How Does A Septic Tank Work?

Houses aren’t complete without a functional septic system. In urban centres, property owners often don’t have to give their sewage systems much thought but wherever public sewer systems are unavailable, you will need to become well-versed in septic systems. For those who have never had to manage a septic tank and system before, it can seem daunting but a septic tank is an efficient way to manage wastewater, plain and simple.

The goal of a septic system to treat and clean wastewater that comes from homes before it is put back into the environment. These systems are made up of two main parts: the tank and the drain field. The septic tank itself receives waste water while the drain field is a series of pipes and trenches that transfer treated water slowly back into the ground.

What Is A Septic Tank & How Does It Work?

The modern septic system is credited to French inventor Jean-Louis Mouras but the concept of organized waste management has been around long before Mouras’ prototype in 1881. The earliest known system of organized waste management appeared in China around 200 BCE. From here, we saw the invention of the outhouse. While these did offer privacy and confined waste to a set area, it also meant having to bury pits when full and dig a new one somewhere else.

Dealing with waste has been a human issue since the formation of societies. As populations grew, outhouses were no longer an efficient form of waste management. In the 19th century, Mouras created a prototype using concrete and clay pipes that would transport waste from his home into a buried tank. After some time, Mouras dug up the pipes to see how the system was fairing and noticed that the tank had separated waste into a layer of liquid wastewater on the top and a layer of scum and solids on the bottom of the tank. This separation is what lead to the idea of modern septic systems as we know them.

Modern septic tanks separate waste into three distinct layers: solids that float to the bottom of the tank, sludge that floats, and a middle layer of clean water. The clear water exits the tank and is then discharged into a drainage field. These drainage areas are sometimes called a leach field or a septic field. Liquid is dispersed through using perforated pipes that allow percolation into the soil. This slow drainage process prevents drowned lawns.

Bacteria and added enzymes break down solid waste, sludge and scum into gases and liquids. Septic systems are designed to treat wastewater and break down organic materials and organic materials only. If oils and grease enter into the system, they are unable to break down properly. Regular pumping and emptying is important in suburban and rural areas.

Maintaining a Conventional Septic System: Care & Repair

Septic tanks are constantly in use so cleaning and maintenance need to be a part of your regular housekeeping routine. These systems are responsible for the storage and transportation of all wastewater but this doesn’t stop with toilets. Any time you run a dishwasher, use a washing machine or brush your teeth, there is wastewater added to your tank. A high traffic household requires more frequent emptying and even when regularly emptied, clogs and buildup do happen.

Modern septic tanks are buried underground so it is nearly impossible to see exactly what type of condition they are in. Even if you can’t see them there are certain signs that you can watch out for:

  • Slow Draining or No Draining
  • Water Backup
  • Sewage Smells
  • Standing Water in Drainage Field
  • Unusual Sounds (silent pumps or gurgling coming from pipes)

If you begin to notice any of these issues, it is a good idea to call a plumber at the first signs of struggle. Experienced plumbers are able to diagnose issues before they become disasters. Now that you know how your septic system works, there is no reason to be afraid of your system.

Homeowners should never try to clean, repair or empty septic tanks on their own. By now, you know that these systems are complex with many moving parts. Instead of taking an amateur approach only to end up with unexpected damage, call a plumbing professional for great results and fully insured services.

How Does A Septic Tank Work?