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Septic systems, properly installed, should last and work for many years. However, they do need a certain amount of maintenance and attention, occasional pumping, and immediate care if they show signs of failing. Should a septic system fail, the consequences and ramifications can reach epic proportions. Not only will the household be deprived of waste disposal means, property can be damaged, and an unhealthy environment created. Understanding a few basics about how septic systems work can help homeowners develop a protocol for care and maintenance, thus prolonging the longevity and efficacy of the system. Teaming up with a septic tank plumbing specialist should also be a priority.
Where are septic tanks used?
According to the American GroundWater Trust, about 1/3 of Americans have a septic system treating their sewage and wastewater.
Septic systems are used anywhere that municipal sewage infrastructure is unavailable. Most rural and many recreational properties have septic systems. And many older homes that remain standing as new neighbourhoods spring up around them maintain septic tanks and drainage fields.
Space is needed for septic systems, because the placement of the two main components – i. e. the tank and the drainage field – requires that the system be located a safe distance from wells and dwelling foundations. It can also be tricky in areas that are environmentally sensitive: watersheds, protected wetlands, etc. Local by-laws can also dictate whether or not a septic system is permitted. The quality of the soil can also be an issue, whether it is composed mostly of sand or clay or some combination.
Some older systems are made of steel or iron with ceramic pipes, which is no longer encouraged; newer ones are made of precast concrete, polyethylene or fiberglass or plastic, and are easier to repair, move and replace as necessary.
If you’re buying a new home and you’re unsure if it has a septic system, consult surveys or official building plans. It should be clearly demarcated, even if it is not functioning. And you can always hire a specialist in septic tank plumbing, such as Benjamin Franklin Plumbing of Fort Worth in Benbrook, TX, to analyze, locate and assess all the components of an existing system.
If you know there’s a septic system attached to the home you are purchasing, it will need to be tested, and possibly pumped out or repaired. A professional septic tank plumbing technician can be invaluable in this scenario also.
How does a septic system work?
Understanding your septic system is the first step for knowing what it needs to ensure longevity, safety and proper functionality. This step-by-step description outlines the basics for most systems, but be aware that there are a variety of septic styles, especially in older systems that may have been grandfathered into your property.
- Excess water and waste exit your house from a main sewage drain pipe into a tank, which is located some distance from the foundation of the home, and well above the water table.
- The septic tank is a strong and watertight container usually made of fiberglass or polyethylene. It has to be strong to withstand being buried several feet underground.
- The tank’s primary job is to hold waste water long enough to allow solids to settle down to the bottom forming what’s called a sludge, while the oil and grease floats to the top as what’s known as scum. (Together septic sludge and scum are referred to as septage). Compartments, pipes and a T-shaped outlet prevent both sludge and scum from leaving the tank and leaching prematurely into the drain field area.
- Liquid waste water is called effluent. It exits the tank, often through a series of filters, into the drain field.
- A drain, or leach, field is created by making a large and shallow excavation in dry (as in unsaturated) soil, then covering it over with earth and other materials. Pre-treated wastewater is discharged through a series of pipes onto porous surfaces such as gravel, which allows waste water to filter through the soil. Aerobic bacteria in the gravel and surrounding soil can be relied upon to complete the decomposition of the waste.
- Waste water percolates through the soil, ultimately being discharged as groundwater that is free from harmful coliform bacteria, viruses and nutrients. If the drain field becomes saturated with too much liquid from the system or from other circumstances, it can flood, causing sewage to surface and create a pond, or back up to toilets and sinks within the home.
At any point along this intricate system, materials and connections can fail. A tree root puncturing a pipe, over-saturated soil suddenly shifting, a catastrophic weather event – these can all create issues. That’s why having a septic tank plumbing specialist in your phone book is always a good idea. Professionals such as the septic tank plumbing contractors at Benjamin Franklin Plumbing of Fort Worth in Benbrook, TX, know their stuff and can intervene if the system fails or backs up. When it comes to septic, the DIY approach is definitely not a good idea.
A word about good bacteria
Certain kinds of bacteria actually make a septic system work better by breaking down waste, helping to make water clean enough to safely percolate back into the earth. Some of these good bacteria live in the tank, but most do their work in the drain field. It’s one of the reasons why homeowners need to be careful about flushing chemicals into their septic systems (as it can kill good bacteria along with the bad), and to not over-pump the septic system.
Pumping out a septic tank
Septic systems, as long as they are properly designed and installed, need only occasional pumping to remove the sludge and scum from the tank.
