How does a septic system work?

Septic System

Most septic systems utilize gravity to move household waste from the home to the drain field.

Think of a septic system as a giant digestive system. Just as substances that we consume go into our mouths, broken down inside of our bodies, and are eliminated, household waste and water go into a septic system, are broken down, and are eliminated as well.

A septic tank is like a stomach. It is the first point of contact for what enters the pipes and the place where everything gets broken into its constituent parts. A fluid that enters the septic tank flows into the drain field where it is eliminated into the soil. The more solid substances stay in the tank longer and bacteria slowly break down these substances into tiny particles that eventually make their way to the drain field where they are eliminated as well. Inorganic things (socks, toys, kitty litter, etc.) don’t break down at all and remain inside the tank until they are pumped out.

Just as our bodies can have digestive problems from us eating too much or eating the wrong things, septic systems can also have problems if they are overloaded with too much household waste all at once or the wrong kind of waste.

It’s important to note that a septic system contains trillions of bacteria that rely on healthy conditions to properly break down the contents of the tank and ensure the effluent going into the drain field is not hazardous to the environment. Homes that use too many harsh cleaners, potent medications, antibiotics, and too much water, in general, will often have septic issues because the bacteria aren’t able to do their job.

Mound Septic System

When soil surrounding a home is not suitable for standard gravity systems, mound systems are required. Mounds are made up of layers of sand and act as a filtering medium (drain field) for the effluent to pass through before entering the groundwater below. These mound systems will require “dosing” of the effluent using electric pumps to achieve even distribution throughout the mound, and special attention must be paid to the components of the system to ensure proper function. Poor maintenance is extremely bad news for a mound system.

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