Septic Tank Basics

Septic systems are private sewage disposal units that are used in areas that are not connected to Public Sewage. A septic system is composed of the following three parts:
  • Septic Tank: Composed of either plastic, fiberglass, concrete or steel, the tank's job is to hold and keep solid waste from flowing to the rest of the system. The tank is the area were bacteria action decomposes the sewage into liquid and sludge.The sludge settles to the bottom of the tank, and the liquid moves to the leaching bed.
  • Distribution Box: series of pipes that carries the liquid to the Leaching Bed.
  • Leaching (Absorption) Field: this is where the liquid seeps out of perforated pipes and disperses into the surrounding soil.
Septic System Maintenance/ Precautions
  • A correctly maintained Septic System should last at least 30 years, longer life expectancy is common. Here are some guidelines to follow to help insure fewer Septic related issues.
  • Periodic Tank pumping is required that requires a Professional to remove the accumulated solid waste. Tank size and usage will determine when this is needed, average is once every 3-4 years.
  • Never dispose of chemicals, fuels, grease or trash into the septic system. This will only cause massive problems.
  • Do not use any additives that claim to help or aid your septic system. These additives are illegal in many areas and could damage your system.
  • Protect the Leaching field, do not drive over, pave over, or allow excessive water drainage on; the field.
  • Use sparingly or remove an attached garbage disposal. The job of the Septic system IS NOT to dispose of your garbage.
What are the Signs of a Failing System?
  • Sewage backup at the toilets or fixtures is one sign of a failing system. Backup can also be caused by a blockage somewhere between the home and the septic tank. Another sign of failure is a sewage smell outside the house. A failing Leaching field could be the culprit if the smell is more noticeable when a lot of water is discharged into the system. This would usually occur after heaving water usage periods. If sewage or excessive liquid appears at the ground surface around the field, this indicates systems failure.
  • If you see any of these signs, a dye test may confirm the problem. The test involves flushing a heavy dye into the Septic system, and running water continuously. Failures are evident by the appearance of the dye on the ground above the leaching field. The test is relatively quick and reasonable, it can be performed by a Home Inspector or a Septic contractor.