septic systems




Septic systems are one of the best choices for treating household wastewater delivering a more economical and environmentally friendly option than sewage treatment. Some community leaders seem to overestimate the technological capabilities of sewage treatment facilities, assuming they can eliminate contaminates in wastewater, when they can only reduce them. The reality is cities across the country are fined millions every year after discharging millions of gallons of contaminated water into waterways. This contributes to Red Tide outbreaks and other environment/health concerns in coastal communities and leading to thousands of beach closings every year. Unfortunately, with so many sewage treatment facilities currently overloaded and in desperate need of major updating, which requires millions in tax payer dollars, these environmental tragedies will continue to occur as the strain imposed on these already overburdened systems increases.

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Learn How A Septic System Works

Process Begins

Wastewater leaves the house and enters the septic tank. The septic tank performs two functions. First it acts as a holding tank and allows the solids to settle out. The heavier solids sink to the bottom forming the sludge layer. The lighter solids, fats, oils, grease, etc… rise to the surface and form the scum layer. The relatively clear layer in the middle is called effluent. Second, naturally occurring anaerobic bacteria begin breaking down the solids in size and destroying the pathogens. This is a standard septic system. The treatment process starts in the septic tank and is completed in and around the drainfield. 

Treatment Process

After the treatment process is started in the septic tank, the effluent enters the soil treatment phase of the process (baffles and/or filters prevent the larger floating solids from exiting the septic tank and entering the drainfield). The soil treatment system, more commonly called the drainfield, is comprised of distribution pipes or chambers laid in a trench or bed and covered with topsoil. Some of the older systems have rock in them.


Soil Treatment Phase

As the effluent enters the drainfield, it percolates through the drainfield bed where a large portion of the pathogens are destroyed. Pockets of oxygen in the pipes, chambers (or rock) allow the more efficient aerobic bacteria to exist. When the effluent exits the drainfield, the natural soil beneath completes the treatment process. By the time the effluent has traveled 2-3 feet through the soil, all the remaining pathogens have been destroyed and the water is drinking quality. The cleaning process continues as the water migrates through the soil. Phosphorus and nitrogen are utilized by the vegetative life covering the drainfield and chemically changed in the soil. A large portion of the moisture is returned to the atmosphere through evaporation (evapotranspiration).n and around the drainfield. 

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Septic Service FAQ


Failures can be avoided by learning how a septic system functions, how to properly use it, and what steps you can take to protect it. The basics of protecting a system are really quite simple, once you realize that they work on a bacterial process. and bacteria can’t break down plastic,  polyester or nylon….too many harsh cleaning solutions will kill off the good bacteria. Regularly pumping your septic tank for maintenance is the key! Also a septic system can only handle a certain amount of water per day. If you put more water down the drain than it can handle, you will overload the system.

Install water-saving appliances, devices, and practice water-saving techniques. Repair plumbing leaks. Leaking toilet valves are a major culprit of hydraulic overload, putting hundreds of gallons of water through the system every day.

​Install filters for the washing machines to remove the fine solids from the discharge, and do not use or minimize the use of garbage disposals. Installing septic tank filters also helps to prevent the solids from entering the drainfield.

Conserve chemical usage. Automatic toilet bowl cleaners can be very hard on a system because they kill the bad bacteria in the toilet, but the killing process continues throughout the system. This also holds true for laundry soaps and antibiotics!

Water use should be spread out. Do one or two loads of laundry per day rather than making 1 day laundry day!

​Exit baffles should be replaced with effluent filters. These cleanable filters prevent the larger solids from reaching the drainfield.

Have the tank pumped and inspected every one to three years. Tanks should be pumped and inspected through the manhole cover, not the main line clean out pipe. This is proper maintenance, and is the same principle as giving your car an oil change every so many miles….to prevent the engine from going bad too soon. Pumping your tank regularly will help to extend the life of your drainfield.

All cars, trucks and other vehicles and heavy foot traffic should be kept off the drainfield. The drainfield pipes or chambers become crushed, compacting the soil and destroying the natural (drainage) structure, which also prevents the effluent from entering the drainfield. This generally results in having to replace your drainfield since there are no other permanent solutions.

These devices can put several hundred gallons of water down the drain every week that is not contaminated and does not need to go through the treatment process. Also if you have the salt type water softener, the sodium can harm your drainfield by causing the soils to seal rather than stay porous and breathable. Up-grade your softener with a newer efficient model that uses less water and regenerates on demand (when you use X number of gallons of water) instead of a timer system that regenerates whether you use water or not. You can also install a mini septic system for your softener. 

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Buying or Building a Home?

Septic Systems for New Home Construction

If you are building a house, make sure the contractor that designs and installs your system is a certified professional. Don't make a mistake of hiring someone because they are the cheapest! Go with the contractor with the best track record (look at their reviews!). Many people have saved a few bucks on the first installation only to have the system fail 1, 2, 3 years later and by that time the original contractor is out of business or refuses to correct the problem because the warranty is up. Now the second system can be even more expensive because the yard is landscaped and the choices for the replacement are narrowed down.

Buying a Home With a Septic System

If you are buying a home with a septic system (Please find out!), hire an independent septic contractor to perform a full inspection. Don't depend on the realtor's inspector to give you a straight story. (Did you see the DATELINE story on home inspectors?) Even many county inspectors will only flush the toilet 3 times and look in the yard for surface discharge. In many cases, once you buy the house, the problem is yours and there have been cases where the people have been kicked out of their home weeks after moving in because the failed system is a serious health risk to the public.

Always Get a Septic System Inspection!

It's critically important to always have your septic system inspected when buying a home to protect your investment and uncover any problems. All inspections should include pumping of the septic tank so that any issues of the septic tank can be seen. Any up-grades can/should be negotiated into the selling price of the home. If no problems are found, then you know you are starting with a good system and it is up to you to take care of the system from the beginning. If the seller refuses an inspection, you should take this as a sign of potential problems and walk away or plan your money accordingly. Learn about your septic system and how it works, how often to pump the tank, types of cleaners you should avoid, what never to flush down the drain, etc. As for the "magic elixir" everyone tries to sell you....forget about it! You don't need to add any bacteria to the system due to the fact that all the bacteria you need is in human waste. Typically the only time you do need to add any bacteria is if there is an abundance of antiseptics, antibiotics, or other types of cancer drugs going into the system. There are no short cuts. The only thing that will prevent a system failure is knowing how your system operates, common sense, maintenance, and taking preventive steps to protect your system.

Read This Homeowner's Guide to Septic Systems!

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