A septic system is a commonly used, underground wastewater system that uses natural processes to treat your properties wastewater onsite. Because they treat the wastewater on site (in your yard generally) they are known to be more economical than other sewer systems where property sizes are larger, and houses are spaced further apart. Septic systems are also simple products to manufacture, which make them generally less expensive to install and maintain than an entire sewer line from your home to the city connection. In this blog I will tell you about the breakdown of a septic tanks, pros and cons of having them, and hopefully educate you on what septic tanks are used for in comparison to other sewer system methods.
A septic system consists of two main parts: a septic tank, and a drain field. The actual septic tank is a watertight box, usually made of concrete or fiberglass with an ‘in’ and ‘out’ running pipe. Wastewater flows from the home to the septic tank through the sewer pipe. The septic tank treats the wastewater naturally by holding it in the tank long enough for solids and liquids to separate. The wastewater then forms three layers inside the tank (which can be seen in the diagram picture). Solids lighter than water, such as greases and oils, float to the top forming a layer of waste known as scum. Solids heavier than water settle at the bottom of the tank forming a layer known as sludge. This leaves a middle layer of partially clean wastewater.
The layers of sludge and scum remain in the septic tank where bacteria found naturally in the wastewater work to break the solids down. The sludge and scum that can’t be broken down are retained in the tank until the tank is pumped. The layer of cleaner liquid flows from the tank to the drain field, which helps to distribute the wastewater in the drain field. A standard drain field is a bunch of trenches or a bed lined with gravel or sand buried one to three feet below the ground. There are pipes with holes in them, or ‘drain tiles’ that run through the dug trenches to distribute the wastewater as evenly as possible. The drain field treats the wastewater by allowing it to slowly trickle from the pipes out into the gravel and down through the soil. The gravel and soil act as types of filters so its leaking a partially cleaned water to the ground of your property.
Like all sewer systems, septic tanks come with their pros and cons. Along with any wastewater system there are some serious issues with things trying to pass through that shouldn’t ever be flushed down any system, especially not a septic. For example: hair combings, coffee grounds, dental floss, disposable diapers, kitty litter, sanitary napkins, tampons, cigarette butts, condoms, gauze bandages, fat, grease, or oil, paper towels, wipes (even when they claim to be flushable) and NEVER flush chemicals that could contaminate surface and groundwater, such as: paints, varnishes, thinners, waste oils, photographic solutions, or pesticides.
First and foremost, the most general concern is cost. It is most likely that a septic wastewater system will be cheaper to maintain and repair if necessary compared to a sewer line if it is badly damaged and, of course, you have no sewer bill each month, although when it comes to upkeep, the sewer line is much easier because it generally takes no concern of your own unless you flush something you shouldn’t have, or you don’t have an up to date line installed. In addition, new home buyers are more interested in a sewer line compared to a septic because of the ease of maintenance which comes with a septic system only needing yearly pumping or cleaning. You can have your sewer line inspected by Tacoma Sewer Scope for minimal cost to check the quality of your line, and if needed, have a new pipe installed with a warranty from Harts Plumbing so it won’t be an issue in the future. We also offer pipe bursting/relining for a trench-less solution as needed, and a hydro-jetting service as an option to clean out your current line. Both systems have the possibility of needing replacement due to damage of some kind, but sewer lines can be installed with warranties.
There are also many other reasons someone may say they appreciate their septic compared to sewer system or vice versa. Either way, it’s always crucial to maintain and take care of your wastewater treatment system. It only takes one call to have a professional come out and take a look at your system, make sure it is clean, working, and in good condition. As I have said in previous blogs, just because it is “out of sight”, doesn’t mean it should be “out of mind”. If you have any questions about a sewer line, or transition from septic to sewer we are always happy to help. If you need any further information on who to contact in regards to a current septic system, we can help with that as well. We’re here 24/7 for emergency cases, and regular hours to help any way we can.