If you are from a city or area of the country or a city that only has sewer systems, the thought of having a septic system in your yard for waste disposal might seem a bit overwhelming, and as a 3 year old might say, “Icky”. A septic systems is not something to be feared; in fact it is more environmentally friendly and can be much more cost effective than a sewer system.
With a septic system, as with sewers, all of the wastewater from your home leaves through a single drain pipe. Instead of running to the street to join up with your neighbors waste, the water and waste first flow into your septic tank. Once in the tank, the waste separates from the water, with oils rising to the top as scum and solid waste settling to the bottom as sludge.
Bacteria in this first chamber help to break down the solids and oils so that they can eventually be transported away with the water (grey water) Limiting the disposal of anti-bacterial products into the septic system and having your septic tank pumped out regularly (every 3 years or so) will help to keep your septic system working indefinitely. Modern septic systems can last well over 50 years when well maintained.
The grey water, which now has +90% of particles removed, then passes through an outlet specifically designed to keep the sludge and scum in the first chamber, and then into the next chamber of the septic tank. Here the remaining particles separate and pass through one final filter before spreading out into the leaching field.
Leaching field sounds like something quite ominous, which is why it is commonly called a drain field; in either case, the field is simply comprised of a distribution box that directs the flow of the water, and a bunch of perforated pipe buried in sand and gravel. As the water moves through the pipe it seeps gradually into the ground where Mother Nature can re-absorb the nutrients and filter the water once again so that it is as clean as when it came out of your faucet the first time.
Now you may have heard of sections of a leaching field needing rest. What’s happened in these cases is that the pipe has accumulated a significant amount of biomass and is not draining as effectively as it should. By resting this section, no new waste is added, but the bacteria continue to break down the organic matter allowing the pipe to slowly drain.
Southern Connecticut is a great place for septic. The geology of the area has created very good draining soils. This helps the septic system and allows the water to flow away easily. Septic systems require almost the same care as a sewer connection - septic systems work for decades and require only minimal upkeep. A septic system will require cleaning every 2-3 years for a few hundred dollars, whereas a sewer carries a monthly charge.
If you are coming from a home with sewer and looking at a house with septic, don’t be deterred, they are out of sight and won't impact your day to day life. But before purchasing a home with septic, you should make sure to have the system inspected, and ensure that it is in good working order. Septic tanks and leaching fields are sized based on the number of bedrooms and expected load on the system. Generally this should not be a problem, but if you plan to add an addition to the house to accommodate a larger family, make sure that the system can support your needs.
This article was originally written for DagnysRealEstate.com