Facts, Info & FAQ's


Septic TankSeptic systems consist of two basic parts; a septic tank and a soil absorptions system.  The septic tank provides a small portion of the treatment by creating a large quiet compartment to allow solid material to settle out of the waste water and collect in the tank.  Once the large solid material is settled out, the sewage follows into a deep layer of unsaturated soil where the soil and microorganisms growing in the soil remove the pollutants before the waste water enters ground or surface water.

 

Septic systems are simple to operate and when properly designed, constructed and maintained, they do an excellent job of removing pollutants from waste water to protect the area's water resources.  Property owners must do a few important things to keep their system operating for 20-30 years.

 

  • To flush or not to flush -- Aside from wastewater, toilet paper is the only other thing that should be flushed.  Using the toilet to dispose of sanitary products, paper towels, disposable diapers, cigarette butts, and even tissues will harm your septic tank and cause you to need pump-outs more often.
  • Don't use a kitchen garbage disposal -- Septic systems are not intended to dispose of food waste, coffee grounds, grease, or fat and in fact, they will harm the septic tank.  Try using a compost pile;  it will reduce the number of pump-outs your system needs!

Reducing water usage -- will protect your septic system.
Repair leaky faucets and toilets; install low-flow water fixtures, and turn off the water while brushing your teeth or shaving. 
Water conservation reduces the load of wastewater your septic system has to handle.


What to expect during a Septic Tank Pump-out

Septic tanks require pump-outs when the solids that accumulate in the tank begin to reach the tank's storage capacity.  The tank should be pumped when total solid accumulation is between 30% and 50% of the total capacity.
You are encouraged to observe the pump-out and to use the checklist below to ensure that all steps are completed.

 

Estimate Septic Tank Pumping
Frequencies in Year
(For Year-Round Residence)

Tank Size (gal)

Household Size (Number of People)

  1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
500 5.8 2.6 1.5 1.0 .7 .4 .3 .2 .1 --
750 9.1 4.2 2.6 1.8 1.3 1.0 .7 .6 .4 .3
1000 12.4 5.9 3.7 2.6 2.0 1.5 1.2 1.0 .8 .7
1250 15.6 7.5 4.8 3.4 2.6 2.0 1.7 1.4 1.2 1.0
1500 18.9 9.1 5.9 4.2 3.3 2.6 2.1 1.8 1.5 1.3
1750 22.1 10.7 6.9 5.0 3.9 3.1 2.6 2.2 1.9 1.6
2000 25.4 12.4 8.0 5.9 4.5 3.7 3.1 2.6 2.2 2.0
2250 28.6 14.0 9.1 6.7 5.2 4.2 3.5 3.0 2.6 2.3
2500 31.9 15.6 10.2 7.5 5.9 4.8 4.0 4.0 3.0 2.6

Note: More frequent pumping needed of garbage disposal is used.


What Is Septic System Failure?

A septic system should effectively accept liquid wastes from your house and prevent biological and nutrient contaminants from getting into your well or nearby lakes and streams. Any, time these things do not happen, the system is failing.
For example, when waste backs up into your home or liquid is bubbling up in your backyard, the system has obviously failed. If significant amounts of biological or nutrient contaminants reach your well or surface waters, the system is also failing, even though it may appear to be working just fine.

 

Why Septic Systems Fail

Most septic systems will fail sometime. These systems are designed to have a lifetime of 15 to 30 years, under the best conditions. Eventually, the soil around the absorption field becomes clogged with organic material, making the system unusable.
Many other factors can cause the system to fail well before the end of its "natural" lifetime. Pipes blocked  by roots, soils saturated by storm water, crushed tile, improper location, poor original design or poor installation can all lead to major problems.
But by far the most common reason for early failure is improper maintenance by homeowners. When a system is poorly maintained and not pumped out on a regular basis, sludge (solid material) builds up inside the septic tank, then flows into the absorption field, clogging it beyond repair.

 

How to Know If Your System Is Failing

Look for these symptoms to determine if you have a serious problem:

Symptoms

Possible Problem

Sewage backup in your drains or toilets This is often a black liquid with a disagreeable odor
Slow flushing of your toilets Many of the drains in your house will drain much slower than usual, despite the use of plungers or drain cleaning products
Surface flow of water Sometimes you will notice liquid seeping along the surface of the ground near your septic system. It may or may not have much of an odor associated with it.
Lush green grass over the absorption field, even during dry weather

Often, this indicates that an excessive amount fo liquid from your system is moving up through the soil, instead of downward, as it should. While some upward movement of liquid from the absorption field is good, too much could indicate major problems.

