About 1 in 4 American homes have septic systems. They are particularly common in rural areas where there is no municipal sewer service. Instead of sending waste through the sewer mains to a central treatment facility, a Septic System pumps liquid and solid waste out of the house into a drain field or underground septic tank.
How the septic system works
Traditional septic systems allow all water and any wastes to flow down the home’s drain and then through one main sewer pipe to the tank. Either gravity or an electric pump can increase the flow of wastewater. The solids in the septic tank are allowed to settle to the bottom, while oil, grease, and liquids (the scum later) float to the top. The liquids on the top of the scum eventually flow into porous pipes that lead to a drain field with gravel and other aggregates. As bacteria break down pathogens, the liquids slowly filter through the soil. It is almost sterile by the time that the liquid waste filters to groundwater sources.
The solids in the tank are slowly being broken down by anaerobic bacteria. This creates a sludgy substance that settles at the bottom of the tank. These solid wastes will be greatly reduced in volume if the bacterial action is successful.
Anatomy of a septic tank
Concrete, fiberglass, and polyethylene are used to make the septic tank a watertight container. It is buried in the ground near the house. It has an inlet pipe to collect waste from the home’s main sewer line and an outlet pipe to allow liquids to flow to the drain field. The tank’s top is hidden slightly below the soil. It is visible except for a few inspection tubes and a manhole covering that allows liquids to flow onward to the drain field.
When is it time to have your septic tank pumped?
The EPA recommends that septic tanks be inspected at least once every two to three decades. Mechanical pumping may also be required for systems that are too small or subject to heavy usage. There are some systems that have pumps, electrical float switches, or other mechanical components. These need to be inspected more frequently, usually once a year.
Pumping refers to the removal of sludge from the bottom septic tank. This must be done before sludge becomes too thick and blocks the pipe that allows liquids to flow into the drain field. There are several factors that affect the frequency of pumping.
- Household size: Larger houses, as you can see, produce more waste and fill up the septic tank quicker.
- The amount of wastewater generated The volume of wastewater that flows into the septic tanks can have an impact on how quickly it fills up.
- The number of solids in wastewater: Households that have many toilets or make frequent use of garbage disposals tend to fill the septic tank faster.
- Size of a septic tank: Larger tanks will hold more solid waste and require less pumping.
There are several ways you can estimate the time when your tank should be pumped. An example of this is a four-bedroom house with a 1,200- to 1,500-gallon tank. For a family with four members, the tank should be pumped approximately every three to five years.
How to pump a septic tank
A professional septic service will inspect your tank on a regular basis and tell you when it is time for you to drain the sludge. This is generally when the floating scum that lies between the sludge & floating water is within 6 inches of your drain field pipe.
After the cover has been removed, the technicians bring a large tanker truck equipped with vacuum equipment. Technicians then insert a long hose into the tank through the manhole. The truck’s equipment suckers out the contents of a septic tank. A technician will usually stir the tank using a muckrake. This helps make pumping easier. The cost of pumping a toilet tank can vary depending on where you live and how large it is.
Tips to maintain a septic system
You can take proactive steps to ensure your septic system is operating efficiently and reduce pumping frequency:
- Reducing water consumption. High-efficiency, water-saving plumbing fixtures and faucets can significantly reduce the amount of water entering the septic tank. You can also reduce water consumption by fixing leaks and drips. This will help to prevent the septic tank from filling up faster.
- Reducing solid waste: Monitoring solid waste entering the septic tank is another way to ensure it works properly. The septic system can be overburdened if it is not cleaned out or flushed down the toilet. Avoid flushing anything but toilet paper down your toilet. Also, avoid using garbage disposals that dump organic food wastes into your septic system. It is easy to throw things in the trash, but it can make a huge difference in the management and operation of your septic system.
- Direct rainwater from the drain field. Landscape grading and downspouts that funnel water onto the drain field of the septic tank can hinder its ability to disperse the water.
- Do not drain hot tubs into your drain system
- Do not flush chemicals down your drain Avoid flushing chemicals down the drain as they can inhibit the bacteria’s ability to break down solid wastes. These additives can also be used in commercial septic tanks. They are more harmful than beneficial. Do not use septic tank chemicals unless a professional has recommended it.
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- Septic pumping
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- Complete septic system replacement