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This spring, I have visited with so many people about their septic systems.  Obviously, it’s been a wet spring, so this has led to many conversations about water usage, the impact of our dear Mother Nature and septic system functionality in general.  However, with so many people moving to the country and being “new to septic” I thought I’d take some time to give a quick lesson of what a septic system is and how it’s designed to work.

I mean, isn’t that what everyone wants to learn more about – wastewater, water usage, poop, and toilet paper?  I figure this is a win-win for everyone. (I should also warn you my first language is sarcasm…brace yourselves accordingly).

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 above drawing gives you a basic idea of the components of a septic system.  It’s really pretty simple – all water comes out of the house in one location, goes to the tank and then drains slowly to the  lateral field.  Your lateral field is underground and is made to create space for water to be absorbed or evaporated.  Your tank, when functioning properly, is always full of water.  In fact, after we come to pump your tank for regular maintenance, it only takes about 4-5 days for it to fill back up again with normal water usage. When we come to pump your tank, our goal is to clean out the solid matter that collects over time from the house (i.e. toilet paper, poo, and garbage disposal remnants).  Obviously, we take all the water too, but when we come to pump, our main objective is to get the solids.  We do this so over time it doesn’t get so full that the solids drain out to the lateral field and plug it up.  This is why pumping your tank regularly is so important.  It helps extend the life of a septic system’s lateral field.

But what else?  Why could you have a mess someday?  What could you do to screw up this process?  How do you make sure your 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:

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 (i.e. back ups into the house or pooling water over your lateral field).

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.  Stay away from toilet paper that is thick, quilted, and 2-3 ply.  This type of paper can maintain its integrity in the line and cause clogs in the line or baffle region of the tank.  This is not good.  I will say it again, if water can’t break it into tiny pieces, don’t flush it.


–       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.  Also, divert any run-off water AWAY from this area.

Pump tank regularly:

–       Think about your septic tank like you do changing the oil on your car.  It needs to be done regularly.  The more people who live in the house, the more frequently you need to keep it pumped. Typical recommendations are every 3-5 years.

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!