The presence of nitrates or bacteria in your drinking water well This indicates that liquid from the system may be flowing into the well through the ground or over the surface. Water tests available from you local health department will indicate if you have this problem.

 

Health and Economic Effects of a Failing System

The most serious effect of a failing system is the potential for serious disease from the leaking and improperly treated waste. Dysentery and hepatitis can be spread by these wastes. In addition to the diseases themselves, mosquitoes and flies that spread some illnesses can breed in areas where liquid waste reaches the surface. Chemical or nutrient poisoning can also be a problem. Many of the synthetic products you use around the house, such as strong cleaning products, can be poisonous to humans, pets and wildlife if they travel through soil to your well or on the surface to lakes, streams or ponds. Excess nitrate levels in drinking water can pose serious health threats to infants. The health of plants around your home can be seriously affected, too. The waste from failing systems can kill many species or cause increased growth of undesirable plants. The economic costs of failure are no less important. The most obvious effect is the direct expense of replacing your septic system. This could cost $2,000 to $4,000. Also consider the indirect cost of losing the use of your house while the system isn't working and the long-term inconvenience of a system that doesn't operate properly.

 

What To Do If Your System Fails

Immediate Actions Follow these steps if you notice any of the symptoms listed above: Call your local health department. This is the first thing you should do. Health department staff members have the expertise to assess your situation quickly and offer advice on how to cure the problem. Have your septic tank pumped. Frequently, this will help the problem temporarily, especially when it is combined with drastic water conservation. The empty tank can hold several days of waste. (This won't be effective if a clog exists between the house and the septic tank, or if very high water levels are the cause of the problem.) Conserve water in your home. This is particularly effective if your system has not failed completely. lt can help lessen the problem for a short time. Water saving devices and reduced consumption, especially in your bathroom, can have a significant effect. Fence off the area. If liquid waste is seeping to the surface, prevent people and pets from getting in contact with the effluent.

 

What To Do If The System Fails

Long Term Options In many, if not most cases, redesigning and replacing the system in a new location is the only practical long term solution. This type of work should be completed only by a qualified contractor. Local health department permits are required before construction can begin. The chemical cures sometimes advertised are ineffective remedies for severely damaged systems. Other solutions may be of help in some situations, including: Increase the size of the absorption field. This will help if the original field was too small for the size of your family or if the soil does not allow water to percolate very well. Conserve water in your home on a long term basis. The smaller the amount of water flowing through your system, the longer it will last. For systems that perform marginally or leak nutrients into nearby lakes and streams, this is a good alternative. If periodically saturated soils are a main cause of problems, consider installing perimeter drains. This system involves installing tile drains underground at a specified distance around the absorption field to help lower water levels. lt works in some but not all situations and require the assistance of a qualified contractor Its location should also be evaluated by your local health department. Connect to a community sewage system, if one is available. Although the long-term costs may seem high, the benefit of reduced worry and greater responsibility are often worth this price. If septic system failures are common in your area, consider participating in the development of a or other similar alternatives. These systems are designed for small communities and some rural areas and are generally much more cost effective than large sewer systems.

 

How To Prevent The Problem

The key to preventing your septic system from failing is proper maintenance. Regularly pumping the tank, being careful in what you put down the drains, and avoiding such things as planting trees over the field or covering the system with permanent patios and home additions are important to keep the system running well. Proper initial design is another critical aspect in preventing your system from failing. Many septic systems are doomed from the start because they are put in poor locations or constructed improperly. Be sure a new system is installed in an area with proper soil conditions, and at sufficient distances from your house and well (these factors are regulated by local health department codes). Also make sure the system is designed to meet your present and future needs. If, for example, you are building a small home with plans to enlarge it as your family grows, design the septic system to accommodate the largest size you expect your family to grow to. Consider asking your contractor to include such useful features as junction boxes and observation ports, which aid in assessing the condition of the system. Water conservation was mentioned earlier as a method to keep a marginal system operating, but it is also an excellent method of preventing future problems from occurring.

 

References

This information comes from Michigan State University Extension bulletin WQ14, What to Do if Your Septic System Fails.


Why Inspect a Septic System?

