Understanding and Living with a Septic System
Here is an excellent explanation of how a septic system works, originally posted by Ed Silva. If used properly there is no need to fear a septic system. Many homes in our area along the Main Line have septic systems including surprisingly many homes in Lower Merion Township in Montgomery County, and of course out in Chester County it is very common with many having wells also.
If you ever wondered how a septic system works this is a great place to start.
The Basics of a Self Contained Disposal System
For many people who have spent their lives living in a city, the concept of not having sewers for waste disposal can be a concern. For better than 60% of our country’s population a self contained subsurface disposal system is a way of life and once the responsibilities associated with a system of this type are understood and accepted their use becomes second nature.
Homes have always had to deal with disposal and early on for many it was a matter of digging a hole in the yard and providing a barrier to offer some privacy. Once ‘filled’, the hole was covered, a new one was dug and the cover moved.
The basic components of a modern septic system would be a collection or septic tank, a distribution box and dispersion legs or leech fields. All of these are connected by piping, some of which is perforated to allow the liquids to disperse.
The size and design of the system is normally based on the number of bedrooms in a home and also the type of soil. The best soil would allow for easy dispersion of the liquids and normally means a less expensive and smaller system. With new construction, a septic field would be designed for current usage, as well as allowing for future requirements with a secondary field.
When a home is also being serviced by well, the waste system would be designed to be a minimum of 75 feet away from the well or as required by local health districts.
Household wastewater pipe – With the advent of indoor plumbing, the system was refined to provide a more stable design and this also has evolved over the years. Each time you turn on a faucet or flush a toilet, wastewater is carried through a pipe and into your septic system. The number of people living in your home and your water usage habits determine the flow going into the system. If a system isn’t designed to handle the volume of wastewater flowing into it, an overload occurs, and that can mean big problems for a homeowner.
Septic tank – The size of the tank is determined by house size and water usage. It may also be mandated by state and/or local regulations. The number of bedrooms is a good guide. A three-bedroom house typically requires a 1,000-gallon tank, and it increases 250 gallons for each additional bedroom.
Inside the tank, the heavier solid material sinks to the bottom, and fats and grease float on top. The liquid effluent in between flows out to the drain field (or in some older installations, a rock-filled pit called a French drain) through a T-shaped outlet that helps prevent solids from escaping. A screen or filter is required in some states to prevent solids from escaping. The sludge –
solids that collect in the bottom of the tank – periodically has to be removed by pumping. Some tanks have risers with bolted lids that allow easy access for checking sludge levels without opening the tank.
Drain field – An underground pipe carries the liquid effluent from the tank to the drain field, where it’s distributed into a series of shallow trenches lined with gravel and covered with soil, or plastic chambers covered with soil. The soil in the absorption field is loaded with bacteria, which purify the liquid waste before it makes its way into groundwater.
The area ideally should be covered with nothing but grass. Tree roots, heavy vehicles or even compaction from excess foot traffic can cause irreparable damage.
The occupants of the home should also exercise care in a number of ways to prolong the life of the septic system. Modern technology allows water to be conserved by means of specially designed toilets which use less water per flush.
Water restrictors on faucets allow for water pressure to flow with similar pressure but with reduced consumption. Keeping cooking fats and grease out of the system also prevents clogged drains and a deterioration of the bacteria necessary to decompose the solids in the waste stream.
Changing household detergents and soaps to those that are environmentally safe for septic systems also prevents clogs pipes.
A properly designed and maintained system will last many years. The system should ideally have the septic tank emptied out once a year to remove sludge and waste from the tank. A certified hauler will also check on the condition of the tank to ensure its proper operation.
Any repairs involving a septic system must be done by a qualified specialist with the advise and consent of a local environmental professional. This ensures that the system will be installed or repaired properly and will avoid complications later which can be far more costly to remedy.
While septic system may not offer all of the carefree use as a municipal sewer system, they will perform well for the how owner that exercises the proper care and conservation.
Understanding and Living with a Septic System
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