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How Does A Septic System Work?

If you’ve recently purchased a home with a septic system, and you’re used to being connected to a municipal sewage system, you may have found yourself asking some variant of the question posted by the headline of this article. If that’s the case, you don’t have to wonder any longer! Just below, we’ll outline how the system you’ll come to rely heavily on actually functions:

It starts with your water pipes. All the pipes from your sinks, tubs, showers, toilets, dishwasher, and washing machine feed into a central sewage pipe. Instead of flowing out to the city sewer line though, this pipe carries water from all of those places into your septic tank.

The septic tank itself acts a bit like a buried settling pond. Once waste water hits it, it naturally settles into three layers: Sludge at the bottom, effluent in the middle and scum on top.

The sludgy layer at the bottom consists of solids and non biodegradable materials, the scum at the top is mostly fats and grease, and the effluent layer is everything else.

A healthy septic tank is home to a thriving colony of bacteria. These little guys do all the hard work, busily breaking down anything they can, pretty much from the moment it hits the tank.

There are drain lines attached to your tank that lead to the drain field, which is almost certainly somewhere in your back yard, not far from your house or the tank. When you were in the process of buying your home, you probably had a “Perc Test” performed. Perc, in this case, is short for Percolation, and the test is a measure of how quickly a given volume of water drains through the soil of your drain field.

When the tank level reaches a certain point, effluent flows through the drain lines and into the drain field, where it percolates away and is out of your life forever.

That’s it, in a nutshell, but answering the initial question, ‘How does a septic system work?,’ is illuminating and reveals a number of things you can do to help keep your system functioning smoothly.

First and foremost, since everything you pour down the sink drain, flush down the toilet, or wash down the shower drain winds up in the tank, you want to be very mindful of both what kinds of things you introduce to the tank and how much water you’re pushing through the system.

Too much water, introduced too quickly, will lead to problems with your system’s operation. Similarly, introducing too many non-biodegradable materials will cause the sludge layer to grow out of control, requiring more frequent tank pump outs than you’d otherwise need.

It’s also highlights the importance of minimizing your use of chemical drain cleaners, because invariably, those kinds of cleaners are lethal to bacteria. The more of them you make use of, the more bacteria you’ll kill off in your tank, and at a certain point, there won’t be enough bacteria left to continue breaking down the wastes you’re introducing to the system.

The biggest thing to remember if you’re new to owning a septic tank is this: When you lived in a home connected to the city’s sewage system, it didn’t really matter what you flushed down the toilet or poured down the sink. Sure, if you flushed something inappropriate, it might clog the drain, but the second you clear the clog, the offending material is gone. It’s on its way to the county water treatment plant and out of your life.

With a septic tank though, it’s on you. It stays with you, or more specifically, it stays in the tank, which means that one way or another, if it creates a problem, you’ll have to deal with it, probably by placing a service call to either have your tank pumped out, or for example, in the case of grease, you’ll have to have your drain field repaired as some of the grease finds its way into the drain field and begins forming “caps” over your soil in places, which blocks the flow of air and prevents the effluent from percolating away as it should. So how does a septic system work?

Most people don’t spend much time thinking or worrying about their septic systems unless there’s a problem, and to be sure, home septic systems are incredibly rugged and robust, so they don’t tend to have problems often. Having said that, every system designed by human hands needs regular maintenance and incremental repairs, and your septic system is no exception.

As a general rule, we recommend having your system inspected once a year, and again any time you even suspect you may be having a problem. Where tank pump outs are concerned, it’s a little more complicated. A lot of it depends on how many people live in your home, how often you have guests who stay overnight, and how much water you push through the system on average. The more people and the more water flowing through the system, the more often you’ll need to have the tank pumped out. Every three years is a good general guideline, but smaller households may be able to get away with less frequent pump outs than that.

Whatever your needs are where your home’s septic system is concerned, we’ve got you covered. As the premier septic tank service company in the region, nobody can match the skill and experience of our technicians, and there’s no job too big for our team to handle. Call us any time. We’ll be happy to assist you.

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