Minneapolis Water & Sewer Systems

Monday, January 25, 2010

Septic System Basics

Knowing how the system works will help you clean and maintain yours.

According to the EPA, one in four households in the United States today use some form of a septic system to dispose of household wastes, and with this figure comes great accountability. It is the responsibility of each individual homeowner to periodically maintain, inspect, and care for their own septic system, a task which not only can adversely affect the homeowner, but also the environment and future environmental health of the surrounding community.

With every septic system comes four main parts, which are described in detail below:

Main Household Drain Pipe: This pipe channels all household liquids and wastes from bathroom and kitchen sinks, toilets, and most other drains to the second part of the system, the septic tank.

Septic Tank: Left untreated household wastes can detrimentally affect the absorption field and clog perimeter drains. Usually made out of concrete or fiberglass, the septic tank offers a place for such treatment to occur. Heavier waste materials, referred to as sludge, sink to the bottom of the tank and partially decompose, while lighter materials like fats and grease rise to the top leaving a layer of scum. A t-shaped outlet in the center of the side allows for drainage while screens help prevent any large material from escaping the tank.
Drainfield or Distribution Pipes: Obviously the liquid material that has been partially decomposed needs somewhere to go, and this is where the distribution system, commonly referred to as a drainfield, comes in. Made up of long trenches filled with gravel or other similar material, this is the part of the overall septic system that seeps partially decomposed wastes into the surrounding soil, and transports the rest to a seepage pit. This is an integral part of the system as an undersized distribution structure can overload and sewage can seep up through the ground or create backups in existing household plumbing.

Surrounding Soil, or Seepage Pit: Once wastes are processed through the distribution pipes they must be integrated into the surrounding environment. This usually is comprised of a pit with a perforated lining through which liquids can escape. As with a drainfield, this part of the system must also be carefully designed as an undersized system can lead to nasty results.

Understanding the construction and layout of your septic system is only the first step. Proper maintenance, system knowledge, and a few key tips can help keep your system in tip top shape:

1) Be sure to have your system inspected at least every three years, and pumped every three to five. Another indicator of when your tank needs to be pumped is when the sludge and scum account for one third or more of the tanks total volume. If a tank is not properly pumped when needed, the sludge and scum can escape into the environment, causing unwanted pollution and failure of the overall system.

2) Be careful what you are putting into your system. Household items such as cigarette butts, diapers, and items that do not readily decompose should not be put into your system. While average amounts will not automatically harm your system, this includes household cleaners.

3) Do not install swimming pools near your tank or distribution field, and an excess amount of trees may also lead to damaged pipes and tank walls.

4) Remember that septic tank additives will not solve all your problems. Many manufacturers claim that with regular use you will never have to pump your septic tank. While this is greatly appealing it is also deceiving. While tank additives can help, they will not negate the need for regular pumping.

As with any household system, a septic tank and its components is a popular and effective way to solve your waste removal problems. That being said, be sure to properly maintain it as you would any other vital part of your homes' well being in order to get years of economical use from it. If you have further questions, your local health department, recycling experts or system installation specialist can answer them and provide even further insight.

For more information and guidance about sewage and septic repair, visit http://www.geneswaterandsewer.com. Genes Water and Sewer has videos on their site that show how pipes can be cleaned or repaired without digging up your yard. To watch the videos, visit the Nu Flow Page.

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