When a residence or other property contains a septic system it is important the system be inspected and tested by a qualified inspector prior to sale. Many national lending institutions (Ginnie Mae, Fannie Mae, VA, etc) as well as most large mortgage companies require inspection and certification prior to funding. Although no standards exist in California for the issuing of system performance certifications, the procedure can save real estate professionals a lot of headaches.
Buyer: A buyer benefits from the inspection procedure by having all of the information necessary to make an informed decision about what will likely be the largest purchase he or she will make.
Seller: California law requires property sellers to disclose all known defects relating to their property. A septic system certification meets this disclosure duty, and prevents your buyer from claiming that they were not informed about the septic system’s “true” condition. This can prevent costly lawsuits.
Real Estate Agents: Although disclosure laws don’t directly apply to real estate agents, they often get dragged into legal disputes because their errors and omissions insurance represents a “pot of gold” to a greedy attorney. Again, a septic system certification can prevent costly litigation before it starts! As a real estate professional, you also know that a smooth transaction enhances your reputation.
A septic system inspection offers protection for everyone involved in a real estate transaction, and at a relatively low price. With that septic system certification, everyone can sleep at night.
Although no standards exist in California for the performance of a septic inspection, the inspector should be a licensed C-42 (sanitation system) contractor, signifying they have specialized knowledge of the installation, maintenance, and inspection of septic systems.

 

Diagram of a two compartment septic tank with access risers and an effluent screen.

A. Main Line: Line that connects all the plumbing in the house to the septic tank.

 

B. Inlet Pipe: Allows air to enter from top of pipe for proper venting for drainage. Also prevents solid waste from being pushed back into the main line. Caution: If inlet pipe is not intact, solid waste will be pushed back into main line causing a blockage resulting in additional cost for line cleaning.

 

C. Lid: Provides access to primary and secondary compartments for servicing. Caution: If lid is broken or cracked, it could cave in causing serious injury or death if someone was standing nearby at time of cave in.

 

D. Risers: Pipe that brings the lid of the septic tank, seepage pit, and/or cesspool close to the surface of the ground to prevent cost and labor of future digging.

 

E. Primary Compartment: Main chamber for digesting and settling. Caution: If the secondary compartment is not serviced every year for commercial and every 3-5 years for residential, solid build-up will occur. The excess solids will be deposited into the leaching system and plug up the pores of the soil resulting in premature leaching system failure and additional costs to replace the leaching system.

 

F. Baffle Wall: The wall separating the primary and secondary compartment.

 

G. Baffle Pipe: The pipe that connects the primary and secondary compartment through the baffle wall.

 

H. Secondary Compartment: Back-up filtering and digestion chamber for the primary compartment. Caution: If the secondary compartment is not serviced every year for commercial and every 3-5 years for residential, solid build-up will occur. The excess solids will be deposited into the leaching system and plug up the pores of the soil resulting in premature leaching system failure and additional costs to replace the leaching system.

 

I. Outlet Pipe: Allows air to enter form top of pipe for proper venting for drainage. Prevents solid waste form being pushed into leaching system. Caution: If outlet pipe is not intact, solid waste will be deposited in leaching system which will plug up the pores of the soil, resulting in premature leaching system failure and additional costs to replace the leaching system.

 

J. Leaching System: System responsible for allowing the liquid to soak into the soil. If the septic tank has not been maintained properly, it will allow solid waste to enter the leaching system and plug up the pores of the soil, resulting in additional cost to replace the leaching system.


Septic Tank Service

What is a septic tank?

A septic tank is a concrete, fiberglass, or the newest type of known as an infiltrator which is a high grade plastic tank that offers strength comparable to a concrete tank but lightweight with more versatility.  Usually located about 5 feet from the house under about 2 to 6 feet of soil.  The 4 most common sizes are 750 gallon, 1000 gallon, 1250 gallon and 1500 gallon.  Although all sizes, distances and depths vary according to local requirements.

What is the purpose of a septic tank?

A septic tank provides four distinct functions:

  1. 1. Primary clarification, to separate settlement and floatable materials.
  2. 2. Storage and digestion of these separate materials.
  3. 3. Bioseptic treatment of the non-settling suspended particles, through contact with a separate environment, to change the character of these particles from a digestible nature to a non-digestible nature, so that the water discharged from the tank may be filtered relatively easily through the soil without clogging the soil pores.
    4. Separate solid waste from water.

