An Introduction to Septic Systems - the Basics
- SEPTIC SYSTEM BASICS - What is a septic system? - the basics for home owners and buyers of a home with a septic tank and drainfield or alternative septic system design
- POST a QUESTION or READ FAQs about home septic systems: what is a septic tank, what is a drainfield? How do septic tanks work? How do drainfields work? What are the recomended steps to clean out or maintain septic tanks and drainfields?
What is a septic system?
This article explains what a septic system is, with a brief description of how septic systems work and what are the main components of a septic tank and drainfield system. This article describes the basic function, design & care of private septic tanks & drainfields or soakaway beds.
Key articles for people unfamiliar with septic systems are listed here:
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An Introduction to Septic Systems - How do Septic Systems Work?
If you don't know if your building is connected to a public sewer or a private septic system, see SEPTIC or SEWER CONNECTION?.
Readers should also See Septic Guide for Home Buyers or Owners and Septic Maintenance Repair. Other helpful but still basic articles for owners of a property with a septic system include:
What is a Septic System? Or What's a Septic Tank? What's a Drainfield? How do they work?
A "septic system," also referred to as a private, on-site waste disposal system, receives waste water and solids
from a building's plumbing facilities (bathrooms, kitchens, shower, laundry), treats, and then disposes of the
effluent from this waste, by permitting it to absorb into soils at the property.
Wastewater or septic effluent treatment is accomplished by bacterial (and other microorganism)
action in the "septic" or "treatment" tank and it is mostly accomplished by bacteria in the soil around and below
the effluent absorption system, or "drain field."
This bacterial action is needed to reduce the
level of pathogens in the effluent discharges from the waste system into the soil.
In addition to reducing the level of pathogens and the reduction of organic waste to a combination
of new cell masses, CO2, and water, wastewater treatment removes organic matter, nitrites and nitrates,
In an absorption field
the soil performs an additional role of filtering the septic effluent.
Where are the Septic Tank & Leachfield Usually Located on a Property & How are these components Laid-Out ?
The septic tank is usually located close to the building, perhaps just ten feet away, but on difficult sites a grinder pump may instead send wastewater to a more remote septic tank and drainfield. Incidentally, depending on where you live, the "drainfield" that absorbs & treats the final septic wastewater or effluent might be called a leachfield, leaching bed, drainage trench, soakaway bed or other terms. (Contact Us to suggest other septic system terms to include here.)
The principal components of a private on-site waste
disposal system usually include the following:
Below is a simple sketch of a septic tank showing how solid waste leaving the building thorugh its main drain or wastewater piping or "sewer line" or "septic line" is retained inside the tank while liquid effluent flows to the drainfield. (Click images to see an enlarged version). Here are the main components of a septic system and a brief description of what each does:
- Wastewater Piping connecting the building to the treatment tank conducts wastewater from toilets, sinks, tubs, showers, out to a septic tank. Wastewater from toilets is called "black water" and wastewater from sinks is called "graywater"
- A septic tank or sewage treatment tank which retains solid waste, letting liquid waste flow to an onsite disposal system.
Be sure to see SEPTIC TANK PUMPING SCHEDULE since pumping the septic tank regularly is the single most useful thing you can do to extend the life of a septic system.
- Effluent piping connecting and conducting clarified effluent from the treatment tank to a distribution box
- A distribution box connecting the effluent line from the tank to the absorption system or "drain field" - SEPTIC D-BOX INSTALL REPAIR
- An absorption system which permits effluent to drain to soils below and some of it to evaporate to air above. There are many ways to get rid of septic effluent, described at SEPTIC SYSTEM DESIGN BASICS and at SEPTIC SYSTEM DESIGN ALTERNATIVES, or see the list and definitions given at Master List of Septic System Types
- A bio-mat or bio-mass of pathogen-digesting bacteria which forms in soil below the absorption system. The bio-mat is what makes the wastewater sufficiently sanitary to discharge into the ground.
Many variations on this general scheme are used, depending on local climate, soil conditions, available space, economy,
and available materials. Special equipment and systems may be designed for problem or difficult sites such as
rocky or wet ground, permafrost, or wet tropical marshlands.
Continue reading at SEPTIC INFO for HOMEOWNERS, BUYERS or select a topic from the More Reading links or topic ARTICLE INDEX shown below.
Or see WASTEWATER TREATMENT BASICS
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- Eric Galow, Galow Homes, Lagrangeville, NY. Mr. Galow can be reached by email: email@example.com or by telephone: 914-474-6613. Mr. Galow specializes in residential construction including both new homes and repairs, renovations, and additions.
- Mark Cramer Inspection Services Mark Cramer, Tampa Florida, Mr. Cramer is a past president of ASHI, the American Society of Home Inspectors and is a Florida home inspector and home inspection educator. Contact Mark Cramer at: 727-595-4211 mark@BestTampaInspector.com 11/06
- Roger Hankey is principal of Hankey and Brown home inspectors, Eden Prairie, MN. Mr. Hankey is a past chairman of the ASHI Standards Committee. Mr. Hankey has served in other ASHI professional and leadership roles. Contact Roger Hankey at: 952 829-0044 - firstname.lastname@example.org. Mr. Hankey is a frequent contributor to InspectAPedia.com.
- Arlene Puentes, an ASHI member and a licensed home inspector in Kingston, NY, and has served on ASHI national committees as well as HVASHI Chapter President. Ms. Puentes can be contacted at email@example.com
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