Those who live in the city and enjoy the comparative luxury of public water may be unfamiliar with the use or existence of septic tanks. For those that make the move to suburbia or the countryside, however, a working knowledge of septic tank systems is handy.
What it is:
A septic tank is an underground apparatus that breaks down and disposes of human wastewater. A home's toilets, showers, and sinks are piped into the tank, where bacteria digest any solids that enter. The remaining liquid passes through a leach field (a network of perforated pipes that disperse the liquid into the soil). Ideally, wastewater then percolates through the soil, becoming relatively pure before encountering groundwater.
One of the most common issues with septic tanks is wastewater backup. This stems from the soil surrounding the leach field becoming saturated or clogged, preventing the tank's wastewater from exiting. The traffic jam causes sewage to back up into the house's plumbing fixtures. Ugly.
Soggy, smelly earth and standing water around your tank are good indications that you have a septic problem.
Experts recommend having your septic tank pumped every few years, but smaller systems will require more frequent pumping. It generally costs a few hundred dollars to have the tank professionally pumped. But you can extend the time between pumps and the overall life of your system if you avoid disposing of hazardous chemicals in your sink and toilet. Waste that doesn't break down naturally will clog your system, while some chemicals like bleach kill the bacteria your tank needs.
Installing a new septic tank can cost several thousand dollars, so if you plan to purchase a home with a septic tank, verify your contract demands a septic inspection and pumping.
For a more in-depth guide to septic systems, pay the EPA a visit.
Until next time,
The Home Know-It-All