What are leach lines?

Leach lines are underground.  They are trenches filled with gravel or strong plastic chambers (the same material that is used for the Infiltrator tank) that are stronger and more durable with a smaller footprint.

What is a seepage pit?

A seepage pit is a vertical hole in the ground 4 to 6’ in diameter and 15 to 40 feet deep with concrete block walls and a soil covered lid on top.  The liquid is allowed to seep through the walls and leach into the soil.

What is a cesspool?

A cesspool and a seepage pit are identical in structure.  The job of a cesspool is to store and digest the waste along with leaching the liquid into the soil.


What will the Pumper do?

Before Pumping
--- Note the liquid level of the tank in relation to the tank's outlet pipe.  A liquid level below the outlet pipe usually indicates a tank leak.  A liquid level above the outlet pipe can indicate a problem with the pipe to the drain field or the drain fields itself.
Pumping
--- Pump the tank from the manhole.  Pumping from the inspection ports may damage tees and baffles.  However, if pumping must occur from inspection ports, be sure to pump from both ports in order to pump all areas of the tank.
--- Watch for back-flow from the tank outlet pipe.  Significant back-flow indicates a drain-field system backup.  A small amount of back-flow can indicate a sag in the pipe to the drain-field.
--- Pump the tank thoroughly.  Use a septage spoon and back-flush to loosen the sludge in the corners of the tank.
--- Do not "seed" the tank by leaving septage in it.
--- Do not scrub or power wash the tank's walls.
After Pumping
--- Check the empty tank and note any signs of structural damage such as an open weep hole, leaking mid-seam, damaged baffles or cracks.
--- File report with the town if required.  Check with your local town hall to find out whether you or the pumper need to provide the report of the completed pump-out.
Septic systems consist of two basic parts; a septic tank and a soil absorptions system.  The septic tank provides a small portion of the treatment by creating a large quiet compartment to allow solid material to settle out of the waste water and collect in the tank.  Once the large solid material is settled out, the sewage follows into a deep layer of unsaturated soil where the soil and microorganisms growing in the soil remove the pollutants before the waste water enters ground or surface water.
Septic systems are simple to operate and when properly designed, constructed and maintained, they do an excellent job of removing pollutants from waste water to protect the area's water resources.  Property owners must do a few important things to keep their system operating for 20 to 30 years.


Grease Traps

Grease Removal Devices

When waste water from food service facilities contains grease, the hot water and soap used in washing dishes and equipment emulsifies or breaks up the grease, allowing it to flow freely through the sewer.  As the waste water cools, the grease congeals (forms clumps) causing backups and overflows of raw sewage.  Grease removal devices like interceptors and grease traps are designed to prevent grease-related problems in the sanitary sewer.

Is my business required to have a grease removal device?

Your local waste water agency probably requires installation of a grease removal device if your waste water contain grease, oils, fats, sediments, particulate matter, or any other material that can impair the flow of the waste water through the municipal sanitary sewer.

What if I want to use a different device to remove grease?

Your waste water discharge must meet specific grease discharge limitations that are set by your service agency.  If you believe that your device can meet those limits, you may submit your plan to your service agency for approval.  However, you may be required to install the standard device, or adhere to your municipal ordinance or Uniform Plumbing Code for installation of alternative grease removal devices.

What's the difference between grease traps and interceptors?

An interceptor is a big, concrete box partitioned off to remove grease and food waste by trapping things that float and things that settle to the bottom.  (See Figure 1 below)  A grease trap is a smaller unit, often stainless steel, that works by the same principles.  Usually, interceptors are installed in the ground outside a food service facility, and grease traps are installed indoors, often under a counter.  Grease traps, if approved are usually reserved for small establishments, and because they're smaller, may need more frequent service.

Avoid Fines and Health Risks from Grease Overflows

Grease-related overflows are costly to clean up, and may expose restaurant customers or employees, food service workers, and other to health risks, or threaten wildlife by going into local creeks untreated.  Here are some tips for avoiding grease waste problems.
If your restaurant or food service facility produces grease wastes, make sure you have a properly sized grease removal device.
Never dispose of grease wastes directly to the sewer, or in the trash dumpster.  Contract with Wright Septic Tank Pumping for waste grease pick-up.
Maintain your grease trap or grease interceptor on a regular basis.  If you are unsure of the proper maintenance frequency, contact us for more information.