What Your Need To Know
About Your Septic System
A Look at Your Septic System & How It Works
From INSIDE The Home
To The Septic Tank
Where Does Waste Go?
Waste from your toilets and other fixtures/appliances in your home are flushed, washed or dumped through your plumbing into the Septic Tank buried in the yard. It enters the tank where heavier solids settle to the bottom, creating ‘sludge’. Lighter particles, grease and liquids float on top of the sludge. A layer of scum forms on top of the water and effluents (see diagram above).
Your waste doesn’t just sit in the tank. The waste flows in one end of the tank and out the other with the use of gravity.
The water near the center is released into the septic drain field through the lower outlet. Normally, properly designed tanks have enough space to efficiently store up to 3-5 years of accumulated sludge.
Naturally occurring bacteria partially decompose the sludge but over time, the sludge can build up and needs to be removed by professional septic tank pumpers. Your tank needs to be pumped out on a regular basis to prevent problems within the tank, the drain field or inside your home!
When sludge levels increase beyond a certain point, waste has less time to settle properly (dividing itself into sludge and effluents) before leaving the tank. As the sludge level increases, more solid wastes escape into the drain field, aka the soil absorption system (SAS).
Does Your Tank Have an Effluent Filter?
In NC, if your tank was installed in 1999 or after, it has an Effluent Filter. This filter has the ultimate purpose of restricting the passage of suspended solids into the drain field, while not disturbing the flow of the effluent to the point where it backs up into your home. If your tank does not have one, it is easily installed with a retrofit kit.
Items like cigarette butts, prophylactics and feminine hygiene products are difficult to extract once they enter the drain field. The effluent filter was designed originally to filter these larger items that don’t sink to the bottom or break down. Over time, filters have been modified to capturing smaller solids, hair, and lint, and other items bigger than 1/16″, making these filters more effective in protecting the septic drain field.
Effluent Filters may need to be cleaned more often than your tank. You can hire it done or put your boots on and do it yourself, but if you are DIY type, please do it properly and safely.
There is a How To Video on our Videos page.
The Drain Field aka
The Soil Absorption System (SAS)
This area is made of perforated pipes surrounded by gravel, buried underground. This allows the waste to be slowly absorbed and filtered into the ground.
When the Septic System is not well-maintained with regular pumping and the waste is forced through the system more quickly than it was designed to do and sludge begins escaping the tank, the drain field will suffer.
If the SAS becomes so clogged with this sludge that it can’t absorb liquid at the rate in which it enters the tank, the plumbing will backup or unsanitary wastewater will bubble up to the drains inside your home.
You may experience this as Slow Drains, Gurgling Toilets, a ‘burping’ of pipes or a foul odor emitting from your pipes.
What Happens After
The Septic Tank Is Pumped?
Most people think that when a septic tank is pumped out, the water level goes down. In reality, the tank resets itself to a regular level, which is 5-6″ from the top of the tank. If you look at the diagram again, you will notice that the IN and OUT pipes are near the top of the tank. If the OUT pipe were near the bottom, the sludge would quickly block or seal it. The system is designed to work optimally when the water level is high.
We have had customers call and say their tank was already full again, wanting us to return to pump it again because they believed it was not done properly. This is a misconception.
IF there is a back-up into your home or any of the symptoms reoccur soon after your tank has been pumped, there is usually another issue that needs to be addressed, like the drain field may need repairs or there may be a plumbing issue between the home and the tank.
We recommend Lentz Wastewater Management for any repairs to your drain field or if your septic system is outdated and you need a new installation.
Maintenance Versus Procrastination:
Regular Service = Less Chance of Needing an Emergency Service
There are things you can do to extend the life of your septic system and prevent costly repairs or even a new installation. Septic Systems that have regular maintenance and inspection can perform at optimal levels well past the expected lifespan of a tank.
Getting your septic tank pumped on a regular basis will help extend the life of your system and in most cases will relieve any issues you are having that are not plumbing issues or related to over-use. Families grow, lifestyles change, people move… these can all affect the septic system and is just another reason to invest in it every 2-3 years.
However, it is often the first step in finding the real problem when a system has been neglected or just overloaded by over-use, chemical overload, plumbing leaks, etc. Schedule your maintenance pump outs based on your family’s size and lifestyle.
You Can Extend the Life of Your Septic System & Prevent Costly Repairs
Think of your septic system like the major investment it is, even if you have moved into a home with a system in place. One thing to ask when buying a home if there is a septic system on the property, is the date of the last pump or maintenance and make sure the seller has it inspected. It’s like a vehicle. You must have the oil changed and new tires installed on occasion. This keeps the vehicle running smoothly and your family safe. It is the same with the septic system! Regular maintenance means having the tank pumped at least every 3 years (more often if you have a large family or overuse the system). If you let the tank go too long, you may need to have some repair done on the drain lines (see diagram above).
Be aware of what goes into the system, when waste is going into the system and how it gets there.
Timing can help your septic system work more efficiently for you!
If more than two people are taking showers or baths in the household, breaking them up is easier on the system, especially if one or more is a tub bath. Releasing a tub of water all at once is harder on a system than if you take a shower. However, if someone in the home tends to take more than 15 minutes, it could slow your system down. It may be helpful if one or two people bathed in the morning and the others at night. Having down time between is also helpful.
Doing multiple loads of laundry on the same day or every day can cause havoc in your septic system, especially if you use fabric softeners or highly chemical detergents. It is best to break your laundry up into only one load per day and schedule it when no other activity involving the septic system is happening (no baths, washing dishes/dishwasher, etc). If you must do multiple loads, try to scatter them throughout the day.
All grease, meats, and other fatty foods should be disposed of in the trash and not sent down the drain! These F.O.G. (Fat, Oil, Grease) is harmful to your system. They can cause clogging and ultimate damage that can be costly.
Other items not to send down drains are medicines, antibiotics, harsh chemicals and cleaning supplies, etc. These items kill the beneficial bacteria in the septic system and will create problems inside the tank. Think of the tank and drain field like a digestive system. Just as we need good bacteria to break down our food into waste and eliminate it efficiently from our bodies, the septic tank cannot process efficiently if the natural bacteria is minimal or gone due to medicines and chemicals being flushed or washed into the tank. This can cause a back-up (like constipation) and adversely effect the drain field.
On the Red Flag list Guests & Teenagers are listed and for good reason. During puberty and beyond, when hormones are raging and bodily changes are constant, your offspring tend to use more water (and if you pay by the gallon, you have noticed this!). Some teens take two or three showers a day, they are obsessed with their faces, and they tend to eat a lot more and make more kitchen waste – be aware of what they are sending down the sinks!