BLINK Realty Group's Blog
If you’ve ever lived in the country, or even inside city limits but beyond the reach of the city’s sewer system, you may not know much about a septic system and how to take care of it. Just the idea that a home has a septic tank might scare you away and send you looking for a house with a sewer connection. The truth is, when properly cared for, a septic system can last for decades. And care for your system isn’t all that hard. Just remember a few basic rules.
How it works
A septic system uses bacteria and enzymes to breakdown solid waste that enters a large, typically watertight concrete, fiberglass, or polyethylene tank. As the solid and liquid waste flows into the tank, the solids settle on the bottom to for “sludge” while the oils and grease float to the top to form “scum.” The wastewater (called “effluent”) flows out from between the sludge and the scum into a drain field (long, perforated pipes buried in gravel trenches spread across a large area) to be evaporated or percolate into the ground.
Inside the tank, bacteria break down the solid waste. To handle the scum, regularly adding enzymes designed for septic systems can break down the scum so that it becomes solid (to settle to the bottom) and liquid (to flow out to the drain field).
If your septic tank is not yet installed—that is, if you’re building on site in an area without a city sewer connection—make sure you apply for the proper permit. Officials from your county or city building department or health department most likely will need to perform a soil or percolation test (sometimes referred to as a perc test). They need to determine if the ground can support a septic system. In addition to the septic tank, septic systems need either a drainage field or a scum pond, so you need plenty of space for the system to work.
Septic system size varies depending on the size of the home and the number of bathrooms it has, so if you intend adding on to your home, or putting an apartment over the garage later, factor in a larger septic system.
Use common sense
Systems can be overloaded when too much water or waste enters the system without time for it to properly deal with the load. Excessive large loads of laundry and the same time as showers, toilets, and the dishwasher are in use, for example, might temporarily overload the system.
To reduce the load, use flow restrictors and aerators on faucets and showerheads, and use low-water, energy efficient equipment for clothes and dishes. Install efficient toilets as well to minimize the water flow, but don’t reduce the water too much, because solid waste needs water to properly function.
Do not park vehicles on the drain field and be careful not to build over the top of the pipes. Even a small storage shed can crush the pipes and damage your septic system.
Beware the disposal
In the kitchen, don’t use the disposal excessively for food waste since that taxes the septic system’s ability to break down the solids. Undigested food requires much more effort for the bacteria to break it down.
In the same way, do not pour grease and oils down the drain since these end up as scum. When either the scum layer or the sludge layer becomes too thick and cannot be broken down by the bacteria or the enzymes, your tank will need pumping.
In that case, it’s time to call in a professional to pump out the tank and restore function to your system.