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SEPTIC 101 — the basics

We are going to get back to the basics today.  This post is a general overview of septic systems.  With the recent rains and snow melt, many customers are realizing just how much Mother Nature can impact their wastewater.  It really is important you understand how your system works and what all can effect it’s function.

As I have stated before in previous posts/blogs/articles, so many people don’t really know how their wastewater systems work.  Because they don’t know how they work, they don’t understand simple “dos” and “don’ts” of a septic system.   I totally get it!  Until I got drug into this business I never pondered what happened every time I flushed.  I doubt you do either.  However, when it comes to your own on-site wastewater system (i.e. septic systems) if you don’t ponder it just a little bit, it can lead to big, messy, gross, disgusting, expensive problem.

Have I enticed you enough thus far?

Great, let’s dig in!

Today, I’m going to write an overview of how a septic system functions.   I mean, if you’re going to understand something you need to start with how it works, right?  Right.

Septic tank sketch with house

The diagram above is a basic description of what happens to all the wastewater in your home.  I realize the picture just attaches to two toilets, but in your typical house, ALL the water used (dishwasher, washing machine, bathtub, shower, and the toilets) drains into a septic tank.  Here the water has its first treatment.  Any solids (toilet paper, poo, garbage disposal items, etc.) are broken down and their remains settle to the bottom of the tank.  Bacteria does a lot of work in the tank as does anaerobic respiration.  After a while, the water slowly drains to the leachfield/drainfield.  This is where the soil does its final treatment of all the “ick” that comes out of the house.

It’s really pretty simple – out of the house — to the tank — slowly to the drainfield.  But what else?  Why could I have a mess someday?  What could I do to screw up this process?  How do I make sure my system always works properly?

I will touch on a few items here today, but elaborate in articles to come – I gotta keep you hooked and coming back for more wastewater knowledge, don’t I?

Basic issues with septic systems that can lead to “messes” are as follows:

1)  Too much water usage:

–       When your system is installed, it is “sized” for your house.  It’s not much different than knowing your own pants size.  You know what fits and what doesn’t, right?  Same is true with your home.  If you are building a 4 bedroom house, it is assumed there is at least 1 person per bedroom using about 100 gallons of water a day.  However, if 8 people move into this 4 bedroom house, you’re gonna have problems!  It’s like trying trying to catch 20 gallons of water with a 5 gallon bucket, it just won’t work.  Also, if there happens to be any water leaks in the house, the same scenario applies.  Your system is sized for the number of bedrooms in your house.  More water than that and you’ll see problems

2)  Toilet paper/items flushed:

–       You need to be very careful about what is flushed down the toilet.  Items can get easily plugged or caught in the drain lines.  Using cheap, single-ply toilet paper is key.  Just because something says it is septic safe, doesn’t really mean it is.  If water can’t break it into small pieces, don’t flush it.

3)  Laterfield/leachfield/drainfield:

–       Know where it is and leave it alone.  Don’t drive over it, build over it, or plant anything more than grass on it.  It needs to be free to evaporate water.

4)  Pump tank regularly:

–       Think about your septic tank like you do changing the oil on your car.  It is something that needs to be pumped/serviced regularly.  The more people who live in the house, the more frequently you need to keep it pumped.

And that’s it for today.  Wasn’t it fun? I know I always truly enjoy talking poo, hopefully in time, you will as well! See you next week!