Looking into an off-grid or alternative wastewater solution for your home? You should consider a septic system. But there’s a lot to it.
So, we’ve put together this article to teach you the main parts of a septic system and how to maintain it. Let’s get started.
What is a Septic System?
A septic system is a wastewater treatment system for homeowners who don’t have access to public sewer systems or prefer a private, off-the-grid solution. Natural bacteria in the system breaks down organic matter (waste) so it can be safely deposited in a field.
The Parts of a Septic System: Glossary
Here is a glossary of words whose definitions you need to know. These make up the primary parts of a septic system:
- Distribution Box. Distributes waste water evenly to the seepage field. Not found on all systems.
- Grease Trap. Limits the amount of grease entering the septic tank. Unfortunately, grease and soap are not broken down by its bacterial action. FYI: Toilet waste passes directly into the septic tank. The grease trap is not found on all systems but it highly recommended.
- Inlet Baffle. Slows the flow of waste, allowing it to settle to the bottom of the tank.
- Inlet Cover. Provides access to the septic tank for inspections and cleanings. Also called an “Inspection Pipe.”
- Outlet Baffle. Slows the flow of waste and blocks solids from leaving the tank (where they might block the seepage field).
- Outlet Cover. Exactly what it sounds like. Not found on all systems.
- Outlet Pipe. Carries liquid effluent (partially treated sewage) to the seepage field.
- Pumping Cover. Provides access to the septic tank for cleaning. Not found on all systems.
- Seepage Field. Also called a “Leach Field” or “Drain Field,” this is a series of perforated pipes or tiles set in gravel and slanted away from the house. It is buried below the soil’s frost level so it doesn’t freeze. It allows waste water to be absorbed gradually over a large area.
- Seepage Pit. Perforated precast concrete or a hole lined with brikes or filled with rough stones. Reduces the load on the main septic sysstem when the demand is too great and the seepage field cannot be extended. Recommended for “gray water” only. Gray water is household water that comes from showers, clothes washing, baths, and sink water.
- Septic Tank. Watertight structure in which natural bacterial action breaks down organic solids. It slows the flow of sewage so that larger solids accumulate at the bottom as sludge, while grease and lighter particles rise to the top as scum.
- Sewer Line. Carries waste water from your home’s main drain to the septic tank. Local plumbing codes determine the minimum distance from the house to the tank, as well as the depth of the entire system.
Servicing & Maintaining a Septic System
Household sewage — 99 percent of which is water — moves from the house through the sewer line to a septic tank for treatment. There, it is divided into 4 components:
- Sludge, which is trapped in the tank
- Scum, which also is trapped in the tank
- Gas, which escapes back through the sewer pipe and out the house vent
- Liquid Sewage, which flows to a seepage field beneath the lawn
If your system is sluggish or overloaded, first check that indoor plumbing fixtures are not at fault. A leaking faucet or running toilet may be sending hundreds of gallons of water into the system unnecessarily. Have the tank inspected and cleaned at least as often as required by the local health department. This usually amounts to every 2 to 5 years.
My Lawn is Soggy. What Do I Do?
When part of the lawn remains soggy even in dry weather, or household drains are sluggish or smell bad, have a professional service the septic system.
The tank might need to be pumped out, the grease trap might require cleaning, or the outlet pipe could be blocked. More serious problems include compacted soil, broken pipes or baffles, or a too-small seepage field.
One solution for increased demand is to add a seepage pit to back up the main system. When a seepage pit is installed without its own septic tank, it can treat only uncontaminated water.
If the soil is no longer absorbent, it might be necessary to dig up and replace the seepage field and its gravel bed. In all cases, refer to local plumbing codes and leave the job to a professional unless you have expertise in this area.
How Do I Maintain My Septic System?
- Repair broken plumbing fixtures as quickly as possible.
- Stagger washloads, baths, and showers to avoid periods of heavy demand on the septic system.
- Avoid overuse of chemicals such as bleach, toilet bowl cleaners, and drain openers. These upset the natural bacterial action of the septic system.
- Do not pour cooking oils, fat, grease, coffee grounds, or paper towels down the drains
- Never drive or park over the seepage field; the weight might damage pipes or compact the soil which hinders absorption.
- To facilitate cleaning and inspection, locate and mark the pumping and outlet covers. Sketch a map of your yard showing the sewer line, septic tank, and seepage field.
The parts of a septic system are fairly easy to understand, especially with visual aids like the photos above. But the entire septic system is complex and delicate. To work properly, it needs to be regularly maintained by the homeowner and a professional.
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- 3 types of septic system seepage pits
- What is a private water well?
- The best septic-safe toilet paper
- 7 signs of problems with your septic system
- 3 types of plumbing systems
- Excavation page
1-Tom-Plumber’s certified team of plumbers and drain technicians respond immediately to any emergency plumbing, drain cleaning, or water damage problem. We also handle the excavation of underground water lines and sewer main lines. Our immediate-response team is available every day and night of the year, even on holidays.