A typical septic system has four main components: a pipe from the house, a septic tank, a drainfield and the soil. Microbes in the soil digest or remove most of the contaminants from wastewater before it reaches ground water.
Pipe From The House: All of your household wastewater, from sinks, commodes, dishwashers, and washing machines, exits your house through a pipe to the septic tank.
Septic Tank: The septic tank is a buried, watertight container, typically made of concrete. It holds the wastewater long enough to allow solids to settle out (forming sludge) and oil and grease to float to the surface (as scum).
It also allows the partial decomposition of the solid materials. A T-shaped outlet is installed to prevent the sludge and scum from leaving the tank and travelling into the drain field area. Effluent filters also help to keep solids from entering the drain field. These are typically found on newer systems, which also often have risers with lids at the ground surface for easy location, inspection, and pumping of the tank. EcoSeptix Alliance offers retrofits of risers and filters on older systems as a tool to improve system maintenance, performance, and longevity.
Drainfield: Wastewater exits the septic tank and is discharged into the drainfield for further treatment by the soil. The partially treated wastewater is pushed along into the drainfield for further treatment every time new wastewater enters the tank. If the drainfield is overloaded with too much liquid, it will flood, causing effluent to flow to ground surface or create backups in plumbing fixtures. The Virginia Department of Health requires that new system designs include a reserve drainfield area in the event the primary drainfield fails.
Soil: Septic tank wastewater flows to the drainfield, where it percolates into the soil, which provides final treatment by removing harmful bacteria, viruses, and nutrients. Suitable soil is necessary for successful wastewater treatment.
Alternative Septic Systems
Because many areas do not have soils suitable for conventional septic systems, you might have or need an alternative septic system. You might also have or need an alternative system if your septic system is too close to ground or surface waters.
Alternative septic systems use technology to improve treatment processes and/or wastewater delivery to the soil. Some alternative systems use sand, peat, or textile media to promote wastewater treatment. Other systems use aerators or disinfection devices. Floats, switches, pumps, and other electrical or mechanical components are often found in alternative systems.
Virginia Department of Health regulations require owners of alternative septic systems to have an annual inspection by a licensed operator. At EcoSeptix Alliance, our technicians are licensed and authorized service providers for most leading brands of alternative septic systems.
Septic System Maintenance
When septic systems are properly designed, installed, and maintained, they effectively reduce or eliminate most human health or environmental threats posed by pollutants in household wastewater.
A key reason to maintain your septic system is to save money. Having your septic system inspected regularly is a bargain compared to the cost of replacing the entire system. Measuring scum & sludge in the tanks and providing recommendations for pumping is routinely performed as part of our annual inspection. Knowing when your septic tank needs pumping, for instance, impacts system performance, the longevity of the system, and the local environment.
In addition to being a source of bacteria and viruses, household wastewater is also a source of nitrogen and phosphorus, nutrients which cause problems for water quality at high levels.
Septic Maintenance Tips
Do familiarize yourself with the location of your septic system and its components, particularly if there is an electrical control panel.
Don’t drive over your tank or any buried components of your system.
Do conserve water. Wash dishes and clothes when you have a full load, take shorter showers and be cautious about excessive use of large soaking tubs.
Don’t ignore leaky plumbing fixtures—repair them. Leaky plumbing fixtures waste natural resources and can quickly overload your septic system.
Do use your trash can to dispose of substances that can cause maintenance problems and/or increase the need for septic tank pumping. The following items should be disposed of in the trash: egg shells, gum, coffee grounds, tea bags, cigarette butts, feminine hygiene products, birth control, paper towels and wipes, even so-called “flushable” wipes.
Don’t flush dangerous and damaging substances into your septic system. Specifically do not flush pharmaceuticals, excessive amounts of bath or body oils, flammable or toxic products, household cleaners, especially floor wax and rug cleaners, chlorine bleach, or any pesticides or fertilizers.
Do collect grease in a container and dispose of it with your trash. Avoid using garbage disposals excessively. Food scraps accelerate the need for septic tank pumping and increase maintenance.
Septic System Problems
Water usage is also an important aspect of the maintenance of your septic system. Systems are generally designed based on each occupant using 75 gallons of water per day. A single leaky toilet can waste as much as 200 gallons of water per day.
Doing all the household laundry in one day might seem like a time saver, but it could be harmful to your septic system. Doing load after load does not allow your septic system to enough time to adequately treat wastes and could flood your drainfield. Energy Star clothes washers use 35% less energy and 50% less water than standard models.
Non-biodegradable items should not be flushed down your toilets. This includes dental floss, feminine hygiene products, diapers, baby wipes, cigarette butts and other items that can clog and potentially damage septic system components if they become trapped.
Flushing or pouring household chemicals, pesticides, or paint down the drain can stress or destroy the biological treatment taking place in the system and could potentially contaminate surface waters or groundwater. Kitchen garbage disposals should be used in moderation as they increase the volume of solids needing to be digested in the septic tank.