How Well Do You Know Septic Systems?

How Well Do You Know Septic Systems?

Have you ever been a victim of a flooded septic tank? Or moved into a beautiful new house only to find that the septic system requires immediate attention because part of it is clogged up? People often have ugly first time experiences with septic systems, mainly because they didn’t know what to do.

Septic systems are not exactly the kind of concept every person is expected to understand in one take. From the very start, the whole idea of septic systems comes off as very complex, leading many people to write it off as a very technical subject. The latter may be partly true, but that doesn’t make the concept a no-go area. Understanding your house’s septic system is not just a smart move – it is a very necessary one too and one you must make for both the longevity of your house and the health of your family.

What are septic systems?

The whole septic system encompasses every aspect of drainage within the house, starting from the piping that takes water away from the house and ending with the main storage area where it collects up.

Septic systems are divided into two; the septic tank and the drain field.

The septic tank is connected to the main pipe that leaves the house and functions as a store for all the effluent until it is pumped out. The drain field is the area outside of the tank where water from the tank is poured out and treated. There are different types of septic tanks. You might have one already fixed in your new premises or be required to install a new one yourself.

These are the four types of septic tanks from which you can choose. You will notice that their main variation is in the materials they are made of.

Concrete Septic Tanks – These are constructed using bricks and mortar and finished off with a layer of concrete or cement. They are long lasting, but are prone to cracks and separation, courtesy of the bricks and mortar.

Plastic Septic Tank – Made largely of plastic, these tanks are physically lighter than the other types and protected from rusting and its associated problems. Still, they are susceptible to cracking when pressure is exerted from above or along the sides, leading to continuous inward and outward seepage of effluent and groundwater.

Steel Septic Tank – This type is not very popular mainly because of the costs associated with it. Naturally, steel is susceptible to rust and quickly gives way to other detrimental factors such as corrosion. This means it’s more likely to develop holes in the long run and requires very regular inspections of the whole tank, which can be costly.


For starters, the septic system does what a municipal sewage treatment plant would do. Liquid waste is collected in one place where it is partially treated before further disposal. The septic system is the collection point of the house’s liquid waste from toilets, bathrooms, kitchens and every appliance that uses water.

You’ve probably noticed that every one of the appliances in the above-mentioned places such as bathtub or kitchen sink has pipes connected to them. These pipes are designed to direct used water away from these appliances/ fittings and into main pipes that connect to one major pipe. The latter then carries out the entire house’s effluent into the septic tank located outside.

Once inside the tank, the effluent settles under the force of gravity. Effluent can be made up of just about everything. The heavier solids within it gradually sink to the bottom while the fats and grease from household activities settle at the top. Later the fats and grease appear as scum.

With the settling finished, the middle part of the effluent is left filled with water, which is then drained out through a side pipe onto the drain field.  That water becomes partially clear after the sieving and settling processes.

Based on functionality, septic tank types have some variations, including the traditional and the alternative models.


How to care for your septic system

Every part of your house’s septic system requires care for it to function to its best. In fact, septic systems last longer and require less pumping out when used with care and given regular inspection and maintenance. There are a number of things you must do and others that you must avoid if your septic system is to continue working properly for as long as you wish it to. Here are a few suggestions.

  • Do not deposit anything except toilet tissue and fecal matter in the toilet. This is mainly directed at nonbiodegradables or items that do not rot such as plastics, diapers, tampons, etc. These items block the pipes through which water passes to go to the septic system, leading to flooding in your house. Even obscure items such as fats and grease from the sink are dangerous for the septic system. Their accumulation clogs the pipes in both the house and the septic tank, distorting effluent flow.
  • Desist from using disinfectants, ‘miracle’ water softeners and pesticides in the septic system. These are just some of the many chemicals that pose harm to the microbes that act on the effluent and break it down during the treatment process. The microorganisms’ major role is to feed on the organic matter (the semi-solid waste), breaking it down in the process and reducing its quantity. With the introduction of these chemicals, the water gets polluted before being released into the drain field and most of the microorganisms are killed.
  • Avoid doing large laundry loads in one go; it severely affects the septic systems’ water holding capacity, especially in the drain field. While doing lots of laundry at once seems like a time saver, it actually releases large amounts of water into the septic system at once, affecting the drain field which may flood as a result.
  • Do not plant trees near the drain field or septic tank. Their roots will spread out as they grow and crack the septic tank or damage the drain field. In addition, you should always know the location of your septic tank and drain field whether they are buried under the soil or not. This is to prevent parking of heavy cars on top of either, which can cause costly damage and fatal accidents.
  • Keep excess water away from the septic system. This might include rainwater from the roof drains, driveways or hillsides and any other source of water that may add to the system.  Too much water within the tank affects the functioning of the drain field over time. You can also place a limit on how much water anybody can use in the house for chores or domestic activities such as taking baths.
  • Any source of oil and fat should not be emptied at the sink or in the drains. This can be actual cooking oil, oil based paints toxic cleaners, solvents, and grease etc. These fats accumulate over time in the drains and result in clogging of the drain field.

For or an even longer working period, the septic system requires regular maintenance. Over time, even the most well-used systems will require repair and patch up to set processes back in order. Here are some ways you can maintain your septic system.

  • Carry out regular inspections.
  • Pump out the septic tank regularly.
  • Control water usage in your home.