On a superficial level, septic tanks don't seem that different from sewers--the water goes down the drain all the same. However, septic tanks are different from sewers in their functionality and upkeep. Understanding how septic tanks work and what your role is in the general maintenance of a septic system can help you as you move into your home with a septic tank.
Septic Tanks Are Different From Sewers
A sewer is a network of pipes that run from homes and businesses to a waste water treatment facility. Sewers are a municipal service, available to buildings in towns, villages, and cities.
Septic tanks are different. A septic tank is an isolated underground tank that holds wastewater until it is released into the ground, where it is filtered through the soil until it is clean. Septic tanks are generally connected to only one building and are sized to meet the needs of the occupants of that building.
Septic Tanks Need to Be Pumped Periodically
Septic tanks are designed to hold water. When the wastewater enters the septic tank, it separates into different layers. The scum (fats and oils) rise to the top, sludge (solid waste) settles to the bottom, and clear water rests in the middle.
Bacteria in the septic tank breaks down the sludge over time, but eventually the sludge rises up too high to be contained. When this happens, the sludge must be pumped from the tank. Many households must have their septic tanks pumped every two to three years, however, there is no set time limit. The length of time that must pass between septic service depends on the size of the septic tank, the number of people in the household, and the amount of waste water that household produces. You can find out how often your septic tank needs to be pumped by talking to the repair person who comes to service your tank.
Be Careful About What You Flush
Solid waste can easily clog the septic tank, causing backups. The best way to prevent a backup is to limit the type of waste that is flushed down your drains. Don't use a garbage disposal if you have a septic tank. Never flush adult wipes, baby wipes, diaper inserts, tampons and other solid materials down into your septic system. Finally, avoid flushing anything into your septic system that might kill the bacteria in the tank (such as antibacterial soaps and antibiotics). Flushing things into the tank that can kill the bacteria can slow down the breakdown of solid waste, leading to a backup.
For more information about the care and upkeep of your septic tank, talk to your septic tank service person (such as one from AAA Cesspool & Rooter Service). He or she can answer your questions and help you understand your new septic tank.