SEPTIC SYSTEM – GLOSSARY OF TERMS

Sunday, February 3rd, 2013

Here is a basic understanding of what a septic system is and how it works.

So now your septic system has begun to act up, or you may be facing the possibility of expensive repairs or replacement of your septic system and you wish that you had a more detailed understanding.  If your facing these problems or just looking for a DIY treatment, do not want to be taken advantage of because of your lack of understanding all of the terms.  We have many readers who ask us about the definitions of these terms or a term related to their septic system.  While many of the terms we have listed here are basic in nature, having a clear understanding of what may be malfunctioning in your system makes finding a solution that much easier.

 Septic System:  An on-site, septic disposal system. Designed to take the waste from your home and digest, liquefy and return to the earth.  Modern Septic Systems usually contain a buried, concrete tank that is usually 1,000 to 1,500 gallon capacity.  This tank is where the solid waste from your home is stored until the bacteria and enzymes present in the tank can breakdown and liquefy the waste.  Once Liquefied, the waste can then leave the septic tank area and drain into the soil via drain fields and then ultimately back into the water table.

Drain Field:  A drain field is the portion of your septic system that takes the liquefied waste from your septic tank and disperses it throughout a particular portion of your property.  In the drain field, liquid waste is returned to the earth, often through gravel deposits and then of course back to the water table.

 Cesspools:  Essential Cesspools are septic tanks with a slightly different design.  This underground receptacle holds solid waste while allowing the liquid waste to seep out into the ground through the bottom and the edges.  This is a commonly misused term, although its definition pertains primarily to the design.

Biomat:  Biomat is another commonly used term.  It is the densely compacted, decaying solid waste that can cease the downward flow of water.  Biomat is commonly found throughout drain field or leach fields causing clogged or backed up flow.  It builds up at the gravel and soil interface causing liquid to back up and flood.  This is at the root of flooded or standing water over the drain field.

 Effluent:  Also referred to as the liquid waste from a septic tank. Effluent is the result of bacteria and enzymes digesting the solid waste from your home.  Effluent is then drained out into the soil via the drain fields.  Effluent travels through the many layers of earths’ natural filtration system and then ultimately back into your water table.

 Sludge:  Sludge is the semi-solid material found in septic tanks, cesspools and the like.  Typically floating on the surface, this sludge or bio-solids, can become overwhelming and cause major septic system clogging if not dealt with.  Also referred to as Sewer Sludge, the definition is the same.

Finding Your Septic System

Tuesday, January 1st, 2013

Your septic tank, drainfield, and reserve drainfield should be clearly designated on the “as-built” drawing for your home. (An “as-built” drawing is a line drawing that accurately portrays the buildings on your property and is usually filed in your local municipality building department’s records.) You might also see lids or manhole covers for your septic tank. Older tanks are often hard to find because there are no visible parts. An inspector/pumper can help you locate your septic system if your septic tank has no risers.

What is a Septic System and How Does it Work?

Tuesday, January 1st, 2013

The way in which a septic system works is pretty straight forward. They use natural processes and time to effectively break down household waste. This protects not only homeowners and their families, but also their property and the environment.

Keeping your septic tank in proper working order begins with good septic tank maintenance.

Basically, a septic system is smaller version of a municipal sewage treatment plant.

These types of systems are common in rural settings and areas that do not have easy access to city municipal services.

The key to this type of sewage system is the septic tank, without it, the outhouse would still be a common site along the many back roads and country lanes.

A septic system is made up of two main components; the drain field and the septic tank. It works by running the waste effluent through various stages inside the chambers that separate its internal makeup. The first chamber is the largest as it collects all the household waste water from the inlet pipe. As organic solids, commonly called sludge, enter the first chamber, they settle to the bottom. The sludge is then broken down and digested by different bacteria, some anaerobic but mostly facultative bacteria that produces a combination of carbon dioxide and methane gas. This helps stabilize the sludge and stops it from rotting. Most of the sludge will stay on the bottom of the tank, but a small amount will float forming a layer of scum.

All septic tanks are designed to allow the sludge to spend a maximum amount of time being exposed to the digestive bacteria’s. They do this by locating the inlet, overflow and outlet pipes diagonally across from each other. The pipes for the overflow and outlet are also vertically placed, forcing waste material to flow upward between stages. This makes the effluent travel a longer distance before entering the next phase of processing, furthering the break down of waste products during each phase.

After the semi-processed waste water leaves the first chamber via the vertical pipe overflows it enters the second chamber, forcing the waste water to go upward preventing large solids from getting into the second chamber. The same process is in place in the second chamber as in the first, as the organic matter is further digested and settled by bacterial microorganisms. The second chamber is normally about half the size of the first chamber and as a result, the effluent only spends about half as long processing before being discharged into the drain field.

The outlet to the drain field is located in the opposite corner from the overflow into the second chamber. Only waste water should be flowing into the drain field as all solids should have settled out into one of the two septic chambers. The waste water is further filtered and purified by the soil in the drain field before it is taken in by plant roots or filters downward to any ground water that exists in the area. The size of the drain field will be dependent on soil types and porosity.

Most septic tanks and systems are designed to use the pull of gravity to allow a natural flow of waste effluent from the home to its final destination in the drain field. In some instances, the lay of the land may not be conducive to a gravity fed system so a pump or pumps may be needed.

Septic Tank Pumping – Why and How Often?

Tuesday, January 1st, 2013

Establishing a septic tank pumping schedule is one of the most important aspects of maintenance, and a well-maintained system will provide years of good service.

How often a company will need to be called will vary. Based upon the size of the tank and the number of people living in the home, you can make your decision on the frequency of pumping. Taking this information into consideration:

Typically, a residence occupied by four people with a tank capacity of 1,250 gallons would need to be pumped out every 3.4 years. These numbers are based on homes that are occupied throughout the year.

Other Factors Affecting Frequency

Helpful bacteria live inside the tank and continuously feed on the waste material. Even though they’re not able to digest all the material, they reduce the amount of waste material enough to reduce the pumping frequency. On the other hand, material from the garbage disposal is much harder for these bacteria to breakdown, so basically, every food scrap that goes down the drain will sit in the tank until its pumped.

However, simply cleaning the tank is not the end of your maintenance.

If you pay a little extra and have your system inspected at the same time it’s cleaned you can ward off potential problems. Many issues can be inexpensive to fix if caught early, but if they linger they can cause problems in the drainfield, then the repairs become much more expensive. For example, the baffles can come loose and allow grease to flow into the drainfield. If this problem is caught quickly, the only expense would be reattaching the baffle; however, if the baffle is not repaired, grease will eventually clog the drainfield causing it to fail. Removing and replacing the drainfield could literally cost fifty to a hundred times more than reattaching the baffle.