Your septic system handles the water and wastes you flush, wash, or throw away. But how do you know if it’s working properly?
How a Septic Tank Works
When sewage leaves your house, it travels through plumbing pipes to your septic tank. There, it undergoes a settling process as solid waste sinks to the bottom, and bacteria eat away at it. This creates sludge that floats to the surface over time as water reaches the top. This creates scum, which contains fatty materials like grease and oil. Bacteria also metabolize organic matter in the septic tank, turning it into clear liquid effluent that’s pumped into the drainfield.
The septic system is designed to filter and purify wastewater that leaves the home so it doesn’t contaminate groundwater or nearby ecosystems. It’s a vital component in areas without centralized sewer systems. When a septic system isn’t functioning properly, it can cause sewage backups, unhealthy odors, and other unpleasant effects. That’s why regular septic tank inspections are so important.
Septic tanks are usually made of concrete or plastic and come in different sizes to suit the homes they serve. During a septic tank inspection, the inspector looks at the lids and risers to make sure they’re intact. They also examine the septic tank baffles to make sure they’re properly installed and aligned. The tank’s baffles are important because they prevent sludge from reaching the drainfield or overflowing into the home.
The inspector will also look for signs of a leak in the septic tank, such as cracks, corrosion, or corrosion around the riser and lid. The inspector may even need to remove the tank lid to examine the inside. They’ll also look at the septic system’s piping to make sure it’s free from clogs and corrosion.
If the tank hasn’t been pumped in three or more years, the inspector will recommend that it be done soon. If it’s too long between pumping, the septic tank could fill with sludge and overflow into the home or leach field.
The Septic Tank Lid
If the lid of a septic tank becomes damaged, it can become a serious health concern. Foul odors and harmful gases like methane can escape, causing respiratory issues. Inhaling sewage can also lead to infections and diseases.
During an inspection, the inspector will look for signs of damage to the septic tank lid. This can include rust, cracks, chipping, and weathering. In addition, the inspector will look for a date indicating when the last septic tank pumping occurred. If the septic tank is overfull, the drainfield could be at risk of flooding and creating problems.
To check the level of scum and sludge layers, the inspector will use a homemade measuring stick or “sludge judge.” This long, hollow pole can be lowered into the septic tank. Once the stick hits the sludge layer, it can be used to measure the amount of sludge that has built up, which helps determine when the tank needs to be pumped again.
The inspector will also open the baffle lids to inspect the baffles themselves for damage and blockages. This is important because the baffles help ensure that each drainline receives equal amounts of wastewater. If a baffle becomes blocked or is not aligned with the exit pipe, it can cause overflows and flooding in the drainfield.
After examining the lid and baffles, the inspector will check to make sure that the septic tank is buried deep enough so that it isn’t accessible to kids or pets. The septic tank must also be surrounded by sturdy landscaping to prevent animals and children from digging into it or falling in.
If a septic tank is too shallow, it will need to be excavated and replaced with a deeper one. To avoid this, many homeowners choose to have septic tank risers installed. These are essentially vertical extensions added to the tank to raise it to ground level. This makes it much easier to access the tank for maintenance and pumping.
In parks, septic tanks are often raised using concrete risers that can be placed in a garden bed or grassy area. This allows them to be easily mowed, and it eliminates the need for expensive excavation.
The Septic Tank Drainfield
A septic system drainfield, also known as an absorption field or leach field, serves as a dumping and ultimate treatment site for wastewater. It consists of an array of perforated pipes that allow effluent to seep into the soil, where it is naturally filtered and purified. Ideally, the leach field is far from wells and streams to avoid contamination.
Like any other part of a septic system, the drainfield can clog and fail. This can happen if the septic tank is overfull, liquid waste is allowed to flow back into the house, or harmful chemicals enter the system. Chemicals can kill helpful microbes necessary for the sewage to be processed and discharged from the tank.
The inspector examines the drainfield to check that the inlet and outlet pipes are buried at least six inches below ground level and that the leach lines are not clogged or otherwise blocked. The inspector may also use a dye to see how the water flows through the system to make sure it’s passing properly.
Other septic system parts that can require inspection include the riser lids, baffles, and distribution box. The inspector checks to ensure the riser lids fit tightly and that the baffles are firmly attached to the septic tank exit and input lines. The inspector may also remove the distribution box to examine the floats and check the amount of wastewater each drain line receives. Each line should receive an equal amount of wastewater. Otherwise, the drainfield can become flooded with untreated sewage.
In addition, the inspector looks for signs of contamination in the drainfield, such as a wet or soggy yard. This could indicate that the system is not treating wastewater properly and needs to be replaced.
There are several ways to help keep a septic system healthy, such as using low-flush toilets and water-conserving appliances. Limiting the amount of household garbage that goes into a septic system is also important since non-biodegradable items can clog the pipes or disrupt the microbiological process.
The Septic Tank Pump
The septic tank takes the waste from your house, processes it, and partially decomposes it before discharging the wastewater into the drainfield (also known as an absorption field). The solid waste sinks to the bottom and forms the sludge layer. The fats, oils, and other lighter materials rise to the top of the liquid waste. The remaining, relatively clear wastewater is called effluent and flows into the drainfield, where it seeps through and out into the soil, becoming groundwater or surface water.
It’s important to have the septic tank pumped regularly. Heavy solids in the sludge layer can build up and block the septic tank outlet, which can cause sewage to back up into your drains and toilets. Odor-causing gases can also back up into your home and contaminate indoor air. Pumping the septic tank helps prevent these problems.
The inspector may use an infrared camera to look inside the tank during the inspection process. The camera can detect if the septic tank is cracked or damaged, which is not good. The inspector might also open the manhole cover and examine the septic tank walls, corners, lid, and openings for signs of leaks and cracks.
If the septic tank has been pumped recently, the inspector might note this in the report. This can help you keep track of when to schedule another septic tank inspection. If you don’t have a record of when the septic tank was pumped, you can ask the septic system professional or consult your home’s “as-built” drawing to find out.
The septic tank pump is important for the septic system because it transports the raw sewage to the septic tank, pretreatment device, and drainfield dispersal area. Depending on how the septic system is configured, the pump might also transport filtered or deodorized wastewater to the household plumbing.
It’s important to have the septic pump and the entire septic system in good working condition because the septic system is an integral part of your home’s plumbing. It helps manage wastewater and protects your health, the environment, and your property.