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The Septic Tank: out of sight, out of mind.
A good septic tank is the crux of any solid septic system. The septic tank sits below ground where natural bacterial action decomposes human waste into environmentally friendly composites. Through this chemical breakdown, the septic tank transforms it’s contents into water, gases, and undigested material (sludge), which sink to the bottom of the tank. Usually unseen by homeowners, problems are not easily detected.

How the Septic System Works

The septic tank is one part of a standard rural septic system, the other part being the leach field. Sewage enters the septic tank from the house where it is left to separate. Heavy solids settle to the bottom of the septic tank, while the relatively clear water rises to the top where it is allowed to leach off into the earth. Once in the leach field, any remaining solids are taken care of, and the water rejoins the greater water table.
Solids left in a septic tank mostly break down through the digestion of anaerobic processes. Not all the solids will work their way out, however, and occasionally a septic tank must be drained before it reaches capacity. The speed at which this filling occurs depends on the size of the septic tank, the amount of waste being pumped into it, the temperature the tank is kept at, and whether a large amount of non-biodegradable solids have been added to the tank.

The Tank
A typical septic tank is constructed of either some sort of metal treated against corrosion or, more commonly, a sturdy plastic. Some septic tanks may be fitted with an additional heating apparatus as well, to aid in the anaerobic breakdown of solid waste and lessen the frequency with which the septic tank needs to be drained.
An average-sized septic tank has a capacity of anywhere from 1000 to 1500 gallons (3785-5678 liters), though for high-impact areas large tanks with 5000 to 10000 gallon (18927-37854 liters) capacities exist. Installation of a septic tank requires no small amount of work, with a percolation test required to locate an ideal place for a leach field, and heavy machinery required to dig a sufficient pit in which to place the septic tank.

Waste Removal
The truck that comes to remove solid waste from a septic tank is commonly referred to as a honey truck or honey wagon. Most rural areas have only one septic truck working their region, as the rate of removal tends to be fairly low. In some high-density areas, a number of septic companies may be needed, but it tends to be the case that as populations grow to levels where multiple trucks would be required, environmental factors force the transition to a centralized waste treatment system anyway.

The Life Span of a Septic Tank
Most septic tank systems can last about 30 years depending on the number of household tenants and assuming normal wear and tear. Signs of a failing septic tank are sewage backup in the home or the smell of sewage outside the house.

Common Septic System Problems

One of the most common problems with septic tank occurs when the drain field becomes plugged and clarified water can no longer make its way through the soil. In many cases, this occurs when solids from the tank end up in the leach field. Septic system problems can also occur from solid build-up in the tank, heavy traffic over the absorption field, and the over-use of chemicals that can kill the “good” bacteria in the system and cripple the treatment process. Other problems occur when too much water is allowed into the drainage system. This, too, can overload the system.

When Problems Arise
No part of septic tank maintenance or repair is ‘do-it-yourself’.
If you suspect that your septic tank needs to be replaced, you need to contact a septic system contractor. The contractor can do some testing to see if there is a problem, and identify what may need to be replaced. Replacement of piping or leach fields, or tank pumping and maintenance will add to that cost.

This paper is intended for informational purposes only. Nothing contained herein constitutes legal, financial or other professional advice. Transmission of these materials is not intended to create, and receipt does not constitute, any relationship of any kind between the provider and the recipient. Some of these points may not apply in your area. Different term and conditions may vary from state to state and province to province. All articles, text and photographic material presented here is for the use and pleasure of the recipient only. Download PDF

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