What is a Septic Tank System
In many areas that do not have the capability to run public wastewater hookups to homeowners, septic tanks are installed to digest waste that otherwise would go to a treatment facility on a municipal system. Septic tanks are generally made out of concrete, fiberglass or steel and are normally buried outside of the home acting as a catch basin for waste flowing from commodes, sinks, showers and often washer machines. Septic tanks vary in sizes anywhere from 300 gallons to 30,000 gallons or more depending on the facility the tank is serving.
The diagram below displays an average septic tank system with lateral lines running to a drainfield. Inside the tank, liquids and solids are separated naturally and form three distinctive layers know as the scum layer (top layer), clear layer (middle effluent layer) and sludge layer (bottom layer). In most systems, the effluent layer is allowed to pass out into a drainfield or leachfield where the liquid is broken down biologically by naturally occurring bacteria present in most all systems. The sludge and scum layers are slowly broken down by similar bacteria and are converted to effluent or “middle layer” liquid.
Waste entering the tank is constantly broken down and liquefied allowing it to pass through piping leading out to the drainfield where aerobic (bacteria requiring oxygen to survive) and anaerobic (bacteria not requiring oxygen to survive) bacteria degrade the liquid into harmless water and C2o which absorbs deeper into the surrounding soils – eventually becoming purified reusable water that enters back into the deeper water table.
Septic systems produce toxic gases that are extremely hazardous and carry a potent unruly odor – both a natural byproduct from the breakdown of organics by the bacteria present in the tank, lines and field. Most systems have curves and loops called P-Traps that hold enough water to prevent the gases and odors from backing up into your home (similar to the loops found under most kitchen sinks). As with any pressurized system, vent pipes serve as outlets for the gases and run clear through most homes, topping off just above the roof, where gases are released into the air. When water or waste enters the system, the waste that is already present gets forced into the field where it is broken down and in most cases, continues the cycle of degradation and remediation, allowing for more waste to come in as this cycle continues.Septic tanks are designed to be hands-off and are designed to work with gravity to assure odor and backup free function. Since their inception, septic tanks have been extremely efficient at handling most all normal waste but have suffered setbacks due to modern chemical and antibacterial product use.In the old days, the coli-form that is present in human waste served as a sufficient supply of bacteria to decay or breakdown the waste we produced but with more and more products incorporating “anti-bacterial” agents, this coli-form is in many cases, killed off or diminished to a point that septic systems can no longer properly break down the waste. Undigested sewage and waste burdens a system and leads to solids flowing into the drainfield where the pipes and graves become clogged with sludge leading to backups and in many cases, complete system shutdown.
Many homeowners are turning to bioremediation technologies to offset the “killing off” of healthy bacteria, by adding supercharged bacterial septic tank treatments. Septic tank treatments re-establish bacterial colonies and assure healthy bacterial counts (both aerobic and anaerobic) to digest sludge and grime that has accumulated over the years. Strong bacterial products have the capability to rapidly digest and degrade compacted drainfield sludge into nutrients and water, allowing the drainfield and lines to function properly and restoring free-flow.
Most systems will provide years of trouble free functionality and experts recommend a month dose of potent bacterial additives to ensure that proper bacteria levels never fall low enough to allow solids to work their way into the field. By staying conscientious about how your system works, your septic tank will last a lifetime, and then some.