How Does a Traditional Septic System Work?

If you live in a rural or suburban area, then you may have a septic system. Septic systems are an alternative to municipal waste disposal. They use small, localized treatment systems to process organic waste.

Septic systems work by using bacteria and other microorganisms to break down waste materials. This process occurs in three stages.

How a Traditional Septic System Works

Stage 1: Waste Enters the Septic Tank

Water, and waste, from the home exits into the septic tank through a drainage pipe. A large, main pipe connects the home to the septic system. The tank is:

  • Water-tight
  • Buried at least 5 feet from the home

The wastewater is held in the tank for a long enough time that the solids separate from the liquids. Solids are designed to remain in the tank and are broken down by microorganisms and bacteria to some degree.

Oils and sludge will remain at the top of the system and will move into stage 2.

Stage 2: Wastewater Exits into the Drainfield

The wastewater, or oil and sludge at this point, will exit the septic tank into a drainfield. Drainfield length will depend on the type of soil, with longer fields required for rocky soils. The water moves through the field’s pipes into the porous surface before it filters into the ground.

The waste will be filtered by the soil and eventually be discharged to the groundwater.

If the field doesn’t work properly, primarily due to being overloaded, flooding can occur, which will result in:

  • Sewage reaching ground surface
  • Toilet and sink backups

You may need to upgrade your septic system if drainage remains an issue.

Stage 3: Wastewater Percolates

The soil will continue to filter the waste as it percolates into the soil. Viruses, bacteria and any nutrients found in the waste will be filtered out over time.

Upgrade a Septic System

Septic systems, with the right care and maintenance, can last for decades without needing replacement. Older systems may begin to fail, requiring replacement. In some cases, local authorities offer grants for upgrade costs.

If you’re wondering why you should upgrade your septic system, there are a lot of reasons. New, advanced septic systems offer numerous benefits:

  • Advanced septic systems release less nitrogen gas, which contributes to contamination of the local environment, ground water, and watersheds.
  • Drain fields don’t have to be long, allowing the septic to be installed on smaller lots of land.
  • Advanced systems usually require less space overall thanks to the tank being smaller than a conventional septic system.

With the new Innovative / Advanced Onsite Wastewater Treatment Systems, not much changes for the homeowner. You can continue to use your home’s plumbing with the peace of mind that you’re not contaminating your ground water or other local water systems and estuaries.

Local water sources and the environment benefit greatly from advanced systems, which are now required in many instances.

Excess nitrogen entering the ground can impact water sources and make them unusable or unsafe or even poisonous for local wildlife. Properly treating wastewater allows communities that rely on non-city water to keep their water sources clean.

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