A Guide to Your Septic System – How It Works and How to Maintain It

A well-maintained septic system is trouble-free and something a homeowner doesn’t have to think about much. Here’s how to keep it that way.

Do you know what happens when you flush a toilet? If you live in a city, you rarely give it much thought, because your waste goes through a central sewer system to a municipal wastewater treatment plant. Rural homeowners, however, often do not have access to municipal lines and instead have on-site septic systems on their property that collect, treat and dispose of wastewater.

How a Septic System Works

With a conventional septic system, the wastewater that needs to be cleared out of your home goes from a drainage pipe into an underground septic tank. You may have a concrete septic tank, a fiberglass tank, or a tank made of another material.

Once that waste reaches the tank, solids are allowed to settle to the bottom to form a sludge layer, while things like oil and grease float to the top of the tank to form a scum layer. Any liquid wastewater, known as effluent, then exits the tank into your septic system's drain field or absorption field. From there, wastewater is discharged through pipes so it can filter through soil. The soil treats that water, removing harmful bacteria. Septic systems are never shared with other properties; each home generally has its own septic setup.

How to Treat Your Septic System

For the most part, you don’t have to do anything to keep your septic system healthy except mow the grass above and keep the drainage area clear of trees and bushes whose roots can clog the field. It is important to be mindful of what you flush down the toilet. Residential septic tanks can only handle toilet paper and human waste. Household items like cooking oil, non-flushable baby or makeup remover wipes, diapers, feminine hygiene products, cat litter, pharmaceuticals, or paint and paint thinners should never be flushed down the drain. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, pouring toxins down the drain can kill the organisms in your septic system that digest and treat household waste, harming your septic system.

How Often Do You Need to Pump a Septic Tank?

About every two years, you should have a septic service pump the solids from the tank. Modern tanks have a manhole at the surface for the pump operator to access. If you don’t have it pumped regularly, the tank will fill with solids that will eventually make their way into the leach field and clog it. You’ll know this is happening because untreated effluent will make its way to the surface of the tank and will back up into the house. For this reason, regular pumping of the tank keeps your septic system in good shape!

What to Do if Your Septic System Fails

As with any mechanical system, pumps in a pumped septic system will eventually fail. Most pumps are wired with an alarm that lets you know if the effluent level in the pit is higher than it should be, signaling a pump failure. This is a job for a professional, and Long Hill Contracting, LLC can help. Long Hill Contracting provides professional, cost-effective services to help maintain or install a new septic system.  

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