Septic System Basics For The New Homeowner

Nearly 20 percent of homes in the United States have septic systems rather than being connected to the conventional municipal sewer. While a septic tank is more common in rural areas and older homes, they aren't uncommon in new homes in some regions. Homeowners who are new to septic tanks are often confused about their practical care and maintenance. It's easy to forget about them as long as the toilet keeps flushing, but this can lead to problems down the line. Here's what you need to know about how a septic system works and caring for them. 

How Does A Septic System Work?

A septic system consists of a large plastic, steel, or cement tank, pipes, and the drainfield, which the pipes lead to from the tank. The drainfield, also called a leach field, is a system of buried and entrenched perforated pipes, usually surrounded by gravel, that branch out from the septic tank.

When solid and liquid human waste as well as the wastewater from the kitchen sink and the washing machine enter the buried septic tank, the tank holds the solid waste, which sinks to the bottom, forming sludge. Any oil or grease floats to the top, creating a scum. The way the septic tank is designed prevents both the sludge and the scum from leaving the tank.

The remaining liquid, which is called effluent, is allowed to leave the tank and is dispersed via the pipes to the drainfield. Sometimes, the system will also include a pump tank and pump, which is a separate tank for the effluent. This wastewater trickles through the soil, and as it does so, it naturally treats the waste and removes bacteria as well as nutrients. It's an extremely efficient system when everything is working properly.

How Often Does A Septic System Need To Be Attended To?

A septic system should be inspected by a professionally annually. They will inspect the tank, the pump, the pump tank (if you have one), and the drainfield. Depending on the size of the tank as well as the size of the household, the tank will need to be emptied of the sludge and scum every three to five years. The septic professional can let you know how often it should be pumped for your specific situation.

What Should The New Septic System Owner Know?

Just because something can be flushed down the toilet doesn't mean it should be. No household chemicals should be flushed down the toilet other than those used to clean the toilet occasionally. Do no use automatic cleaners, such as those that go in the tank. This can disrupt the natural process that occurs in the tank. Diapers, paper toweling, cigarette butts, and women's sanitary products cannot be flushed down the toilet, either. Use only a toilet paper that is approved for septic systems. Nothing should be built on the septic drainfield, no digging should be done, nor should vehicles be parked or driven over it, either. 

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