Septic System Information
Properly sited and functioning septic systems are an efficient way of handling drained wastes from the bathroom, kitchen, and laundry area. However, because there are potential health risks associated with these wastes, owners are responsible for proper operation and maintenance. So, let's become familiar with how the septic system works.
How it works: Waste from the house first enters a tank where relatively solid materials settle to the bottom of the tank as sludge and are somewhat digested by bacteria. Light particles like grease and fat rise to the top of the tank as scum. When the sludge and scum layers get too thick they must be pumped out. The liquid between these two layers, called "effluent," goes through two tank chambers for separation from the solids. While it is in the tank, anaerobic bacteria eat and digest the suspended food and waste particles in the liquid, which makes it easier to then move to the drainage field for the major purification.
Here is an old drywell system that is not acceptable any longer.
Tips for maintaining your tank's function:
• Don't put anything down your drains that could kill bacteria;
• Limit the amount of waste from a garbage disposal to lessen solids in your tank;
• Don't pour grease and oils down the drain;
• Conserve water and/or spread out bath and laundry use during the week; and
• No chemicals that can flow untreated through the soil should be dumped down drains.
The real treatment occurs in the drainfields, which are 2-5 excavated trenches with a foot-thick layer of washed gravel around perforated distribution pipes. The trenches are covered with soil and shaped to keep any water from ponding over the fields. The effluent that flows into the perforated pipes and into the trenches still contains disease-causing germs and possibly other pollutants. As it seeps through the soil, however, many of the bacteria, viruses, and certain chemicals are filtered out or absorbed by the soil. Obviously, soil type is crucial for proper treatment. It should not be too sandy nor too clayey. You do not want rock or soil layers that restrict the downward flow of water.
Tips for keeping your drainfields and system working:
• Don't rush lots of water through your system, it works best when bacteria have time to break down organic matter;
• Do everything you can so wastes are draining underground at a slow, harmless rate;
• Divert roof drains and surface water away;
• Never cover the drainfield with impermeable surfaces that can block evaporation and air;
• Keep vehicles and equipment off the whole area;
• Put nothing down the drains that could clog soil pores such as grease, cigarette butts, and feminine hygiene products.
What happens to the solids in the tank? They accumulate, and accumulate, and accumulate. Eventually they will overflow into the drain fields and clog the pores in the soil. Then the septage either backs up into the house or it flows across the surface of the ground. Either situation is a health hazard. Besides, once the pores of the soil have been plugged by sludge, the drainfields cannot be rejuvinated. You'll need to create additional drainfields if you have enough property.
How do you know when the tank needs to be pumped? It depends upon the size of your tank and the amount of wastewater you are putting in your system. Checking your tank yearly for the rate of solids is a good practice. The sludge layer should not be allowed to become greater than 33% of the liquid capacity of the tank. If you have a 1,000 gallon tank and 4 people using the system, the tank should probably be pumped every 3 to 5 years.
Do you know where your septic system is located? Many persons don't. It is good practice to measure and map the location and keep this information with important papers about your house and property. By law, all sewerage, seepage pits and drainage fields must be 100 feet from the mean high water mark of a stream, river, pond or lake.
Miracle Additives? You've seen the advertisements, or the person that pumps your septic tank has tried to sell it to you: The additives that promise to restore/save your septic system and prevent costly repairs.
According to the engineers it's worthless. It's just a dehydrated septic tank sludge that you're being asked to pay big bucks for. The bacteria and fungi in your own tank are just as good, if not better, than anybody else's. Just be careful you don't kill your bacteria and fungi by putting in things like Drano.