What is a Septic System? How it Works

Many people may find septic systems strange. However, they are significant to those families who use them. If you’ve always lived in a house connected to the main sewage line, chances are you haven’t even heard of a septic framework, let alone understand what a septic system is. 

Continue reading to learn what a septic tank is, how it works, how to maintain one, and the signs that one is failing.

What is a Septic System?

Septic System

A septic system is a waste disposal method. Its purpose is to remove and contain solids, liquids, and gases from liquid waste. It is a closed, underground network of pipes and tanks used to collect and dispose of liquid waste. A septic tank removes the solids, and the liquid waste is discharged into the environment.

This system is used to treat liquid waste produced by humans. They are commonly found on properties with swimming pools, where untreated wastewater can promote bacteria or algae growth.

How Does a Septic System Work?

Residential septic systems are classified into two types: conventional and advanced. Although their working principles are frequently similar, they serve various purposes and are employed in different situations.

How a traditional septic system works

A traditional septic system collects wastewater from your drains and toilets. It collects particles and sludge in a septic tank and transports liquids to a septic drain field. Bacteria in your drain field degrade wastewater contaminants and treated effluent flows to the soil and groundwater on your property.

That is the broad answer. To better understand how a standard septic system works, we may divide the wastewater treatment procedure into stages:

  • Wastewater from your toilet (blackwater) and your washing machine, bathtub, sink, and dishwasher (graywater) goes into a primary drainage line that flows to your septic tank.
  • Solid waste accumulates at the bottom of your septic tank and solidifies as sludge. While scum is formed in your septic tank when fats, oils, and greases rise to the top.
  • Anaerobic microorganisms (bacteria that do not require oxygen) feed on solid waste contaminants in your septic tank.
  • Liquids flow via an effluent filter towards the septic tank’s outlet, and the filtered liquids travel through a line to your septic drain field.
  • Your drain field’s perforated pipes allow wastewater to sink into a layer of gravel, and aerobic microorganisms (oxygen-requiring bacteria) degrade pollutants when wastewater filters down through the gravel layer and into your native soil.
  • Any leftover pollutants are eliminated from your local soil. These contaminants might contain pathogenic bacteria, viruses, parasites, and nutrients.
  • Treated wastewater eventually reaches groundwater and pours into surrounding rivers, lakes, and streams.

How an advanced septic system works

A modern septic system works by collecting wastewater from your septic tank and reducing concentrations of organic matter, pathogens, suspended particles, and, in certain situations, nutrients such as phosphate or nitrogen. The system sends wastewater downstream after treatment, where it finally returns to your soil, a ditch, or a waterway.

Advanced septic systems are most commonly seen on sites that have:

  • insufficient or lacking space for a traditional septic drain field.
  • shallow soil that is not conducive to wastewater percolation.
  • impenetrable bedrock or soil that prevents purified wastewater from permeating the surface.
  • In sensitive areas, additional wastewater treatment methods are required, necessitating additional wastewater treatment methods.
  • stringent local environmental laws.

The most significant difference between traditional and advanced septic systems is the location of the bulk of treatment. Traditional septic systems eliminate most wastewater contaminants in the septic drain field. While most contaminants are eliminated in the advanced section before the wastewater is released into the environment in advanced septic systems.

SEE: What is Dumpster Diving?

What Components Make Up a Septic System?

You might want to examine more closely at the roles of each component of a septic system to have a deeper grasp of how it operates.

A traditional septic system consists of four major components: a pipe carrying wastewater from your household, a septic tank, a pipe connecting your septic tank to your drain field (or storm drain), and the drain field itself.

An advanced septic system is often similar in design but contains one or more treatment systems built between your septic tank and the region where clean wastewater is distributed.

How Long Do Septic Tanks Last?

septic tank installation

Septic systems do not last forever. Nonetheless, a well-established, well-maintained septic tank and drain field can undoubtedly last up to 40 years or more.

However, an ineffectively planned or implemented septic system can detonate surprisingly quickly. Meanwhile, how you use your septic system—what and how much you put into it—will determine the life expectancy of your home waste removal from that point forward.

With just the right amount of planning and consideration for the future of your septic system, you can keep it running as expected and worry-free. Depending on its design and use, your septic system can be an expensive nightmare or a generally trouble-free one. 

SEE: What is a Trash Compactor?

How Do You Keep a Septic System in Good Working Order?

Septic systems require care and maintenance to function properly. The good news is that septic system maintenance is relatively simple. Here’s how you can keep things running smoothly.

1. Watch what you transmit via the system. Never flush paint, kitty litter, chemicals, coffee grinds, disposable wipes, diapers, or feminine items down the toilet. Any of these might cause a blockage in the septic system.

2. Any additives should be avoided in the system. According to the National Small Flows Clearinghouse, there are two sorts of additives: chemical and biological. Though these treatments claim to do everything from accelerating solids breakdown to improving drain field condition, they frequently harm the bacteria that are supposed to keep the system running smoothly.

3. Never park or drive across a drain field because the vehicle’s weight may destroy the pipes.

4. Apply caution when planting shrubs or trees near a drain field. Weeping willows, for example, can send roots down the drain field, outlet pipes, or even the septic tank itself. A reasonable rule of thumb is to keep trees at least 25 feet away from the drain field if they eventually reach a height of 25 feet.

5. Get the tank pumped out by a qualified septic provider, typically every two to three years. At the same time, the specialist will usually perform a visual assessment of the component.

What Are the Signs of a Failing Septic System?

It is critical to notice the warning signals of impending failure before they occur. A septic system failure may be overlooked at first. It’s a good idea to keep an eye out for the warning signs so you can arrange a replacement before it fails.

  • Exterior drains are making gurgling noises.
  • Sink and bathtub interior drains take their time to empty.
  • The home’s sewers, septic tank, and drainfield all emit unpleasant smells.
  • The drainfield has wet spots visible above it.
  • The house is being flooded by sewage.
  • Toilets are taking longer to flush.
  • Outside, the plants over the drainfield may suddenly become full and lush, signaling a probable obstruction or break in the exit pipes.

SEE: What is a Continuous Feed Garbage Disposal?

How often should a septic tank be pumped?

Owning a septic system necessitates regular maintenance! According to the EPA, a normal system should be examined at least once every three years, and septic tanks should be flushed every three to five years.

If your system has electrical pumps, float switches, or other mechanical components, it may need to be evaluated annually. In addition, household size, the amount of wastewater your house and septic tank create, and the number of particles in the wastewater will determine how frequently your tank must be pumped.

Is sewage the same as septic?

The difference between sewer and septic systems is straightforward. Septic systems treat wastewater on-site, and you are liable for the installation and maintenance costs. While your local authority manages and funds a centralized treatment facility for your wastewater through fees and taxes; the facility is served by a sewer.

When properly maintained, septic systems have the added benefit of being ecologically friendly. Septic systems need significantly less infrastructure than municipal sewers. Furthermore, they utilize less energy than local treatment facilities and rarely employ chemicals to remove contaminants from wastewater.

Septic systems are also useful instruments for conserving your community’s water supply. They return treated wastewater to your land, replenishing groundwater and providing nutrients to trees and other plants.

Bottom Line

Septic systems are used in around 20% of residences in the United States to remove wastewater. While septic systems require a bit more maintenance than municipal sewer systems, they aren’t as tough to maintain as their reputation suggests.

A well-maintained septic system may last 40 years with regular maintenance and an eye out for symptoms of potential problems. It is critical for purchasers contemplating a property with a septic system to have it inspected by a professional.

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