What is a Septic System?
A septic system is comprised of two units: a septic tank (treatment tank) and a drain field (soil absorption field). The average
life cycle of a septic system is approximately 20-25 years. The size of your system is determined by the household size
(number of occupants) and the percolation rate within your soil. A percolation rate is a measure of how many minutes it takes
for an inch of water to penetrate the saturated soil in your drain field. If the percolation rate is too fast, the wastewater will
penetrate the soil and move into the groundwater basically untreated. If the percolation rate is too slow, the drain field can
become saturated and clogged, creating hydraulic overload. This is the most common cause of septic system failure.
The function of a septic tank is to remove and store the solid material and waste matter coming from your residence before
the wastewater flows into the drain field. The septic tank should be a watertight chamber constructed of concrete, fiberglass
or other decay resistant material that meets state specifications. The septic tank must be pumped and maintained in order for
the system to function properly. The tank should be pumped every two years on average, however if you have a large
household or excessive water usage, your tank may need to be pumped more often.
The most important part of the septic system is the drain field. The function of the drain field is to renovate, treat and dispose
of the wastewater. There are three types of drain field systems: a standard system (see diagram A), a sand mound system
and a pressure dosing system.
Elevated sand mound systems are necessary when the percolation rate is poor, the soil is shallow or a high water table
exists and prevents normal wastewater treatment from occurring. As with other systems, proper construction and installation
of the sand mound is crucial to the overall effectiveness and life of the system. If maintained properly, the life cycle of a sand
mound is approximately 20-25 years.
A sand mound is an embankment of sandy soil fill material that is constructed on the surface of the natural soil. This type of
system uses a pump tank (see diagram B) to deliver wastewater into the drain field/sand mound. Like a drainfield on a
standard system, the size of the mound is based on the soil content, the household size and water consumption rates or
peak flows. The pump tank is placed between the septic tank and the sand mound. The wastewater travels from the septic
tank and into the pump tank where it is then pumped into the mound in intervals to provide equal distribution of water
throughout the mound. This process, which allows the mound to "rest" between cycles is called pressure dosing. An alarm
float within the tank sends a signal to an alarm box inside the residence if any malfunctions occur within the tank.
We believe it is important for residents with septic systems to have a basic knowledge of how their system functions so they
can maintain their systems and ensure it is functioning properly. In order to educate our customers, we have created a list of
basic helpful hints which is based on over 45 years of our practical experience in the industry. With this list we hope to
educate you and try to save you time, money and protect the environment.
- NEVER enter a septic tank. The gasses within the tank can be toxic and fatal.
- Pump your septic tank regularly. Clogged drain fields are the leading reason for septic system malfunctions and
- Conserve water. This prolongs the life of your system. Reducing the water flow into the system helps the solids within
the tank to sink to the bottom, producing less agitation within the tank. The likelihood of solids passing into the drain
field is then greatly diminished.
- Monitor your water consumption. Your system is designed to handle certain levels of water based on the number of
occupants living at your residence. Make adjustments if the water usage increases drastically.
- Always promptly repair leaky fixtures, faucets and toilets. These leaks add up to extra water and agitation of solids in
the tank which can lead to eventual system malfunctions.
- Showers require less water than baths.
- Front loading washers use 1/3 less water than top loading units.
- Only use the clothes washer and dishwasher when you have a full load. Think water conservation!
- Always keep your drain field free of trees, roots, storm and surface water as well any other things that may obstruct
and damage the area.
- Know the exact location of your septic tank and drain field. This can save time when the system needs to be pumped
- Never drive heavy equipment or vehicles over your drain field. This can damage the area and cause a system failure.
- Always pump the tank through the large central manhole, not the baffle ports. A riser can be installed on the manhole
to make it more accessible for pumping.
- Place a copy of your sewage permit and application for a new system in a safe place for possible future use.
- Always read product labels carefully to make sure they are safe for your septic system. "Septic System Friendly"
- Use white toilet tissue. It breaks down faster within the tank. The dye in colored tissue holds the fiber together longer
and takes longer to break down in the tank.
- Use phosphorous-free laundry detergents.
- NEVER put harmful products or objects into your system.
- Periodically check the visible condition of your system and pump tank mechanisms.
- Make sure your system has been properly designed by a trained professional and passes all SEO (Sewage
Enforcement Officer) & DEP (Department of Environmental Protection) regulations.
- Make sure drain lines are not exposed or placed too close to the surface of the ground. Freezing lines can cause
serious damage to a system.
- Chemical or biological additives are not a substitute for regular pumping.
- Recognize changes in water quality.
- Know you septic system size, age and condition. If you do not know, have it pumped and inspected to determine
these crucial factors.
- Always use a trap in your sinks to help prevent larger solids from passing into your tank. These solids can eventually
cause clogging problems if not contained.
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How does a Septic System work?
Wastewater is carried from the residence through a pipe and deposited into the septic tank where it is collected and stored.
Anaerobic bacteria within the tank organically break down solids turning them into sludge. Heavier solids sink to the bottom
of the tank and form sludge while lighter materials float to the surface of the water and form a layer of scum. (see diagram C)
This water, which is free of solids, grease, laundry detergent and other harmful materials then passes through the baffle,
through the distribution box and is carried into the drain field. The function of the baffle is to prevent the layer of scum from
entering the drain field, and the distribution box evenly distributes the flow of the wastewater throughout the drain field. The
wastewater travelling into the distribution box can be disbursed by one of two methods; gravity or pressure. Gravity
distribution systems (see diagram C) are used in both trench and bed systems and carry the wastewater into the distribution
box through an unperforated pipe. Pressure distribution (pressure dosing - see diagram D) is installed similar to the gravity
method. The only difference is the addition of a pump tank that is placed between the septic tank and the drain field that
sends the wastewater into the drain field in cycles which provides improved distribution of the wastewater throughout the
drain field. Once in the drain field, the wastewater is distributed throughout layers of gravel and into the soil where it is
filtered and purified.
It is very important to understand how your septic system works so you can help to prevent malfunctions and failures that can
occur with your system. Through proper maintenance and regular pumping you can extend the life of your system. We also
recommend the addition of a septic filter to your system for added protection against clogging problems. Clogged drain
fields are the leading reason for septic system malfunctions and failures, and replacing a system can be a costly
investment. As the natural circulation beneath the ground becomes compact and clogged, and improper circulation and
drainage arise, problems can occur with the septic system. A filter system helps your septic system to run more efficiently
and can prevent most clogging problems from occurring.
The filter system is comprised of a unit with a filter cartridge which can be installed outside of the tank on new or existing
systems or retrofitted within the tank. The cartridge within the unit contains a mesh-like material with hundreds of tiny holes
that filter the scum and lighter waste materials that may manage to by-pass the baffle and flow directly into the drain field.
The waste materials become trapped in the mesh filter, allowing cleaner water to be sent to the drain field. Fewer solids in
the drain field means less build-up, a safer environment for your family and an extended life cycle for your overall system.
The filter is easy to install, service and clean, and offers an affordable solution to early septic system replacement.
The alarm box is normally located next to the main electrical panel and will sound for the following reasons:
1. Pump failure
2. Pump float malfunction
3. Faulty electrical connections within the pump tank
If your alarm goes off, contact a septic company immediately to repair the problem so that further malfunctions in the system
do not occur.
In general, we suggest that you keep your drain field free of trees and shrubs with deep roots and never allow any heavy
equipment or vehicles to be driven across the area. Excessive weight placed on the field can cause damage and result in
How to Extend the life of my system