Septic Tank Maintenance
This entry was posted on July 15, 2015.
A septic tank is an underground wastewater treatment facility similar to a small-scale sewage treatment system. They are usually found in rural areas where houses are far apart which makes it hard to connect them with a centralized sewer system. They are thus better for the environment since they don’t require as many sewer lines and use natural processes to treat the wastewater.
Septic tanks are composed of a large two-compartment container, round or square made of concrete, steel, fiberglass or polyethylene that is buried underground. The tank is connected to the building by standard drainage pipes.
How does it work?
The wastewater flows in the pipes and goes through the tank. The solid matter sinks to the bottom of the tank where they start to decay thanks to the action of what is called anaerobic bacteria while light matter floats to the surface and ends up forming a scum layer.
The tank contains two deflectors which are T-shaped outlets that are there to prevent the direct passage of raw water, sludge and scum into the drainage outflow. Therefore, only the cleaned liquid part is led through which will then naturally drain into the soil via a soakaway pipe system.
Decomposition is done thanks to the organic matter contained in used waters. This matter will ferment and produce carbon dioxide, hydrogen sulphide and methane. On the surface, some bubbles will mix with sludge particles to create the scum layer. The middle section will remain a fairly clear layer of water. When new dirty water enters the tank, it pushes the settled water out through the outlet and into the soakaway. This water contains substances that act as fertilizers that will be absorbed by the field.
Why should you maintain your septic tank?
As a homeowner, you are responsible for the maintenance of your septic tank system. To be efficient, your system requires regular maintenance and monitoring. If done properly, it will allow you to save money as they can be quite expensive to repair or replace. Moreover, a poorly maintained septic tank risks decreasing your property value in the long run so don’t wait until you have a problem to resolve!
The second reason why you need to regularly maintain your system is to protect the environment as a properly functioning tank will remove pollutants (such as nitrogen or phosphorus) as well as bacteria and viruses. Untreated waste water can eventually cause ground-water contamination and therefore threatens human health.
How to maintain your septic tank?
On a daily basis
What shouldn’t you flush down the toilet
Be careful throughout the year not to throw products that don’t decay easily such as hair, disposable nappies, kitty litter, fat or oil, wipes … as well as cleaning products in large quantities.
Never pour toxic products such as antifreeze, petrol, paint, varnish, thinner, pesticides… those products are extremely bad for the environment.
Wherever possible, try not to pour chloride, bleach or borax that slow down or even destroy the bacterial activity necessary for the treatment of the organic matter contained in the tank.
Watch your water consumption
Try to use water efficiently since the more water you save, the less will go through the tank and the lower the risk of failure. To reduce your water consumption, you can for instance use high efficiency toilets, faucet aerators and high efficiency showerheads that will reduce the flow of water, water fixtures. Favour taking showers instead of baths or select the proper load size for your washing machine.
Watch your soakaway
Plant trees far enough away so as roots can’t obstruct the purification system. Also be careful not to park your car on the soakaway area as it can compact the soil and damage the pipes.
Watch the level of deposits
Finally, you also have to be careful as to the level of deposits in the bottom of the tank: if they exceed two thirds of the total depth, then you need to have this sludge removed by a septic tank emptying company. The problem with septic tanks is that they can keep on working even when they are almost full. The liquid then forces its way through the drainage outlet instead of staying in the tank.
From time to time: draining
You have to empty your septic tank if you want to avoid your pipes being blocked. It is advised to do this every 3-4 years depending on several factors:
- The number of people living in your house
- The amount of wastewater that you generate
- The volume of solids in the water
- The size of your septic tank
Don’t empty all the sludge! It is better to keep or reinject part of the sludge containing the bacteria necessary for the digestion in the first compartment (about 20%). The second compartment can be completely emptied. To restart the tank after emptying, fill it with water.
Prices for emptying depend on the quantity and type of matter that requires pumping
What are the signs of a problem?
Take note of visual alarm bells:
- The grass above the septic field is particularly green, grows faster than the rest of the grass or the soil is spongy under your feet.
- The water needs more time to be removed within the drainage system (toilets, sinks, washbasins and baths).
- There is a foul odour near the septic field.
- There is a grey or black liquid at the surface of the soakaway area.
- The analysis of your cleaned effluent or one of your neighbours reveals contamination.
If you notice one or several of those signs it might be a good idea to call upon a professional.
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