As the old saying goes," out of sight, out of mind." You cannot follow this adage if your home has a septic system. Unless the toilets overflow, the bathtub backs up, or the drains are slow to empty, we really don't think of the pipes, septic tank, and drainage system in our homes.
What makes up a Septic System?
Septic systems are pretty simple. All the drains for the toilets, tubs, washing machines, and sinks in our homes end up draining into a single pipe that leads to the septic tank buried outside of your home. Once the waste hits the septic tank, it separates.
The waste's heaviest product is sludge, which sinks to the bottom of the tank. Products of fats, oils, and proteins stay at
the top of the tank and form a scum layer. The clear liquid layer is in the middle. This is called effluent or gray water.
The effluent or gray water is discharged from the tank into the drain or leach fields.
The leach field, which is buried under soil, is made up of a series of pipes with holes that release the gray water. The gray water is filtered enough through good soil that it does not cause pollution to the soil or other water sources. The organic material that is left over acts as a fertilizer. This is why the grass is pretty healthy over a leach field.
Types of Problems That Can Occur
Septic systems do require inspections and maintenance. Usually, problems can be headed off at the pass if inspected and maintained correctly. Once a problem becomes apparent, it's usually too late for a simple fix. Big septic problems often cost thousands of dollars for parts and labor. The good news is that you can usually avoid costly repairs with proper maintenance.
Without regular pumping, the septic system can overflow back into the house. All the stuff that is supposed to be in the septic tank will end up back in the toilets and drains. Overflow can also flood the drain field with unprocessed waste. When this happens, water can seep above ground, flooding the yard and causing runoff into nearby water sources. This will cause the water people drink to be contaminated with harmful bacteria and diseases like hepatitis.
When Should You Pump Your Septic System
We do not think about pumping the septic system if it is well-functioning and drainage is good. However, your tank's septage, sludge, and scum layers will build up.
It is recommended that you have your tank pumped once the bottom of the floating scum layer is within 6 inches of the bottom of the outlet tee or the top of the sunken sludge layer is within 12 inches of the outlet tee. The outlet tee takes the waste water out of the tank.
Since we don't have x-ray vision and really can't see into our septic tanks, the EPA recommends that you have your system checked every one to three years. The inspection will measure the sludge and scum levels, check the system's pipes, and inspect the drain field to ensure it is properly percolating the wastewater. The average septic tank should be pumped every two to three years.
Prolonging Time Between Pumping
Some products are meant to prolong the time between pumping. These products consist of chemicals or enzymes designed to help the process of breaking down the sludge in your tank.
They are unnecessary and may harm the ecosystem that has already developed in your septic tank. The EPA recommends that if you have a septic tank, do not use these products and think you will not need to have your tank pumped or inspected.