What is a septic tank, exactly?
A septic tank is a large container that's usually buried near your home. It receives all the wastewater you produce. Heavier solids settle to the bottom, while grease and lighter solids float to the top.
Healthy bacteria break down these materials and allow effluent water to leave the tank and get dispersed through the leach field. If your water has sludge present, the system is in a shutdown or failure mode.
Where is my septic tank located?
Your septic tank is typically buried near your house. It's connected to your indoor plumbing by a sewer pipe. The pipe can be found in your basement and is usually 3 to 4 inches in diameter.
By carefully removing the end cap, you can determine the direction of the pipe that leads out to your yard. Use a flashlight to look through the pipe and the distance to the tank can be measured with a tape measure.
With the information you've gathered, estimate the location of the tank and probe carefully with a shovel or iron digging rod to locate the four corners of the tank lid and its probable depth.
Are all septic tanks the same size?
No. Septic tanks are available in a variety of sizes to meet the needs of a variety of applications. If you don't have accurate building or installation records, the tank will need to be uncovered to measure its size accurately. A knowledgeable pumping contractor can also provide a good estimate.
Are all septic tanks made of the same material?
No. Septic tanks are made from a variety of materials such as steel, concrete, or a special, long-lasting polymer plastic.
Steel has no guarantee and deteriorates over time due to the wastewater, salts, and acids inside it.
Concrete normally only has a 1-year maximum factory guarantee, and also deteriorates over time for the same reasons.
Newer polymer septic tanks are guaranteed for many years and don't suffer from deterioration.
Always be sure to select the septic tank that gets you the manufacturer's guarantee and lasts the longest when your tank is properly installed.
Do septic tanks last forever?
No. Deterioration in steel and concrete tanks begins immediately. Polymer lasts the longest and can serve you for many years as long as it doesn't suffer any physical abuse.
Concrete is porous and cracks easily. Salts and chemicals are the major factors that contribute to the deterioration of both concrete and metal tanks.
What should go into my septic tank?
The ideal situation for a septic tank to enjoy a long, happy life would be that nothing aside from human wastewater enters the tank. This includes bathroom sink waste and proper toilet tissue. However, this is rarely the case.
Often, people put everything and anything down sinks, drains, and toilets. In moderation, a properly working septic tank can handle some biodegradable detergents, laundry soaps, kitchen waste, and biodegradable household chemicals.
In large amounts, any and all of these things can impact the digestive properties of your septic tank. A good rule of thumb is if you didn't, couldn't, or wouldn't eat it, don't put it in your septic tank!
What should not go into my septic tank?
Cigarette butts, disposable diapers, sanitary napkins, plastics, and other trash, as well as high levels of cleaning agents or chemicals, can all create problems for your septic tank.
Some things kill the good bacteria your tank uses to break down human waste. Other items don't readily decompose and can clog the tank's baffles, preventing proper fluid flow. Non-biodegradable products are non-septic products.
How can you tell if my septic tank is working?
A visual inspection of your backyard for standing wastewater where the leach field should be or unusual odors can both indicate a problem. Otherwise, our first means of checking your tank is a visual inspection.
Clarity of the effluent water leaving the outlet baffle is the most important area to check. We'll also measure and check the depths of the sludge, liquid center, and top scum level.
Additional information can be gathered by checking the temperature and pH level of the tank. Risers on the ports of the lid allow for frequent inspections. Proper pH is a must and its reading can be taken inside the outlet baffle.
How often should my tank be pumped?
Your septic tank should be pumped every 2 or 3 years, or when the total depth of sludge and scum exceeds one-third of the depth of your tank. Routine pumping is cost effective because it extends the life of your leach field, which can be a major expense, if replaced.
Is there anything I should add to my septic tank?
An understanding of septic science dictates how much of any additive should be used in your tank.
New bio-solutions offer a greater breakdown of human wastewater. These solutions can be formulated to deal with other products found in the system to produce more environmentally safe effluent water to be discharged through the leach field.
A reputable dealer that's trained in these new bio-solutions can provide additional information and a maintenance program for implementation.
Should there be access to the top of my septic tank?
Yes. Access to the inlet and outlet ports of your tank is a must for inspection and maintenance. Risers and childproof access lids can be easily installed at ground level for easy access.
Can I build over my septic tank?
It is never recommended to build over a septic tank. Access to the tank is necessary for inspection and maintenance. Anything built over the tank would have to be removed for pumping.
Additionally, the weight of any structure on top of the tank could damage it. The gasses that might escape in this situation are very harmful to people and could potentially be explosive, causing damage to your home and foundation.
What is an aerobic wastewater treatment unit?
An aerobic system allows for oxygenated aerobic bacteria to decompose organic waste. This differs from traditional tanks which use anaerobic bacteria to break down organic waste.
Oxygen is introduced through a biological solution using bacteria and enzymes along with a mechanical system that pumps in air and agitates the mixture.
Is the aerobic system better than a traditional septic tank?
Aerobic systems break down wastewater materials much better than traditional septic tanks. The resulting effluent water discharge is much cleaner, better, and safer for the environment.
Do aerobic systems need more care than traditional systems?
Yes. Mechanical aerobic systems must meet State Health Department laws, and must release clean effluent. This requires regular maintenance that ensures the system stays aerobic.
Regular testing can include periodic effluent testing, cleaning, ensuring bacterial growth, and checking parts in mechanical systems.
What are the advantages of aerobic wastewater treatment systems?
Aerobic systems can be used in traditional receptive areas as well as in places where traditional systems have failed or are not appropriate due to environmental concerns.
Examples where they may be appropriate include around lakes, streams, rocky areas, and rivers. Environmental concerns or local ordinances may prohibit the use of traditional systems in these types of areas.
Can they be used to clean up lakes or streams where one-time, bungalow-type second homes have become year-round residences?
Yes. This could be the most needed and promising use for aerobic systems. Small, summer-only, minimal-use systems can't typically handle the needs of year-round use.
These systems often fail and leach pollutants into nearby lakes or streams, promoting the growth of vegetation that can choke the water. Thanks to high bacteria levels, the water can be unsafe to use for recreation.
Aerobic systems can solve this problem and end the flow of pollution into these bodies of water, making the environment safe for recreation again.
Is the aerobic system the only answer for the crowded population of fragile lake, stream, or river areas?
No. Many lake associations and homeowner groups have debated hooking into the local sewer district. In some cases, this is not an available option. In other areas, the local municipal systems don't want additional material as their systems are already overtaxed.
If hookup is available, the initial connection and lines to the sewer district can mean a high monthly cost forever for individual homeowners.
The pollutants from many areas are collected in one area, creating a concentrated, dangerous environmental problem. Luckily, there is another option.
An aerobic system can be owned by an individual homeowner. The homeowner can contract expert maintenance with reputable, manufacturer-trained, and licensed dealers for their system.
With a sewer hookup, the homeowner is at the mercy of the municipality for paying for everyone else's problems. When you own your own aerobic system, you only pay for your own problems!
Pollutants are easy to deal with in smaller volumes and pose no threat to the environment when treated properly.
Are all aerobic units mechanical with pumps and filters that require electricity and maintenance?
Yes. However, there are many configurations of aerobic units and each offers its own set of advantages and disadvantages. The promising news is that new aerobic bacteria can be added to an existing system to gain all the positive effects of the mechanical units.