For most American homes, such as those in cities and larger towns, a public sewage system will take care of all waste water from private residences and commercial buildings, and local water treatment plants will handle all this waste water. By contrast, one in four American homes instead makes use of a septic tank, and these homes are often more remote rural or semi-rural ones that don’t have access to a nearby public utility. Instead, they have self-contained waste water treatment by means of their septic tank and the pipes and filters connected to it. What does a septic tank do, and how can a rural homeowner keep their septic tank clean and working well?
The Basics of Septic Systems
When dirty, used water flows from a home, it will go through pipes and end up not in public utilities, but into a large septic tank that is buried underground on the home’s property. Inside this tank, many bacteria species will star breaking down the matter inside over the course of the next few days. Solids will settle to the bottom of the tank and form a thick sludge that will never leave the tank, while oils and fats will float to the top and form a top layer, with the relatively clean water in between these two layers. Most often, a septic tank will be large enough to hold two days’ worth of waste water, since that is the time frame for solids settling.
Once the tank is full enough, and the solids and fats have been properly separated from the water, the next step is for the water in the middle to flow through a filter in the tank and start going through pipes further into the system, with that filter helping to clear out even more debris from the water. Now, the water will flow through various branching pipes underground, just under the surface, and the water will leach out from nozzles and holes and get itself filtered through loose soil and gravel that act as natural filters. Bacteria in this soil will help out with the purification process, and the water can re-enter the natural ecosystem in what is called the drainage field. Cleaning out water from the home is now complete.
Septic Tanks and Care
A septic tank service can be called every so often to help a homeowner keep their waste water disposal system clean and operational. Over time, the septic tank itself will build up a layer of sludge at the bottom, and this sludge will have to be pumped out before it fills too much of the tank’s volume. For this reason, a homeowner can buy and use a measuring stick, which are nicknamed “sludge judges,” and use it to measure just how high the layer of sludge has become inside the tank. If the tank is one-third full or higher of this dense sludge, the time has come to call for a septic pumping crew to visit with their truck. They will unearth the septic tank and pump out all the sludge inside with a powerful motor, and once this is done, the septic tank is ready for more work. This will have to be done every year two or sometimes less often, depending on the tanks’s size. They are often 1,000 gallons in volume or higher, depending on the size of the household that they are connected to.
Septic care may also involve replacing or cleaning out the filter between the septic tank and the pipes, and if it gets clogged, water cannot flow correctly. Owners should resist the temptation to simply remove this filter to improve water flow, since too-dirty water will get into the system. Instead, this filter must be cleaned or replaced, and put back in place before the plumbing is used again. Similarly, the pipes further into the system might become clogged or dirty over time, and this calls for crews being hired to blast them clean with strong jets of pressurized water. Finally, the drainage field itself should not have any vehicles drive over it, since this compresses the dirt and gravel and clogs the system. If this happens, crews can be hired to help blast the dirt loose and make the system ready for more work.