A septic tank systems is an underground private sewage disposal system.  It is the best method of sewage disposal in areas where community sewage disposal facilities (sanitary sewers) are not available and where soil drainage is acceptable.

A septic tank system usually consists of two parts:

1.)  Septic Tank:  a water tight (usually concrete) container that receives untreated household waste.  Solids are retained here.

2.)  Tile Field:  a series of perforated pipes which distribute the liquid from the septic tank to the surrounding below ground soils.

How Does a Septic System Work?  

Waste material from the house enter the septic tank slowly so that solids and greases can either settle to the bottom and form a sludge layer or raise to the top and form a scum layer.  In between the sludge and scum layers is a layer of liquid waste known as effluent.

When waste enters the tank, bacteria begin to break down the solid materials.  This process is called decomposition. As a result of decomposition, solids are reduced, leaving a residue behind in the tank.  As time passes, the remaining residue builds up and must be removed via pumping to prevent it from entering the tile field and clogging the system.

The center liquid layer flows slowly from the tank into the tile field.  Pipes in the tile field are perforated.  This allows the liquid to be distributed equally in specially prepared gravel filled trenches.  Once the liquid reaches the trenches, it soaks into the soil.  The soil then acts as the final filter in the treatment of waste received by the septic system.

Why Is It Important to Maintain My Septic System?

  • A failing system can be very costly.  Often times failing systems are impossible to repair and must be replaced.  Even when the system can be repaired, the expense is much greater than that of a simple cleaning.  A failing septic system can also cause your property value to go down.  In other words, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”.
  • A filing septic system is a real health hazard.  Sewage may contain harmful disease causing bacteria and viruses.  When a system fails, sewage may back up into the house or may rise to the ground surface over the tile field.  Therefore, people and pets may be exposed to these harmful bacteria and viruses.
  • A failing septic systems is a real nuisance.  When a system fails, there is the possibility that it will cause damage to your property.  Offensive odors in the house and outside area are also results of a failing system.
  • A failing septic system may also result in the discharge of sewage into nearby lakes or streams, resulting in impaired water quality and beach closings.

Septic System Checklist – The Do’s and Don’ts

  • Do have the septic tank pumped out by a licensed operator every 2-3 years depending on use.
  • Do know where it is located and have a way to reach it to be sure it can be pumped easily.
  • Do limit the amount of kitchen waste you put into the system through a garbage disposal.
  • Do make normal use of bleaches, detergents, soaps, bowl cleaners or drain cleaners.
  • Do Not allow heavy vehicles to drive over the tile field, the drain tiles could be damaged.
  • Do Not allow trees and shrubs to grow over the septic field.
  • Do Not allow large amounts of water to be drained into the septic tank at the same time.
  • Do Not connect downspouts, sump pumps, or water softener backwash to the septic system.
  • Do Not put harmful materials down your drains such as fats, oils, septic additives, solvents or solids like plastic, paper towels, feminine products or disposable diapers.

Warning Signs of a Septic System Failure

  • Odors, surfacing sewage, wet spots or lush vegetation in the drain field area.
  • Plumbing or septic tank backups.
  • Slow draining fixtures not due to local clogging.
  • Gurgling sounds in the plumbing system.

If you notice any of these signs or if you suspect problems with your septic tank system, contact the local health department or a qualified professional for assistance.