Maintaing a Septic System

Maintaing a Septic System


Sewage systems in a city or town are usually based on a communal and centralized system that requires no maintenance or expertise of homeowners, but in more rural areas, a house will usually handle its own sewage disposal, and this is done with a septic system, which also includes a septic tank and drainage field. Knowing how to handle, fix, or clean this system is key to keeping it running and maintaining the flow of water in a rural house.

How the Septic System Works

According to Family Handyman, bacteria are central to how a septic system works. To start with, all waste water from the house flows through pipes and into the septic tank, and in this tank, the waste water, or effluent, will have anaerobic bacteria break down organic matter. A thick sludge of inorganic solids settles to the bottom, while greases, fats, and oils float to the top. An average septic tank will hold about two days’ worth of effluent, and it takes about that long for solids to settle. The solids, meanwhile, cannot pass out of the tank because of filtration grates on the outlet pipe.

Then, effluent will flow from the septic tank and into the drain field. Here, a large area with bacteria in it will allow water to seep into the ground, and holes in the outlet pipe allow the water to flow into gravel. The gravel allows oxygen to reach the bacteria, and allows the effluent to reach the soil. From this point on, bacteria finish breaking down and consuming the waste material in the water, and clean water will seep into the existing groundwater or aquifer.

Maintenance for a Septic System

Ideally, any septic system will only need human help with occasionally removing built up scum and sludge from the septic tank itself, but this septic pumping may be one of several jobs to do if the system is mistreated. If non digestible materials such as cigarette butts, diapers, or other trash are flushed into the system, the septic tank cannot handle it, and clogs may result. Lint from synthetic fibers in clothes may produce a similar result, and bacteria cannot break it down, and flushing household cleaners or other chemicals can kill the bacteria in septic systems, rendering them useless. Another hazard is if cars and trucks drove on or park on the drainage field, which compacts the soil and gravel, blocking the drainage holes in the outlet pipe and stopping the whole system.

Septic tank treatment is easily found. As sludge builds up in the septic tank, a homeowner can use a specialized rod to test the levels of sludge inside, and once the tank is about one third or halfway full, the bacteria inside cannot do their job well and it is time to pump the sludge out. A typical tank will need to be pumped this way annually, although larger tanks may be pumped once every two or three years instead. A hired contractor can also place a new filter on the outlet pipe to help prevent solids from escaping the septic tank, but tank owners should be warned that if an existing filter gets clogged up, simply removing it is not the solution. A filter must be place at all times, so when a filter is clogged, immediate replacement is important.

Inspectors can also be hired to look over a system and evaluate how often the tank or other components will need cleaning or replacement, especially since sludge pumpers may not have this expertise themselves. The inspector can also evaluate whether the tank is big enough for the household that it works for, and determine if the system is up to code and whether the drainage field is working properly. The inspector can diagnose problems that other professionals can take care of. High pressure water jets can be used to clean out clogged or grimy outlet pipes, and if the drainage field’s soil is too compact, contractors can use pressurized water to loosen it up again. A homeowner should ask any contractor what the fees for a given service will be before carrying it out.