Call Us Today! 859-987-2529

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.

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.



How to Extend the life of my system

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:

  • Pump failure
  • Pump float malfunction
  • 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 system failure.

Helpful Hints

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 failures.
  • 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 or repaired.
  • 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.

Managing Wastewater

When it comes to comprehensive commercial wastewater management

In Central KY – Martin's has you covered. Thanks to our flexible service schedule, advanced equipment and our own -approved treatment facility, we've become a premier wastewater management service provider.

Residential Services

Martin’s Sanitation Services provides sewer and home septic services in Central KY for more than 50 years. Whether you have a slow or clogged drain, a full septic tank or need to locate the system/lines on your property, help is just one phone call away.

  • Emergency Dispatch – 24/7, 365 Days a Year
  • No Job Too Small
  • Certified, Bonded and Insured

Septic Tank Cleaning

You can count on Martin’s for professional residential septic services. Central KY and the surrounding areas have come to rely on us for our comprehensive approach to septic system cleaning, which includes back flushing, baffle inspection and providing feedback on the tank's overall condition. When it comes to home septic services, Martin’s is your source.

The following diagram shows how a typical septic tank works. As solids accumulate from the bottom of the tank up and scum layers accumulate from the top down explains why a tank needs to be pumped.


The following chart shows household members compared to pump out frequencies:


Living away from metropolitan areas has many advantages; Less traffic, lower population density and a simpler way of life. Unfortunately, “country living” does come with disadvantages. People living in rural areas are often outside the reach of public sewage systems, leaving them to depend on septic systems for waste disposal.

Types of Systems

There are three types of systems used;

  • anaerobic (septic)
  • aerobic lagoon
  • hybrid aerobic/anaerobic system

The hybrid system is rarely used due to mechanical/electrical components it employs. The anaerobic septic system is the most commonly used. It consists of three main components; tank, distribution box and leach field (drainage field).

Waste Leaving the House

Waste leaves the house through gravitational force and enters the tank through a 4-inch pipe. While in the tank the waste is separated into three by-products; bottom sludge, surface scum and a middle layer of effluent. The sludge and scum are partial broken down by natural occurring anaerobic bacteria in human waste.

However, not all the solids will be digested, so the tank will need to be pumped out every three or four years.

From the Tank Out

As waste water enter the tank, an equal amount of effluent liquid exits into the distribution box. The nitrogen rich effluent then leaves the distribution box and enters the leach field. In the leach field the effluent is broken down by another digestion process. The catalyst of this process is natural microbes contained in the top two-feet of soil. About 60 percent of the water is then evaporated, the rest being absorbed by soil or plants.

Septic System Types

There are many septic system types that can be installed to effectively treat household wastewater onsite. Most states require very specific design plans and site testing before they issue permits for a new septic system install. It is highly recommended, and often required, that a trained expert design and do onsite testing for a new system. A septic system expert will know how to evaluate a site to decide which of the many septic system types will be most effective. That said, a homeowner should know what type of system they have, the basics of how it works, how often to pump the septic tank, and what maintenance is needed to keep the system running smoothly for as long as possible.

In general there are two main categories of septic systems; conventional and alternative or advanced treatment systems. Within those two categories the different systems are grouped by the method of treatment.

Conventional Systems - These are the traditional types of septic systems that include a pipe which carries the wastewater from the home, a tank where the wastewater collects and separates, leach lines and a drainage field lined with gravel and soil for the effluent (wastewater liquid after the solids have separated) to distribute.

This type of system is appropriate for a site that has several feet of a good soil and absorption rate to allow adequate distribution and percolation.

  • Gravity Flow - this is a conventional septic system that uses gravity to force the waste water through the system. The components of this type of system are installed at different depths so the slight grade combined with gravity can help to push the effluent from the tank to the drainfield and down through the soil. This type of system is often used when there is enough good soil to allow for the drainfield to be installed deep enough.
  • Pressure Distribution - this is a conventional septic system that uses pressure from a pump to push water through the system. The system components are pretty much the same as a gravity flow system but the pressure from a pump is what forces the water out of the tank through to the drainfield. This type of system can be used when the soil depth isn’t enough for a gravity flow system. It is also becoming more common in newer septic systems because the pressure distribution can provide more efficient effluent distribution than gravity alone.

Advanced Treatment Systems - There are many different types of advanced and alternative on-site wastewater treatment systems that can be used when the depth of good drainage soil doesn’t allow for a conventional system. Local building codes give restrictions to the types of systems that may be used and then a system can be selected for your specific situation.

  • Aerobic Treatment - this type of system uses oxygen to help speed up the breakdown of solids. Air is introduced into the effluent to help microorganisms break down solids resulting in cleaner water being discharged into the soil.
  • Sand Mound - this type of system is used when the good soil is too shallow for a conventional septic system. The system discharges effluent to a raised area or mound that provides the necessary depth of filtering sand and/or soil.
  • Sand Filters - this type of system send effluent through sand for additional filtration before discharging to the drainfield. A pump forces the effluent from the tank into a chamber lined with sand. After the effluent filters through the sand it is then discharged into the drainfield.
  • Drip Irrigation - this type of system uses a drip irrigation system for the final distribution of effluent into the soil. Effluent flows from the septic tank to a hydraulic unit storage tank and from there it is pumped into a drip irrigation system to distribute into drip absorption areas.

Note: This is not an exhaustive list of all septic system types. There are more different systems out there that use various methods of waste water treatment and distribution. To get more information about the most commonly used systems in your area contact the Department of Health for your state or a septic system expert in your area

Preventative Maintenance Programs

Once we complete your septic system cleaning in, consider a maintenance program from Martin’s. Based on the condition of your septic tank, we’ll determine an optimal cleaning schedule and let you know if there are any steps you should take to prevent a future problem. We’ll also ensure your lines are running smoothly and your tank is functioning properly. You’ll save time, money and worry.

If you're in need of septic tank cleaning services, contact us today for fast and reliable help!


See our Septic System Frequently Asked Questions!