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How does a septic system work?

Most basic septic systems have two main parts: the tank and the drain-field.

All of the household wastewater flows into the tank. The wastewater will stay in the tank for about 24 Hours. We recommend the tank should have at least 1,000 gallon capacity.

Once the waste water is in the tank, three layers are formed in the septic tank.

The water will flow from the middle of the tank, solids (sludge) will settle to the bottom and grease and foam will float to the top

Both the sludge and scum layers remain in the tank where bacteria will break them down. The layers will build in size. When the layers become too great and take up too much space in the tank, the tank will need to be pumped. It is recommended that every 2-3 years the tank should be pumped out by a licensed septic system pumper. If the system is not pumped out when it is full of solids, the untreated wastewater and solid material can be carried into the drain-field.

Solids in the drain-field can have a number of negative effects such as clogging pipes and seal pores in the soil. When the pores become sealed with solids the water can no longer percolates.

The drain-field provides additional treatment of the wastewater. In the drain-field, wastewater trickles though a series of perforated pipes, though a layer of gravel, and down though the soil. The soil and soil bacteria act as a natural filters that help treat the wastewater.

How can I find the location of my septic system?

Septic system pumpers can usually find the tank by using a soil probe in areas where they would expect to find a septic tank. Septic tanks are usually behind the home, near the bathroom, and about 10 feet away from the foundation.

The location and direction of your drainpipe will often point you in the direction of the septic tank. A search in this area may reveal the septic tank cleanout openings and shallow depressions marking the trenches. Unfortunately, the tank is usually unmarked.

How long will my septic system last?

Conventional septic systems last an average of 20 years. A properly constructed and maintained system can last longer. A system that is not maintained can fail in 2 years or less. Regular maintenance protects the investment and avoids replacement costs. Maintenance also protects the health of your family, the community and the environment.

How do I maintain my septic system?

Septic system maintenance is simple:

Every 2-3 years have a licensed septic system pumper pump the solids from the tank.

Water conservation is very important.

Knowing what not to flush is important. Never use the septic system for disposal of anything that can easily be put into the trash. This only adds to the solids build up that will eventually need to be pumped out.

  • Avoid grinding up food scraps, coffee grounds, and disposing of grease and cooking oils down the drains.
  • Use toilet paper that is biodegradable and approved for use in septic systems by the National Sanitation Foundation (NSF).
  • Don't plant trees within 6 feet of the system, their roots will clog the pipes.
  • Don't drive over or park on the septic system.
  • Don't fence livestock over the septic system.
  • Don't dig in or cover the drain field with concrete or asphalt. Grass should be the only cover.

What are the warning signs of a failing septic system?

  • The ground in the area is wet or soggy.
  • Sewage odors in the house or yard.
  • Plumbing backups into the house.
  • Slowly draining sinks and toilets.
  • Gurgling sounds in the plumbing.

If one or more of these warning signs exist, the you should contact a licensed septic system pumper to have the system inspected and pumped.

I've never had any problems with my septic system, why should I pump my septic tank?

The primary function of the septic tank is to separate liquids from solids. Solids are retained in the tank after settling. Digestion of the solids occurs over time; however, the rate of solids accumulation exceeds the rate of solids digestion.