It is easy to go unnoticed but it could cost you money in repairs or even more importantly, your health. Take an adventure with your local inspector down the road of exploring septic systems. It may not be exactly what you look forward to doing, but it one of the necessary evils of home ownership. Understanding your septic system is key to maintaining and preventing damage to your system.
How does it work?
The first step to proper septic maintenance is to gain an understanding of the components and process of the system. Septic systems consist of septic tank, a distribution box and a drain-field all connected by pipes. Due to the large size of drain-fields and location restraints, some septic systems have a holding tank and sewage ejector pump used to pump sewage to a drain-field that is farther away. Sewage from your house discharges into a septic tank, usually located 15 feet or more from the house. The entering stream separates, with light materials rising to join a scum layer on top and heavier matter dropping to the bottom to join the sludge. Bacteria go to work at once, transforming organic materials into simple chemicals that dissolve. After 24 hours the dissolved solids in the tank water will have increased to about 50%. Given enough time, bacteria will digest everything in the tank except insoluble inorganic compounds, which sink to the bottom or float to the top.
Household cleaners can affect good bacteria.
The break down of organic materials into dissolvable chemicals is crucial. Raw sewage may contain pathological organisms, which must be made antiseptic before the sewage can be allowed to leave the disposal area and join the ground water. Modern waste disposal depends on anaerobic bacteria, which thrive in an oxygen-free environment. If a tank is too small or is filled with material that is not being broken down, then its effective volume is decreased and bacteria may not have enough time to work on the raw sewage. As a result solid matter may be discharged into the distribution box and the drain-fields. Bleach, disinfectants, anti-bacterial hand soaps, drain and toilet bowl cleaners can kill the anaerobic bacteria and should be used sparingly. Leftover hazardous household chemicals should be taken to a waste collection center. Since these household items can affect the tank’s balance, some septic companies recommend adding bacteria or yeast to your system via your toilet once or twice a year. It is recommended that you have your septic cleaned and inspected from every two to five years in order to remove the scum and sludge layers, ensure that the sewage is breaking down and to check for cracks in the tank.
Where does it go?
Wastewater can take from two to seven days to pass through the septic tank. The outlet to the septic tank is mounted so that only the clear liquid (effluent) in the center of the tank will pass through to the distribution box. From the septic tank, the clear liquids from the middle layer of the septic tank should enter the distribution box, which distributes the liquid to fields where the final stage of purification takes place. By the time the liquid makes its way down to the water table, none of the original organic matter should remain. If the distribution box tilts or if it’s function is otherwise impaired by solid matter from the tank (clogged), it may no longer spread the load evenly and may force premature failure in the overstressed section of some of the fields. Signs of field or system failure include sewage surfacing over the drain-field (especially after storms) and lush green growth over the drain-field.
Some septic systems have a holding tank and sewage ejector pump. Effluent can be discharged into a holding tank and pumped from there to an elevated distribution box. An alarm inside the house is connected to the pump to alert the occupants should the pump fail. Usually these types of systems have about a 200-gallon leeway after the alarm goes off. Other systems have a pipe that sticks out of the ground (called a flow diversion valve) at the distribution box where you can divert the effluent to different fields. These types of systems should be re-diverted every year and can add many years to the life of your system.
Here are a few questions to ask about your septic system:
- When was the last time the system was cleaned?
- Is the system a pumped system?
- If the system is a pumped system, has the pump ever been replaced?
Achieve a worry free household through understanding your septic.
It may be a good idea to have a sketch on hand of where your septic tank, distribution box and fields are so you can avoid disturbing or riding heavy machinery over them. You should be able to get a copy from your local county health department. If the septic tank is cracked, septic waste may escape where it is not wanted and the capacity of the tank may be compromised. If damage to the septic system occurs, then pathogenic organisms may make their way into your drinking water, thus compromising your health. By not caring for and having your septic tank cleaned and inspected periodically, it could cause anything from health issues in the environment to costly repairs