But even with a healthy bacterial ecosystem breaking down the septage, a properly functioning septic system and good drain field, the sludge and scum layers in your tank will build up over time. They should be pumped out periodically – according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) this is generally at the point when the bottom of the scum layer is within 6 inches of the pipe that leads to the leach field, or the top of the bottom layer of sludge comes within 12 inches of it. However, it’s virtually impossible to tell when your waste has reached these levels.
That’s why it’s recommended that homeowners with a septic tank have their system checked every year by a septic tank plumbing contractor. Getting your septic system inspected should include getting sludge and scum levels measured, checking out the system’s pipes, pumps and connections, and inspecting the drain field to make sure it’s dealing with effluent properly.
Pumping removes excess sludge and scum, which can slow down the bacterial action in the tank. You could pump your tank each year, but if you can, it may be better to go two or three years between pumping, depending on the size of your tank and the amount of waste you run through the system.
When you call a septic tank plumbing service provider, he or she will also inspect for leaks and examine the scum and sludge layers in your septic tank. To keep track of when to pump out your tank, write down the sludge and scum levels found by the septic tank plumbing professional and keep it in a safe place. Ask whoever acts as your septic tank plumbing inspector to make a rough recommendation for how often your tank should be pumped.
The service provider should note any repairs completed, as well as the tank condition in a system service report. And homeowners should request a copy of those service reports. Anyone who has had significant problems with their septic system will tell you that it’s important to keep maintenance records on work performed on your septic system in case you change plumbers, and for certification and insurance purposes.
A septic tank filter is designed to protect treatment systems from being clogged by solids coming out of the septic tank. Effluent filters can be used for gravity flow systems that are designed for septic tanks that use gravity discharge to a leach field. Pressure filters are designed for use with systems with a submersible pump.
Another product worth exploring are filtration socks that can cover the filter screens for further filtration and easier maintenance. Rather than remove the entire filter screen for cleaning, the sock can be more easily removed and washed.
If your septic system clogs frequently requiring frequent cleaning of the filter, you might decide to remove that filter. Don’t. To recap: septic tanks work by allowing waste to separate into three layers: sludge, effluent and scum. The solids settle to the bottom, where micro-organisms decompose them. The scum, composed of waste that’s lighter than water, floats to the top. The effluent floating in the middle exits the tank and travels through perforated conduits into the leach field. There, gravel and soil act as organic filters to clean the waste water as it sinks into the ground.
The Texas state health code requires an effluent filter, so keep it in place. Removing the filter could create a far worse and ultimately, expensive problem. Without the filter, waste particles could clog the pipes. It would then require extensive digging to clean and unclog the system.
However, your filter should not need constant cleaning. Most filters don’t have to be cleaned until the tank is pumped, which is typically every two to five years. And that’s something that a knowledgeable septic tank plumbing contractor can and should do for you. In the meantime, just remember to avoid putting filter clogging materials, such as grease, fat or food scraps, down your drain.
Why hire a pro for septic tank plumbing?
Basic as a septic system may seem, analyzing its health really does require an expert. There are plenty of semi-qualified contractors out there who will gladly pump the sludge out of your tank, but many can’t fully answer how a septic system works or how it should be maintained. And you may be tempted to judge the sludge levels, or even attempt pumping out by yourself. It’s highly recommended that homeowners look for a septic tank plumbing contractor who has received formal training in the science of septic systems. They’ll have a firm grasp of the fundamentals, but also be up to date on environmental and technological innovations in the field.
Some states, Texas among them, have implemented certification programs for septic tank plumbing contractors. Check to see also, if your insurer requires a certified professional when it comes to repairs and replacements.
A complete inspection by a septic tank plumbing pro will determine whether your system is up to code (many are not), and the condition of the tank and drain field. They’ll also be able to tell you whether your tank is large enough for your household, and the maximum volume of water you can pass through it in a day.
If you have, or are considering installing a septic system, get in touch with the professional septic tank plumbing experts at Benjamin Franklin Plumbing of Fort Worth in Benbrook, TX, to learn more about installation, repairs, trouble-shooting, and septic tank pumping. Correct installation, regular maintenance, professional repairs — leaving these jobs to the pros will ensure your septic system has a long and effective life.
Quality work and decades of experience make Benjamin Franklin of Fort Worth the best choice in the greater Benbrook, TX area when it comes to septic tank plumbing, leak detection and repair. Their certified plumbers use state of the art techniques based on the condition and placement of your septic system to solve septic tank plumbing problems quickly.