upward and even out of the ground. This is more often the case with lighter types of septic tanks that are made out of polyethylene than tanks that are made of concrete.
Taking good care of your drainfield.
For the most part looking after the drainfield is pretty easy, but there are a few things you should keep in mind. The drainfield area over the gravel field should have a good layer of grass. You should keep this patch properly ventilation and make sure that it gets enough sunlight to promote evaporation. So do not build on top of the drainfield, Covering the drainfield bed will prevent oxygen from reaching the soil. The bacteria that are responsible for digesting the wastewater need oxygen to survive and function.