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The information on this page will help you to understand how your septic system works and what steps you can take to ensure your system will work properly.

 

Frequently Asked Questions


How does a septic system work?

A typical septic system has four main components: a pipe that exits the building, a septic tank, a drainfield, and the soil.

Your wastewater exits your home through the pipe to the septic tank, a buried watertight container typically made of concrete, fiberglass or polyethylene. The tank holds the wastewater long enough to allow solids to settle out (sludge) and oil and grease to float to the surface (scum). Compartments and a T-shaped outlet in the tank prevent the sludge and scum from leaving the tank and traveling into the drainfield area. Some newer tanks have risers with lids at the ground surface to allow easy location, inspection and pumping of the tank.

The wastewater exits the tank and is discharged into the drainfield for further treatment by the soil. The partially treated wastewater is pushed along into the drainfield for further treatment every time new wastewater enters the tank. Wastewater then percolates into the soil, with provides final treatment. Microbes in the soil digest or remove most contaminants from wastewater before it eventually reaches groundwater.

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Why should I maintain my septic system?

When septic systems are properly designed, constructed and maintained, they effectively reduce or eliminate most human health or environmental threats posed by pollutants in household wastewater. However they require regular maintenance or they can fail. Septic systems need to be monitored to ensure that they work properly throughout their service lives.

Regular septic system maintenance can:

  • Save you money-Failing septic systems are expensive to repair or replace, and poor maintenance is often the cause of failure.
  • Protect health and the environment-Safe treatment of sewage prevents the spread of infection and disease, and protects water resources

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How do I maintain my septic system?

The four things you can do to maintain your septic system are:

  • Inspect and have pumped regularly - You should have your system inspected every 3 years and your tank pumped as recommended by the inspector (generally every 3-5 years). Regular pumping is the best and cheapest way to keep your systems in good working order! Click here to be added to our database and receive automatic pumping reminders.
  • Use water efficiently - The more water a household conserves, the less water enters the septic system. Efficient water use can improve the operation of the system and reduce the risk of failure.

  • Watch your drains - What goes down the drain can have a major impact on how well your system works. Don't flush (or put down the drain) dental floss, feminine hygiene products, diapers, cotton swabs, cigarette butts, coffee grounds, cat litter, paper towels, household chemicals, gasoline, oil, pesticides, antifreeze, or paint. Some of these items will clog up the system and others can destroy the biological treatment taking place in the system or contaminate groundwater.

  • Care for your drainfield - Plant only grass over and near your septic system. Roots from trees and shrubs can clog and damage the drainfield. Don't drive or park vehicles on any part of your septic system. And, keep roof drains, sump pump drains, and other rainwater or surface water drainage systems away from your drainfield.

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How can I tell if my system is failing?

There are many signs of septic system failure:

  • Surfacing sewage or wet spots in the drainfield area

  • Plumbing or septic tank backups

  • Slow draining fixtures

  • Gurgling sounds in the plumbing system

  • Sewage odors in the house or yard

  • Tests showing the presence of bacteria in well water

If you notice any of these signs, or if you suspect your septic system may be having problems, contact us immediately!

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What are the causes of septic system failure?

The most common causes of septic system failure include:

  • Household toxics - Remember that your septic system contains a living collection of organisms that digest and treat waste. Any toxic disposed of via drain or toilet can kill those organisms.

  • Household cleaners - Check the labels of your cleaning products. The words "danger" or "poison" indicates that the product is highly hazardous and should not be discharged into your septic system.

  • Hot tubs - Your septic system was not designed to handle large quantities of water from hot tubs. Drain cooled hot tub water onto turf or landscaped areas well away from the septic tank and drainfield.

  • Water purification systems - Freshwater purification systems, including water softeners, should not pump water into your septic system. Check with a licensed plumber about alternative routing for water treatment systems.

  • Garbage disposals - Using a garbage disposal frequently can significantly increase the accumulation of sludge and scum in your septic tank, resulting in the need for more frequent pumping.

  • Improper design or installation - Many failures can be attributed to having an undersized drainfield or high seasonal groundwater table. Undersized tanks--another design failure--allow solids to clog the drainfield and result in system failure.
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What are alternative systems?

Alternative septic systems use newer technologies to improve treatment processes. Some alternative systems use sand, peat, or plastic media instead of soil to promote wastewater treatment. Other systems might use wetlands, lagoons, aerators, or disinfection devices. Float switches, pumps, and other electrical or mechanical components are often used in alternative systems.

You might have or need an alternative system if there are too many typical septic systems in one area or if the systems are too close to groundwater or surface water. Check with your local health department or Sullivan Septic for more information on operation or maintenance of alternative systems.

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Source: United States EPA

 

The TOP 4 things you can do to protect your septic system:

  1. Regularly inspect your system and have your tank pumped as necessary

  2. Use water efficiently

  3. Don't dispose of household hazardous wastes in sinks or toilets

  4. Care for your drainfield

Regular visits from
Sullivan Septic's "Green Machine" Pumper Truck keep you
from getting backed up.

Click here to be added to our database and receive automatic pumping reminders!

 

 

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