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
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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:
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 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.
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