With only around a fifth of American homes having a septic tank system, it is a rare concept for many. Many households are connected to the municipal sewerage system, and if you have always lived in such a home, you have probably never heard of a septic system or how it works.

In this article, we will explain what a septic tank is and how it works, including why having a properly functioning septic system is vital for households not connected to the municipal or local sewerage system.

What is a Septic Tank System?

A septic tank system is an on-site sewerage facility or wastewater treatment system. It works by collecting, treating, and organically disposing wastewater from the house. A typical septic system consists of two main parts; a septic tank and a drain field. Other features include exit pipes and a distribution box.

A septic tank is an underground watertight tank normally made of concrete, plastic, or fiberglass. It is normally located about six feet from the house. The drain field is adjacent to the septic tank and consists of distribution boxes and a network of pipes connecting it to the tank. Typically, a septic system is relatively simple in design.

How Does a Septic System Work?

A septic tank consists of an inlet and an outlet pipe. The inlet pipe transports wastewater from the house to the septic tank. The pipe is connected to a network of exit pipes, including from the toilet, the bathroom, the kitchen, and the laundry area. The septic system naturally digests and separates the wastewater into floatable material or scum, solids, and liquid waste.

The solid waste or sludge consists of inorganic solids and naturally settles at the bottom of the septic tank. The layer of scum usually consists of fats, greases, and oils, which rise to the top while the liquid waste or effluent remains in the middle. Bacteria is the main component of a septic system. Bacteria and other microorganisms break down or consume the scum and sludge, leaving the effluent clean enough to return to the groundwater.

In a conventional septic system, the effluent is discharged from the septic tank through perforated pipes into the adjacent drain field. The perforated pipes are designed to slowly release the effluent or watery mix into the drain field. While bacteria keep the process in the tank running, they are most useful in the drain field.

The microorganisms in the soil combine with other elements to purify and filter the watery mix as it percolates into the earth. In most cases, the bacteria in the drain field completely decompose the waste. A septic system works by keeping bacteria healthy and busy, with the drain field providing a large area for bacteria to thrive. The drain field is made up of soil and gravel, allowing oxygen to reach the bacteria hence the thriving.

Since bacteria don’t consume and dissolve all the solids and floatable waste, a septic tank can fill up after some time. Accordingly, a homeowner needs to regularly clean and pump their tank.

Why it is Important to have a Properly Functioning Septic System

The septic tank is part of your house plumbing system, with your home pipes directly connecting to it. Accordingly, all kinds of wastewater that goes down your drain end up in the septic tank. A septic tank will likely fill up and back this waste into the house without regular pumping or cleaning.

A full tank or an improperly functioning one can be a significant health hazard for your household. The filthy water backing up into the kitchen sink, toilet, or bathroom is a sore mess that will likely make your family sick. It is advisable to have proper and routine maintenance for your septic system to avoid full tank emergencies.

While septic system experts recommend pumping your tank every 3 to 5 years, you should pump or clean your septic tank as needed. You should not wait for an emergency to clean your septic tank. It is advisable to seek regular professional septic tank inspection services as part of your maintenance routine.

The Rules of Septic Tank System Maintenance

According to experts, a properly installed septic system can last for more than 40 years with proper and regular maintenance. While septic tank replacements are rare, improper use and poor maintenance can destroy the system leading to malfunctions or even a replacement for relatively new septic tanks.

However, some do’s and don’ts can ensure your septic system is functioning as it should and will last as long as the experts say it should. Some of the rules include the following;

  1. Avoid disposing of non-degradable materials, including paper towels, diapers, and cigarette butts, through the septic system. These materials often cause problems, including clogging your pipes.
  2. Use a garbage can to dispose of the non-degradable materials.
  3. Limit or eliminate the use of household chemicals in your septic system, including detergents, bleach, and fabric softeners. The chemicals are likely to disrupt the septic system functionality.
  4. Avoid pumping too much wastewater over a short period, as it can strain the septic tank system.
  5. Do not plant trees or shrubs over or close to your drain field, as the roots can damage and clog pipes.
  6. Never drive or park on your drain field; the car’s weight can destroy the septic system functionality.

With a standard septic system lasting as long as forty years, proper septic tank system use and maintenance is vital for households using the on-site wastewater treatment system. However, as a homeowner, you need to know how it works to ensure your septic system is functioning properly and to guarantee an extended life. The article breaks down what a septic tank system is and how it works to ensure you avoid unnecessary repair emergencies or an ‘early’ replacement. While proper maintenance is your responsibility, you can partner with our septic tank experts at Curtis Plumbing for professional services, including septic installation, inspection, maintenance, repair, and replacement services. Contact us today to schedule an appointment and learn more about our services.