*What Screws Up A Septic System?*
By: Jaden
20 December 2009

Stemming from our Rubicon chat tonight, I kinda got ďvoluntoldĒ that I ought to write up an article about sewer systems. Iím not a professional, but I spent 3 years working at several apartment complexes and have seen some sewer systems fail and have seen why. Iíve worked with plumbers and septic pumpers and have learned from them. So here we go.

This is based on the fact that you have your own sewer system and not a city system.

A normal system is composed of two elements. A septic tank and a leach field. Generally it is a gravity feed system, although sometimes pumps must be used. Iíll touch on that in a bit.

Purpose of a septic tank- It is designed to hold solids. A tank has an inlet and outlet both of which are baffled. As waste enters the tank it hits the inlet baffle which slows it down and prevents it from quickly flowing across the tank toward the outlet. The idea is for the solids to sink to the bottom of the tank and not go to the outlet. The outlet is baffled to help prevent any floating solids from being able to escape and go to the leach field. Ideally a tank will have access points to the inlet, center and outlet.

For a household of 4, with a 1000 gallon tank is it recommended to have the tank pumped at least once every 3 years at the max.

Purpose of a leach field- The leach field is designed to handle water only. With the exception of whatís in the septic tank, all the rest of the liquids go to the field. The field is composed of several perforated pipes. When the water leaves the pipes, it leaches in to the ground and works itís way down and filters.

If the leach field fails, youíve got problems. The water backs up in the septic tank and possibly overflows up on to the ground or backs up in to your house. Repairing a leach field can be pricey. Read that as $5000 and more. It could cost up to $15,000 or more depending on how much works needs to be done. Sometimes there are effective ways to cheat. J

What do you put down your drains? Soaps, bleach, grease, condoms, disposable toilet brush cleaning heads, paper towels, cigarette butts?

Here are some things I have seen in septic tanks and pumping cisterns-

Lots of condoms

Cigarette butts

Huge wads of stringy substance which I think was adult diaper material

Massive soap chunks




Soda bottles

Other things I couldnít identify

I have replaced over 4,000 bux in sewer pumps because of crap like that. I found a stuffed animal sucked up in a pump impeller.

You would be surprised at the amount of crap people flush down the toilet, especially in subsidized housing where many tenants donít care about anything but themselves.

Powdered soaps are bad for your septic system. In the tank the soap tends to suck it self together and form big hard chunks. Bleach is also bad because it kills the bacteria that is metabolizing (breaking down) solids in the tank. Food garbage disposals in sinks are bad. A sewer system is designed to handle water, toilet paper and feces, thatís it! When a garbage disposal grinds up food it then goes to the tank. Now there are tons of ground up bits of solids that will float. Eventually theyíll make their way to the outlet and head for the leach field. In the leach field solids will start plugging up the holes in the pipes and it gets bad from there.

The only thing that should hit the septic tank is water, turds and toilet paper. Thatís it!

Systems with pumps

If the system canít work using gravity it has to be pumped. There should be a filter somewhere before the pump to prevent anything large from getting to it. The filter needs to be cleaned once in awhile. It will catch anything solid.

Terra Lifting

Sometimes a plugged up leach field can be recovered with minimal digging or possibly without digging it up. Terra lifting is a neat thing. Itís a big air compressor mounted on a self-propelled chassis. A probe hammers in to the ground next to the pipe. Then a charge of high pressure air is released and small Styrofoam balls are injected in to the ground. The air loosens up dirt around the pipe and the balls help with water dissipation. The ground around the machine will rise a few inches when the air is released.

Part of the job is flushing the pipes out with a device similar to a pressure washer and then sucking out residue.

Itís a neat thing to watch and it actually works.

Biological treatment

There are septic system treatment products on the market. In the larger systems I dealt with, we used a biological liquid that metabolized solids. It was automatically pumped in once every 24 hours. After about 1 year of use a tank was due to be pumped. The turds were mooshy. The ďturd bugsĒ are cannibalistic so if they run out of solids to chew on, they start eating each other.

Treat your system good and it will like you.

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