Commonly Asked Questions About Septic Tanks

Clean running water and a functional sewage system are key to both comfort and sanitation, at home and at work. It is easy to take smooth drainage for granted but have you ever thought of where your waste water is going? The term “septic tank” is one that everyone has heard but very few people really know – in fact, it can be enough to scare off potential homeowners.

If you are shopping for your dream home, but are put off by the prospect of a septic tank, read on for some of the most commonly asked questions about these systems.

Septic Systems: Q&A

  • How Do Septic Systems Work?

The goal of septic systems is to filter wastewater, as it flows out of a home or commercial property. The system consists of a large septic tank, a distribution box, mechanics and a drain field, which is buried underground. The drain field consists of a series of perforated pipes that spread outward from the tank and release filtered water into the drain field.

Waste water almost always exits from properties in the same way, going through toilets, sinks, showers and appliances. Waste is carried into the septic system, where solid matter settles at the bottom. Over time, anaerobic bacteria form, that are able to break down this matter. Any by-product floats to the top and, are separated by a series of baffles. Remaining water is carried into your septic system, filtered and redistributed into the drain or leeching field, where it is safely filtered by the soil.

  • Common Misconceptions About Septic Systems
  1. Nobody Uses Septic Systems Anymore: Just because you can’t see them, does not mean that they aren’t there. Nearly 20% of properties use septic tanks, and that number becomes drastically higher in rural areas.
  2. Septic Tanks Are Unreliable: With proper care and regular maintenance, a system can last up to 40 years.
  3. Septic Systems Stink: Properly maintained systems do not smell. If you are experiencing foul odours, you should call a professional, immediately.
  4. Septic Tanks Can Contaminate Water Sources: Systems should be installed a minimum of 50 feet away from any well or water source, there should not be any contamination.
  • How Should Septic Systems Be Maintained?

As with any plumbing issues, septic systems should be left to the professionals. For any issues with smell or seepage, you should call a plumber immediately, but there are some ways that you can help to preserve the condition of your septic tank and surrounding area:

  1. Watch What Goes Into Your System! Anything that can clog a pipe, can clog your septic system. The truth is, flushable wipes, aren’t actually flushable – and neither are feminine products, chemicals, grease, coffee grounds, kitty litter and a wide variety of both liquids and solids.
  2. Avoid Additives! It is easy enough to find a laundry list of additives, designed to add to tanks that claim to break down bacteria in your septic system. Instead of accelerating the breakdown of solids, these chemical additions can wreak havoc on the beneficial bacteria inside your system.
  3. Watch Where You Park! Driving over, or parking cars over drainfields can lead to damage. As the weight of the car rests on tanks, fields or pipes, it can cause damage and breakage.
  4. Watch Where You Plant! Plants are a great addition to any space, but planting the wrong type of tree or greenery can result in roots reaching down into the drainfield, into pipes or even into the tank itself. A good rule of thumb is, if a tree will grow to be 25 feet, it should be planted 25 feet away from your system.
  5. Pump Regularly! Having your system pumped every 2-3 years is a great way to maintain condition and avoid unnecessary damage. Visual inspections should also be completed at this time, in order to stop outside issues before they happen.
  • Signs Your Septic System Should Be Replaced

Like any appliance, the failure of a septic system starts slowly and quietly at first, but will quickly become a major problem. Being aware of some of the early warning signs is a great way to keep ahead of potential damage. When you notice any of these tell-tale signs, call a plumber immediately:

  • Gurgling sounds coming from exterior drains
  • Slow moving interior drains in bathtubs, showers or sinks
  • Bad odours coming from septic tanks
  • Saturated drain fields – watch for puddles
  • Sewage backup inside
  • Slow flushing toilets
Commonly Asked Questions About Septic Tanks