What You Should Know About Septic Tanks


A septic tank is a sewage treatment system that is used in rural and suburban areas where there is no public sewer system. A septic tank collects wastewater from homes and businesses and treats the wastewater using an aerobic or anaerobic process.

How do septic tanks work?

A typical septic holding tank is made up of four basic layers: the scum layer, the sludge layer, the effluent filter, and the distribution box or drain field.

The scum and sludge layers are comprised of bacteria and decaying waste solids that settle to the bottom. These fluids may also be pumped out during routine pumping.

The filter layer is a septic system underdrain that collects the liquid portion of the wastewater and allows it to pass between the sludge and scum layers. This prevents solids from entering the drain field or leaching field, which is where water drains into the soil to be filtered through naturally occurring soils and bacteria to form effluent.

The drain field is where wastewater flows to be treated. A distribution box will have leach lines running in multiple directions that carry the wastewater into the soil. As it passes through, bacteria and naturally occurring solids within the soil will remove most of the harmful materials in wastewater before it leaves the line.

Benefits of septic tanks

– Septic tanks enable the natural decomposition of organic solid waste by bacteria that live in the sludge layer.

– The septic tank processes all organic solids and stores wastewater during normal operation causing no environmental pollution.

– Most landfills cannot process or dispose of disposable diapers, sanitary napkins, facial tissues, cat litter, cotton swabs, gum, paper towels, glass or food waste.

– Septic tanks will collect these solids and prevent them from entering the environment.

– The septic tank is an effective processing tool that breaks down organic matter before it enters the drainfield area of your system.

– A properly designed and maintained system will have the necessary bacteria in the septic tank to break down all waste material.

How big is a septic tank?

Septic tanks vary in size from 1,000 gallons to more than 18,000 gallons. A standard tank is about 2,500 gallons and is built underground with a concrete cover to prevent contamination by outside elements.

The amount of water that passes through the septic system daily or weekly will determine how often it must be emptied. This can range from once every two years to once every five years or more depending on the volume of water that is used.

The typical septic tank installation includes a gravel bed, distribution box and drain field. These are installed along with the septic tank so wastewater can flow to them for treatment. The amount of water produced in a household will determine how big the drain field can be, which is typically around 6,000 square feet. Septic tanks are built underground to prevent contamination by outside elements.

Are septic tanks safe?

Although there are precautions that must be performed to maintain the proper function of a septic system, these systems are typically safe. However, if any of the precautions are not followed or the tanks are not properly cleaned then problems may develop. For this reason, it is important for homeowners to know how big is a septic tank and what size septic tank is needed.

Hiring a professional to clean the septic tanks on a regular basis can help prevent issues. The cost of having the tanks cleaned typically ranges from $100 to $300 depending on where you live, how long it takes and if any repairs are required after cleaning.

How deep is a typical septic system?

The depth where a septic system can be installed varies according to the size of the system, the type of soil and how much water is used by a household. Depth will vary but most septic tanks are buried around 18 inches for easier maintenance access. The tank should be placed at least 10 feet away from wells or any water source to prevent contamination.

Do septic tanks need to be emptied?

Septic tanks should be emptied when the wastewater sits in the septic tank for too long, if it does not drain properly or when a professional determines another problem exists. This typically happens every few years and depends on the amount of water used by the household.

How do septic tanks get emptied?

In most cases, homeowners are responsible for pumping their own septic tanks. However, some communities require that a professional be hired to do it. It is important to know how big your septic tank is and how often you need to have it serviced so you can be prepared for this task.

To pump the septic tank:

1. Locate the septic tank

2. Determine what size septic tank you have so an appropriate amount of sludge and scum are removed during pumping

3. It is time to pump when sewage has not flowed out of the tank for at least three days

4. Open the inlet valve at the bottom or side of the septic tank to start the flow of wastewater

5. The wastewater is pumped out through a hose and may be directed into a drain where it will join with household wastewater from sinks and toilets and be carried away in sewer pipes

Will septic tanks smell in the house?

When a properly designed and maintained system has the necessary bacteria in the septic tank to break down all waste material, no odors will be noticeable. However, if you can smell sewage odors inside your home then it is likely that bacteria has built upon the drainfield and it needs to be cleaned or repaired.

How do you know if a septic tank has overflowed?

Before a septic tank overflows, there will be obvious signs that it is not working properly. Sewage may appear in the yard or in driveways when it has not flowed out of the tank for at least three days. This means that wastewater is backing up into the home and the septic tank requires cleaning.

How do you properly clean a septic tank?

Septic tanks need to be cleaned on a regular basis to keep them working properly. However, if the tank is excessively full and needs to be pumped out completely, it should only be done by a professional.

The most common method is to hire the septic tank cleaning company to use a hose to send pressurized water into all areas of the tank to break up any waste material. The wastewater will typically be forced out through the inlet or exit pipe and onto the ground where it can be carried away with the sewage system.

When water runs into the tank but nothing else works, will a septic tank still work?

If wastewater is able to flow into the septic tank then there is no problem because it has plenty of room for all wastewater in your home. However, if too much water enters the tank and causes it to overflow out of the exit pipe, then there is a problem. This typically happens when the exit pipe becomes choked with roots from nearby trees or holes form in it and need to be repaired.

Where is the septic tank located?

Septic tanks can be located almost anywhere as long as the ground is able to absorb wastewater. The best location for a septic tank is where it has easy access to the exit pipe and there are no trees nearby that will send their roots into the drainfield.

To find your septic tank, start by looking in the lowest part of your yard. If it is underground then you can use an electronic locator or hire a contractor to find it for you.

Can septic tanks freeze?

If the temperature gets below freezing then your septic tank could freeze. However, if it is not located in an area where temperatures go below this point then there is no need to worry about it.

Can a septic tank fill with rainwater?

Rainwater is a problem when it enters the septic tank because it does not contain the necessary bacteria to break down all of the materials that are inside. This water can then cause wastewater to back up into your home when too much rain has entered the tank and there is nowhere for it to go.

Can septic tanks be above ground?

Some areas of the country will require you to place your septic tank above ground because of freezing temperatures throughout winter. As long as your tank is properly sealed and insulated then it should not be a problem.

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