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How Septic Systems Work

by May 24, 2019Home Information

If you live in the city, your house probably has sewer service provided by that city. If you live in the country, chances are good that your home uses a septic system to deal with its waste. Both systems are effective, but septic tanks do require a little more knowledge to keep them in good working order. Here is a closer look at what septic systems do and how they do it.

What is Wastewater?

Wastewater is another term for sewage. Anything that goes down our home’s drains is considered wastewater. Any time you shower, wash dishes, do laundry, or flush the toilet, wastewater is created. This causes the need for water treatment, since raw sewage contains harmful bacteria and other chemicals that can disrupt ecosystems and spread disease.

Septic vs Sewer

Cities and other developed areas typically have sewer systems and water treatment facilities. When houses are built close together, it’s more economically feasible to install a sewer grid for their wastewater. Homes in more rural areas tend to be spread farther apart, so they have private wastewater treatment systems known as septic tanks. Septic tanks are basically large tanks buried in the yard that receive wastewater, separate solids, and pass the clear water out into a drainage area.

How do Septic Systems Work?

Most septic systems rely on gravity to draw wastewater down from a house and into the tank. Whenever you run water or flush the toilet, the wastewater flows down drainage pipes and into the septic tank.

Some substances, like oil and grease, float to the top of the septic tank, forming what is known as the scum layer. Heavier solids sink to the very bottom of the tank, creating the sludge layer. In between these layers is the majority of the clear water that has made its way to the tank.

Whenever new wastewater arrives, it displaces the water that is already in the septic tank, pushing it out through several perforated pipes below the ground. These buried pipes release the water into the drain field, an area where the water gets filtered through gravel and soil to become treated groundwater.

When Good Systems Go Bad

Septic systems have come a long way since their invention. They are now a reliable, low-maintenance treatment system for wastewater when sewers aren’t an option. But there are a few things you should watch for that could indicate problems with your septic tank.

  • Backed-up Drains. When your septic system is working right, your wastewater should quickly flow down your drains and out of sight. If it is backing up into your sinks or tubs, give us a call right away!
  • Grass on the Drain Field. It has often been humorously observed that drain fields have the greenest, best-looking vegetation on top. That’s because the combination of moisture and nitrogen makes an excellent fertilizer! Unfortunately, spongy grass on the field, especially during the drier months, can be a sign of a drain field leak.
  • Standing Water. Another sign to watch for is puddles of mud or standing water on the drain field. Septic drain pipe clogs can cause water levels to rise beyond the septic tank’s filter and lead to sunken, muddy areas all around it.
  • Foul Odors. The smelly gases in a septic tank are typically released through a vent pipe on the roof of the house. If they are rising up through the drains, it could be a sign of a failing septic system.

1st Choice Septic System Inspection

Now that you know how septic systems work, you can keep an eye on your own system for signs of trouble. If you suspect your septic system needs help, or if you’d just like a thorough inspection for peace of mind, contact 1st Choice today!

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