What is a septic system?
A septic system is used to treat liquid wastes to prevent contamination of drinking water wells, groundwater, and nearby lakes and streams.
How does a septic system work?
1. Wastewater flows from the house into the septic tank.
2. The septic tank holds the water long enough for the solids to either be digested, or settle out as sludge.
3. Scum and grease float on top of the liquid, and submerged baffles prevent the floating scum from being discharged.
4. Liquid wastes overflow into the distribution box, which evenly separates the effluent into the network of distribution lines in the leaching fields.
5. In the leaching field, the trickling water is further purified by filtration and decomposition by soil microbes, before it percolates into the groundwater.
What can cause a septic system to fail?
If a septic system is not suitably located, properly designed, carefully installed, and adequately maintained, it can fail.
Signs of failure include:
• Waste water draining slowly from the bathroom or kitchen fixtures.
• Sewage backing up into the home, or puddling on the surface of the ground.
• Sewage smell outside the house. If the smell is more noticeable after a lot of water has been put into the system.
• Lush growth of grass.
Common causes of septic system failure include:
• Leaking fixtures or overuse of water.
• Neglecting to regularly inspect and clean the septic tank. Failure to have the tank pumped can also lead to a situation where the sludge and scum overwhelm the baffles.
• Lack of understanding on proper use of the system.
How can you avoid problems?
Have your septic system inspected and pumped regularly. Over time, solids will settle out in the bottom of the tank. If they are not pumped out, they can plug up the leaching field, requiring costly repairs, impairing the ability of the soil to effectively treat septic tank effluent, and causing pollution. A regular cleaning is not that expensive.