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Septic Systems are designed to handle the solid and liquid waste from our homes and places of business. There are many different types of septic systems in use today. It is highly recommend that you familiarize yourself with the type of system that is on your property, (see our TYPES Of SYSTEMS page). By learning a little bit about how your system works and what the proper care and maintenance for your particular system is, you can greatly increase the effectiveness and efficiency of your system. Septic tank pumping and septic system maintenance is essential.
This page’s purpose is to provide you with general knowledge so you can understand the basic operation of your system and hopefully realize the critical importance of the proper maintenance and care that is essential in keeping your septic system functioning properly.
Basic Septic System Details
The Septic Tank
The septic tank separates the solids from the waste water. The tank is designed to store and partially decompose as much of the solid material as possible. The liquid waste water is called” effluent” and is discharged to the drain field. The septic tank is typically divided into 2 compartments. As waste comes into the tank, the heavy solids will eventually separate from the waste water and drop to the bottom of the tank. The lighter solids will float and form a scum layer on top of the effluent. The effluent passes into the 2nd chamber and passes through the outlet to the drain field. As the level of solids on the bottom of the tank rises after use, there is less time and space for the solids to separate making the system less efficient. With the solids still in suspension in the effluent, the solids can pass out to the drain field. Over time, the drain field can become plugged and eventually fail. It is critical to remove the solids in the tank by periodic pumping of “BOTH” chambers to maintain the efficiency of the system and to help prevent system failure which can lead to expensive repairs
The Drain Field
After the solids separate from the liquid waste, the effluent is discharged to the drain field. The drain field is also called the leach field or absorption field. The drain field consists of a network of perforated pipes (commonly called “laterals”) that are placed in gravel filled trenches. In some systems the water coming from the septic system first flows into a Distribution Box (“d-box”) which distributes the water equally to the perforated pipes. Failures in the D-box or clogged pipes can affect the even distribution of the effluent and cause a portion of the drain field to be overloaded by receiving more water than what is normal.
The soil under the drain field is where the disposal of the effluent and the final step in the treatment process occurs. Organisms in the soil purify the waste before it percolates down to the water table. A special zone forms in the upper 1 – 6 inches of the soil directly under the gravel trench called the bio-mat. The bio-mat is useful as it helps remove many of the germs and chemical pollutants. If the solids in the tank aren’t pumped out at the appropriate intervals, excess solids can pass to the drain trenches and accumulate in the soil creating an intensive bio-mat that becomes to thick . When this occurs, soil absorption stops. The effluent can fill the trenches showing on the surface of the drain field. The effluent can even back up into the septic tank and eventually into the household.
The Need for Different Types of Septic Systems
Before your septic system was installed, the property was evaluated for its site characteristics and soil conditions. You may have heard of a “perc” test (percolation test) which is a test to determine the soil absorption rate. Soil type is important as well. You need to have at least a few feet of soil over any rock, impervious hard pan or before you reach the water table in order for the soil to be able to treat the water effectively. Generally, soils with a high content of sand and gravel drain the best while soils that are high in clay content or rock drain the worst. The elevation grades of the property come into play as well. Each jurisdiction may have their own requirements for the site characteristics and testing of same.
The results of the perc test, soil and site conditions determined the type of septic system you have today. The system may range from a standard gravity system to a more advanced system. Advanced systems may pre-treat the water before entering the drain field and/or they may regulate when and how much water can flow into the drain field during periodic time intervals.
As a home owner, you should know what type of system you have, where it is located (including tank and drain field) and how to care for it. In some jurisdictions, maintenance is required as designated by the specific manufacturer of the septic system.