Many homes and businesses are located in suburban and rural areas not served by a centralized public sewer system. The most practical and safest alternative to a municipal hookup is a septic tank system. According to the EPA, more than one in five households in the United States depend on individual onsite or small community cluster systems (septic systems) to treat their wastewater. Septic systems are underground wastewater treatment structures which digests organic matter and separates floatable matter (e.g., oils and grease) and solids from the wastewater.
While there are several types of systems utilized today, we will be discussing the most common septic system which is a passive system. This type of system is comprised of the following components:
- Septic Tank: this is the first stage of the wastewater treatment process; the waste from a home is deposited into the tank where it is separated into three layers:
- Scum: consists primarily of oils, grease and fats
- Wastewater (Clean Zone or Liquid Effluent): this layer is needed to prevent solids from being pushed into absorption fields
- Sludge: this layer contains the heaviest items (solids) including toilet paper, feces and other solids which are consumed by bacteria once in the tank
- Distribution Box (D-Box): the d-box evenly distributes the septic tank wastewater to the drain lines located in the drain/absorption or leach field.
- Leach Field (Drain/Absorption Field): the leach field is an area of land next to the septic system comprised of a number of perforated pipes and absorption trenches distributed throughout the area. The wastewater passes through the d-box and out to the pipes and trenches so that it is evenly absorbed into the ground. The leach field is made up of soil, gravel and other similar material; when the wastewater passes through the leach field the organic matter can be transformed into useful substances.
Septic Tank Size
People often ask us if the septic system is adequate for the size of the home that is being inspected. To obtain the answer, a study including items such as how many people will be living in the home, what kind of soil the system drains into and the size and number of tanks in the system is conducted. Because the system is underground a septic system inspection and/or hydraulic load test is required. The following guidelines can be used as a starting point to determine the appropriate size for your septic tank:
- Three-bedroom home: 1,000-gallon tank
- Five-bedroom home: 1,500-gallon tank
The size can vary based on the factors listed above so it is recommended that you work with a professional septic system company to determine the appropriate equipment requirements.
Septic System Maintenance
More than four billion gallons of wastewater are dispersed below the ground’s surface every day. Ground water contaminated by poorly or untreated household wastewater poses dangers to drinking water and to the environment. Malfunctioning septic systems release bacteria, viruses, and chemicals to local waterways, therefore, it is critical to maintain your septic system.
You should have a septic system professional regularly inspect, service and pump your septic system every 2-3 years depending on the load. You can expect to spend between $250 and $500 for these services. The costs to repair or replace your system can run between $3,000 and $7,000 for the conventional systems discussed here while alternative systems can cost even more.
Other than the safety and environmental impacts, maintaining your septic system can extend the life expectancy of your system and protect your property value. A few simple septic system dos and don’ts can help you realize these benefits.
- Conserve water
- Maintain average use approach – don’t overload the system
- Monitor or eliminate the use of harsh chemicals – if you wouldn’t ingest it, your septic tank shouldn’t either
- Pump tank regularly (every 2-3 years depending on the load)
- Inspect the tank every time you pump it
- Direct gutters and down spouts away from drain fields
- Maintain a healthy grass cover over the drain field
- Allow back wash water from water softener or other water treatment devices to enter the septic system
- Use a garbage disposal in your kitchen – vegetables do not breakdown easily
- Use biological or chemical devices in the septic tank
- Scrub or disinfect tank
- Plant trees, pile snow, or build anything over the drain field
- Use a septic system for the disposal of anything besides toilet waste and the water used for bathing, laundry, or dishwashing
Our experienced team of inspectors proudly serves the following areas:
Chester County, PA
- West Chester
- Kennett Square
Delaware County, PA
- Newtown Square
Montgomery County, PA
New Castle County, DE
Also serving portions of the following counties: Lancaster (PA), Berks (PA), Bucks (PA) and Kent (DE).