A septic system can be a huge financial investment, however if it is properly designed, installed and maintained, it will provide you with years of low-cost and reliable service. A system that is not well-built or maintained can end up costing property owners thousands of dollars to repair or replace when it ultimately fails. By understanding how septic systems work and what is required to properly care for them, homeowners can increase their longevity.

Primary Components

While there are different types of septic systems used throughout the country based upon soil types, site conditions and usage requirements, the gravity fed system is the most common and is considered to be the industry standard. This section will feature information on the basic components included in a standard gravity fed system and what you can expect to find.

  The Septic Tank – Made from fiberglass, concrete or polyethylene, most septic tanks are quite large and are made in either a cylinder or rectangular shape. Buried underground, the purpose of the septic tank is to separate solid waste from wastewater. It then stores and decomposes the solid material before allowing the wastewater to flow into the drainfield. Approximately 50% of solid waste products remain in the tank and must be pumped according to the size of the tank, the number of people using the property’s facilities and overall daily water flow, which is usually about every 3 years on average.
To improve accessibility and the ability for pumping, cleaning and repairs, your septic tank should have a cover that is accessible for inspection and evaluation. Septic services used to have to spend time digging down to the access covers to complete their work, however most septic systems today are supported by secure risers, making it easier to get the job done.
The Drainfield – Once the septic tank does its job by separating the solid waste from the wastewater, the liquid makes its way to the drainfield, which is essentially a network of pipes that are laid in beds of gravel. The pipes are perforated to allow the wastewater to flow through them and down into the soils underneath the drainfield, which is also sometimes called an absorption field or leachfield. How septic systems work is to allow the wastewater to flow first through a distribution box before moving to the drainfield. This helps to more equally disburse the liquid wastewater, which is known as effluent, among the gravel beds where the final steps of sewage treatment take place.
Once the wastewater makes its way through the perforated pipes, down through the gravel layer and down into the soil, it is passed through tiny pore spaces where it is treated by soil microbes before entering the groundwater. This part of the process takes place several feet below the drainfield itself and should be dry, full of oxygen and permeable. Your drainfield should be located on the back side of your property and the size of it depends upon the volume of wastewater flow and the conditions relevant to your local soil.
The Soil – Believe it or not, the soil that is located below the drainfield is where the real filtering magic happens. It provides the final treatment and disposal process for the wastewater that came from your home through your septic tank. Naturally-occurring organisms in the soil treat the liquid wastewater as it passes through, percolating downward and outward before it reaches surface or groundwater.
Obviously the type of soil used here will greatly influence the effect of the drainfield in this process and it must be chosen carefully. Soils that are clay-based are often too dense and tight to allow for proper passage of wastewater, while soil that contains too much gravel might be too coarse to allow for proper filtering and treatment.

Basic Maintenance

The best way to ensure that your septic system is working properly is to contact a local septic service, such as All-Clear Septic & Wastewater located in Acushnet, Massachusetts. They service residential and commercial customers in New Bedford, Fairhaven, Dartmouth, Westport, Fall River, Mattapoisett and all throughout Southeastern Massachusetts and Rhode Island. You can ask for a Confidential Voluntary Assessment of your septic system to properly evaluate your equipment and determine the viability of your system, or you can start on a Preventative Maintenance Program that will keep your system working properly through regular monitoring, cleaning and pumping.
Knowing the do’s and don’ts of septic system ownership with regard to biodegradable items that are OK to flush or put down the drains versus non-biodegradable items that can be dangerous for your system is very important. Water conservation, knowledge about garbage disposals, water softeners, cleaning fluids, chemicals and other things that can affect the balance of your septic system is also beneficial. Call All-Clear at 508-763-4431 for information on what you can do to help keep your septic system running clean and clear.