Some homes, particularly those out in rural areas, are not connected to city sewer systems. Rather, they have individual septic systems to trap and treat household water waste. While the initial cost of septic system installation is costly, if it is maintained properly it can provide you with reliable service for years and years. They provide a system that allows for the wastewater to be removed from your home. They are usually easy to maintain with proper care, but neglecting your septic tank can result in costly overhauls or worse, require emergency maintenance to eliminate clogged or failed systems. Emergency situations require fast attention.
What is a Septic Tank and How Does It Work?
Septic systems are underground wastewater treatment structures, commonly used in rural areas without centralized sewer systems. They use a combination of nature and proven technology to treat wastewater from household plumbing produced by bathrooms, kitchen drains, and laundry.
A typical septic system consists of a septic tank and a drainfield, or soil absorption field.
The septic tank digests organic matter and separates floatable matter (e.g., oils and grease) and solids from the wastewater. Soil-based systems discharge the liquid (known as effluent) from the septic tank into a series of perforated pipes buried in a leach field, chambers, or other special units designed to slowly release the effluent into the soil.
When the septic tank is maintained correctly, it can serve your home well, generating all the wastewater from your home.
How a Typical Septic System Works:
- All water runs out of your house via one main drainage pipe into a septic tank.
- The septic tank is a buried, water-tight container usually made of concrete, fiberglass, or polyethylene. The tank is responsible for holding the wastewater long enough to allow solids to settle down to the bottom forming sludge, while the oil and grease floats to the top as scum.
- The liquid wastewater (effluent) then exits the tank into the drainfield (a shallow, covered, excavation made in unsaturated soil). Pretreated wastewater is discharged through piping onto porous surfaces that allow wastewater to filter though the soil.
- The soil accepts, treats, and disperses wastewater as it percolates through the soil, ultimately discharging to groundwater.
- Finally, the wastewater percolates into the soil, naturally removing harmful coliform bacteria, viruses and nutrients. Coliform bacteria is a group of bacteria predominantly inhabiting the intestines of humans or other warm-blooded animals. It is an indicator of human fecal contamination.
Warning Signs of a Septic Emergency
Change in Smell
Smell is one of the first things you will notice when you have a potential issue with your septic system. If you smell sewage rising through your pipes that connect to your sinks, showers, and toilets, you should call a professional immediately before a small problem turns into a huge issue. Sewage smell is incredibly foul and impossible to disguise or ignore. It might be one of the most unpleasant possible odors and fortunately is very unlikely in a well-maintained septic system, as it is an advanced sign of septic tank problems.
If your toilet is bubbling when you flush it, or the water level in the bowl is not quickly draining (or worse – completely clogged), that is a sign that your septic tank is full and needs to be pumped. Continued use could result in damage to your tank or pipes.
Slow Water Draining
If water in your bathtub and sinks are slowly draining, this is another telltale sign that your system is at capacity, or even clogged, and should be serviced right away. It is best to call a professional for clogs as soon as you notice them. Waiting can result in flooding, which is considered a septic tank emergency. You will probably notice foul smells shortly before flooding begins because waste is either staying in or moving up your pipes.
Standing Water in the Drainfield
Another way to identify a potential issue is outside by the drain field. If you see standing water or puddles near where your septic tank’s drain field is, it could be a sign of a malfunctioning system. This septic tank emergency may also be accompanied by foul odors. You need to address this situation right away because leaking sewage is dangerous for your health and the environment.
Most drain fields are relatively close to the home or business they serve, and so this is an easy sign to catch. If you see standing water on your lawn (particularly if the weather’s been dry) this is an obvious sign that something is happening in your septic system. It could be something as minor as a clogged pipe or as major as a compromised drain field or septic tank.
Your Septic Alarm
Not everyone has a septic alarm installed, but if you have one and it is going off, it might mean that you are experiencing high water in your system. This can be because it cannot handle your waste load because of higher volumes, tank problems, or drain field issues. Either of these issues can cause significant problems in your septic system and should be addressed quickly by a septic professional. Call us if you want more information about your alarm, or if you’re interested in installing an alarm for your septic tank.
This is only applicable to those septic system owners who have freshwater wells for personal or agricultural consumption, but since most septic systems are installed in rural areas, it is important to keep in mind. It is important to have your well water tested on a regular basis – sometimes unmaintained or overloaded septic systems can leech into the local groundwater and cause high nitrate levels in your drinking water – not a good situation!
Having your septic tank maintained regularly and sealing all leaks will keep your well water clean and fresh – free of high levels of nitrates.
Preventative Steps to Take
To keep your system from failing faster than normal, it is crucial that you not use more water than you absolutely have to since using too much water is one of the main reasons that septic systems fail in the first place. You will also want to avoid using additives since they will do more harm to your system than good.
Avoid paving over, driving over and parking on top of your septic system. If it is possible, try your best not to direct excess rainwater to the spot where your septic system is buried. Septic tank water navigates through laterals before draining through soil. If the ground is already wet where the septic tank water drains, there is a chance that the water will start to back up either into your system or your ground pool. Always ensure that yard drainage and downspouts are redirected to other locations on your lawn.
It is recommended that you install inspection ports and risers. Septic systems are buried, which makes them hard to thoroughly inspect for problems. It is easy to install a small inspection port so that you can check your system.
If you ever do find that you have sewage in your home, lift up the lid of the septic tank and inspect the water level. You can also call a professional septic services company to check the water level for you. You might have to call a plumber if the water level is lower than the outlet since there’s a chance that a pipe that runs between your tank and your house could be clogged.
If you look and see that the water level is higher than the outlet, your problem is either the tank or something beyond it. Get your tank pumped so that you will have a bit of extra time to decide what to do next. Not only that, but having your tank pumped will give the pumper a chance to see whether or not the issue is an easily apparent one or one that is more complex.
In the event that the drainfield is filled with water, it is best that you put off getting your tank pumped since emptying the tank out can cause it to float, which can lead to broken pipes. If you notice that the drainfield is soggy or has a foul odor coming from it, make sure that you keep people away from the area since there’s a chance that you might have a biohazard on your hands. Think about putting up a fence if you have any pets or children in order to make sure that they stay away from the area. You will also want to have your tank pumped and use as little water as you can in order to help with the odor.
Call West Coast Sanitation Today!
The fact is that many homes and septic systems were not designed to handle the load put on them from modern appliances and modern lifestyles. But, with a little care and awareness, you can manage this impact and help to avoid increased maintenance problems and the need for costly system repairs and replacement.
At West Coast Sanitation, we know that you don’t have time to deal with septic problems. If you think that your system has reached capacity, please give us a call right away. We have professionals ready to answer your questions and get your system working properly again.