Residential Septic Tanks

Septic tanks are a necessity that occasionally requires repair and replacement. When septic tanks malfunction it is imperative, because of the function they serve, to repair them as quickly as possible. By properly understanding how septic tanks function and how to properly maintain them, one can learn to watch out for potential problems that may arise.


How Septic Tanks Work

Septic tanks are large underground tanks usually made of concrete, fiberglass, or plastic, coming in a cylindrical or rectangular shape. On one side of the tank is an inlet valve, where waste from the house comes into the tank. On the other side of the tank is an outlet valve, where the effluent flows out of the tank daily to the leachfield.

Septic Tanks: The Leachfield

The leachfield is the second part of a septic tank system. It is where the effluent is flushed for final treatment and disposal into the soil. Effluent is the transparent liquid that makes up the middle-waste layer of the septic tank when filled. The more-weighted, solid material that flows into the tank sinks to the bottom to form the sludge layer. Over time it is decomposed by bacteria.

Septic Tanks: The Scum Layer

The final, upper layer is called the scum layer. It is what the grease and soap excrement call home. Over time, it either decomposes or both it and the sludge layer are pumped out. On average, 38% of the waste in a septic tank comes from toilets, while the rest comes from your drains. If designed and maintained intelligently though, septic tank systems can last for 50 years.

In terms of size, a typical family of four should have a tank that could hold 1,500 gallons of water.

A Potential Problem with Septic Tanks

The biggest potential problem with a septic tank is it becoming ineffective. This can occur when we dispose of hazardous, non-organic waste into our toilets and drains. Food items such as grease and oils can cause a septic tank to eventually malfunction.

Knowing this, do not use your toilet as a trashcan. This especially includes the disposal of:

  • Diapers
  • Facial tissues
  • Paper towels
  • Hair
  • Cigarette butts.

As far as drains go, try to avoid using garbage disposals, and never put coffee grounds, egg shells, and fruit and vegetable waste into your drain.

Septic Tank Maintenance

As mentioned before, over time the sludge and scum layers will need to be flushed or pumped out of the septic system. How often this should take place usually depends on the:

  • Size of the tank
  • Number of people in the household
  • Volume of solid material normally in your wastewater.

On average, this usually turns out to be every three to five years. Because of the environmental and public health concerns that come along with an ineffective septic tank, most are only allowed to be pumped by licensed septic contractors. Knowing this, always check with your local police department first before ever attempting to pump your own septic tank.

For further information see the following article from Septic Tanks.