What is a Septic System?

Poop goes where?

The heart of your septic system — septic tanks (or as my 3 year old says the Poo Tank), break down the waste from your home.  Most of the treatment takes place in the septic tank through naturally occurring organic processes, but the work doesn’t stop there.  Septic systems are a combination of pipes, a tank, bacteria and a leach field that work together to treat solid and liquid waste before releasing it safely into the ground. So…

How Does a Septic System Work?

Septic systems are underground wastewater treatment structures, commonly used in rural areas without centralized sewer systems. A typical septic system consists of a septic tank and a leach field.

The septic tank digests organic matter and separates float-able matter and solids from the wastewater. As the levels in the tank rise, the system discharges the liquid (known as effluent) from the septic tank into a series of perforated pipes buried in a leach field, chambers, or other special units designed to slowly release the effluent into the soil.

A standard septic system uses gravity to work its magic. Alternative systems need a little help and use pumps to help the septic tank effluent trickle through sand, organic matter (peat and sawdust), constructed wetlands, or other media to remove or neutralize pollutants like disease-causing pathogens, nitrogen, phosphorus, and other contaminants.

Proven technologies mix with nature and biological processes to remove the wastewater from your home or business before releasing the treated wastewater into the soil.  But the process only works if it has properly working components. That brings us to…

Photo Source: epa.gov

Photo Source: epa.gov

What Makes Up A Septic System?

There are two main components:

  1. Septic Tank

  2. Leach Field

1. Septic Tank

The septic tank is a watertight box, usually made of concrete or fiberglass, with an inlet and outlet pipe. Wastewater flows from the home to the septic tank through the inlet pipe. The septic tank treats the wastewater naturally by holding it in the tank long enough for solids and liquids to separate. The wastewater forms three layers inside the tank.

  • Solids lighter than water (such as greases and oils) float to the top forming a layer of scum.

  • Solids heavier than water settle at the bottom of the tank forming a layer of sludge.

  • This leaves a middle layer of partially clarified wastewater.

The layers of sludge and scum remain in the septic tank where bacteria found naturally in the wastewater work to break the solids down. These bacteria are so efficient and resilient, healthy and happy bacteria decomposes up to 50% of the waste in septic tanks. The sludge and scum that cannot be broken down are retained in the tank until the tank is pumped. The layer of clarified liquid flows from the septic tank to the leach field or to a distribution device, which helps to uniformly distribute the wastewater in the leach field.

2. Leach Field

Every time new wastewater enters the septic tank, wastewater also exits the tank into the leach field.  The leach field is a shallow, covered excavated area at the exit of the septic tank.  It is important to note, unsaturated areas are the only suitable place for a leach field.

If the leach field becomes overloaded with an excess of wastewater or flooded with rainwater, the leach field can no longer effectively operate and treat wastewater.  Additionally, excess water causes effluent to flow to the ground surface, creating backups in the system.

Each state and local government requires different specifications when it comes to leach fields.  In Butte County, the Environmental Health department will dictate system size and type depending on property location and soil testing. Some areas will require minimum distances from water retention areas, water wells, and high water table locations. Your Septic contractor should work with local ordinances to ensure your property is in compliance with current regulations.

How Do You Take Care of Your Septic System?

Wondering how to take care of your septic system?  Maintenance and treating your septic system right with inspections, efficient water use, “do not flush” rules, and maintaining the area surrounding the leach field.

  • Inspections and Pumping.  With natural processes easily interrupted, septic tanks are fragile, however with a healthy bacteria they can go many years without issue.  Have a professional inspect your septic system at least once every 5 to 7 years. There is no requirement on frequency of pumping, and if your system is healthy and appropriately sized, it may never need to be pumped.

  • Follow “Do Not Flush Rules”.  Your toilet and garbage disposals are not trashcans – treat them accordingly.  Flush only toilet paper, avoiding “flushable” wipes.  Afraid of guests during the holidays messing up the system?  Put up some friendly reminders.

  • Maintain the Leach Field.  Keep tree roots away from the leach field pipes.  Divert rainwater and runoff from saturating the area, and landscape with septic friendly plants.

  • Avoid Strong Chemicals.  Start looking for alternative cleaning products and detergents while avoiding products containing chlorine bleach.

  • Find A Septic Contractor and Inspector You Trust.  Having a professional whose opinion matters goes a long way.  They can help schedule maintenance and inspections while putting your mind at ease.

Septic systems are designed to function efficiently for the onsite treatment of wastewater as long as all the components are working correctly and together.  If your septic system isn’t working at its best call Magneson Tractor Service for an inspection at 530-961-3171 or send us a message.