SEPTIC SYSTEM BASICS - CONTENTS: 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?
[Click to enlarge any image]
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"
See SEPTIC D-BOX INSTALL REPAIR
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.
Helpful but still basic articles for owners of a property with a septic system include:
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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.
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.
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Books & Articles on Building & Environmental Inspection, Testing, Diagnosis, & Repair
Carson, Dunlop & Associates Ltd., 120 Carlton Street Suite 407, Toronto ON M5A 4K2. Tel: (416) 964-9415 1-800-268-7070 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. The firm provides professional home inspection services & home inspection education & publications. Alan Carson is a past president of ASHI, the American Society of Home Inspectors. Thanks to Alan Carson and Bob Dunlop, for permission for InspectAPedia to use text excerpts from The Home Reference Book & illustrations from The Illustrated Home. Carson Dunlop Associates' provides extensive home inspection education and report writing material.
The Illustrated Home illustrates construction details and building components, a reference for owners & inspectors. Special Offer: For a 5% discount on any number of copies of the Illustrated Home purchased as a single order Enter INSPECTAILL in the order payment page "Promo/Redemption" space.
TECHNICAL REFERENCE GUIDE to manufacturer's model and serial number information for heating and cooling equipment, useful for determining the age of heating boilers, furnaces, water heaters is provided by Carson Dunlop, Associates, Toronto - Carson Dunlop Weldon & Associates Special Offer: Carson Dunlop Associates offers InspectAPedia readers in the U.S.A. a 5% discount on any number of copies of the Technical Reference Guide purchased as a single order. Just enter INSPECTATRG in the order payment page "Promo/Redemption" space.
The Home Reference Book - the Encyclopedia of Homes, Carson Dunlop & Associates, Toronto, Ontario, 25th Ed., 2012, is a bound volume of more than 450 illustrated pages that assist home inspectors and home owners in the inspection and detection of problems on buildings. The text is intended as a reference guide to help building owners operate and maintain their home effectively. Field inspection worksheets are included at the back of the volume.
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