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Septic System Basics

Septic System Basics

Septic systems are not necessarily glamorous, but they do offer a very economic alternative to a centralized sewer system in places where houses are far from one another. They have a simple design, and are not difficult to install. However, they do require some common knowledge on the part of their users to avoid a pretty disgusting mess.

Septic systems are best described as large tanks made to hold human biological waste as it breaks down with help from plenty of natural bacterial. They work something like a pond with heavy layers sinking and lighter layers floating. Gas and liquid elements of the broken down material are released through ventilation and tubes into a field where they can be absorbed. The solid matter must be pumped out every few years. In addition to what we flush away, septic systems also need to take on the water from our kitchens, washing machines and showers. This is where people sometimes run into trouble, because certain detergents and chemicals that end up in this water can interfere with the biological process happening in the tank. The top three causes of septic system issues are:

  1. Chemicals and detergents in the system. While harsh chemicals can kill off good bacteria needed for waste breakdown, some detergents even spark algae growth. This clogs tubing.
  2. An excess of water, perhaps from too many loads of laundry back to back. This causes the solids in the bottom of the tank to float up and block tubing meant only for liquids.
  3. Flushing “flushable” items. In septic tanks, they will usually not break down naturally and simply float as solids in the tank. Cigarette butts, coffee grounds and flushable wipes are common troublemakers. Garbage disposals are also often responsible for sending too much solid waste to the system.

Beyond how you handle what ends up in the tank, homeowners with septic systems should also consider how they handle the land around the tank. Though growing plants in the drainage field around the tank is advisable for preventing erosion and absorbing moisture, it is critical to know what plants are suitable for this. Trees and shrubs that grow quickly have aggressive root systems that reach for water. These can wreak havoc on the tank itself. Aspen, birch, beech, elm, maple and ash trees are on this “NO” list. On the flip side, creeping charlie, wild violet, dogwood trees, cherry trees and azalea shrubs are good selections. Always keep in mind that plants that produce food will not be safe for human consumption if grown in a septic drainage field.

If all goes to plan, you will only notice your septic system every few years when it must be drained. If not, the licensed experts are Repairman are always happy to assist you.

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