The Septic Tank, and Septic Field
All homes and dwellings move wastewater. Your home, cottage, apartment building or another dwelling may be hooked up to the local sewer system, or if you’re out in more rural communities, you’ve likely got a septic tank and a septic field on your property. The septic tank has the primary role in a home sewage system.
Septic systems are made up of different components: the septic tank, and the leaching bed or septic field, a distribution box or perhaps a pump tank with a pump for a pressurized system.
Your septic tank has to be watertight and buried underground taking in the wastewater from your home. The tank accepts the waste and the water, separating the two, leaving solids to settle along the bottom of the tank and the fats, grease and other organics to rise to the top forming a scum layer.
The wastewater from the septic tank then travels to either a distribution box, which again travels through a network of piping that gets filtered out through the leaching bed, a system of perforated pipes in gravel trenches in the soil, removing the harmful pathogens from the wastewater before returning the treated effluent into the groundwater.
The wastewater can also travel to a pump chamber from the septic tank, which can then be pumped to the septic field for treatment.
Just because your septic system is out of sight, don’t let it be out of mind. Regular maintenance and inspections are needed to keep your system health, this means routine septic tank pumping and inspections to the septic field.
When it comes to a septic field, what do you look at? For most people, they don’t know there’s a problem until they smell something.
The nose knows, but if you’re only recognizing that there’s an issue once something starts to stink, it may be too late, and your septic bed has gone through its full lifespan. For most systems, the lifespan should be about 20 years, but this depends on how much use the system gets. A full-time home with a family of five will do a lot more work than a cottage that’s only used on summer weekends.
Maintaining your septic system
Regularly pumping your septic system will flush out solids that can’t be broken down, as well as prevent system failure and increase the system’s lifespan.
The best time to clean out your septic tank is in the spring or summertime. You want the bacteria in your system to be there over the winter to keep things warm. The last thing you want is for your system to freeze over the winter.
Don’t pump your septic system without inspecting it first. In case of recent flooding, or if you don’t know what kind of shape the tank is in — pumping could actually do more harm than good causing permanent damage to the tank. Always inspect, then pump. Not the other way around. Typically you’ll pump every three to five years, but this can vary depending on usage and number of people living in the home. By performing regular inspections, your expert will be able to tell you when it’s time to pump the system.
If you’re buying a property with a septic system, I would always have it inspected. You don’t know what the system has been through prior to your purchase. And once you’ve purchased, keep records of all your inspections and maintenance.
Modifying old septic tanks to save your drain field
Often older septic tanks still have some life left in them and if they don’t need replacing then we normally try to bring them up to modern standards. More often than not a septic drain field will malfunction before the septic tank will. This is why we have this great technique to save new drain fields while still keeping the old tank.
Have a look at how we do it:
Upgrading for efficiency and lifespan
Knowing what you’re putting your septic system through is half the battle when it comes to keeping it in good shape. Every time we wash, flush, bathe, or cook, we’re producing wastewater that goes through our systems. Whether you have a septic system or are hooked up to the sewer system, here’s the low down on the low flow that you’ll want to know.
It’s estimated that each Canadian uses an average of 329 litres of water daily. Ten percent of that is used to drink and cook with, and a whopping 65 percent is used in the bathroom (flushing toilets, running the shower or bath). That’s 214 litres of water per day, and for just one person — now multiply that by the number of people living in your home. That adds up.
Swapping out your shower heads for more efficient models can bring your water usage down to around 5 litres per minute. On average, we each flush the toilet about five times a day, which can add up to 30 percent of our daily water use. A low-flow toilet will be a lot more efficient over any older models.
And if you’ve got a faucet that drip, drip, drip in the night, you could be wasting up to 1,200 litres per year.
Keeping your septic system functioning well is a combination of proper maintenance, and not abusing the system. You know how to maintain it — and you might consider swapping in some efficient fixtures, too. But if you’ve got a teen who takes long showers, well, sorry, I can’t help you there.