The Septic Tank, the primary treatment


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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.

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’s health, this means routine septic tank pumping and inspections to the septic field.

For most people, they don’t know there’s a problem until they smell something.  For gravity type systems or older systems, what do you look for?  The nose has a good sense, but if you are only realizing that there’s a problem once something starts to smell bad,  then it may be too late, and your septic field might have gone through its full lifespan.

For most septic systems, the lifespan would be approximately 20 years, but this depends on how much use the system gets, the type of soils, the right system for soil types and so on.  A full-time home with a family of five will use a lot more water and produce much more waste than a cottage that’s only used on summer weekends.

Maintaining your septic tank and septic field

Regularly pumping your septic tank will flush out solids that either can’t or that have accumulated to the certain point where it reduces the capacity of the tank.   With a regular routine pumping can help increase the life expectancy of the septic system.

When is the best time to clean out your septic tank?   In in the spring or summertime. You want the bacteria in your system to be there over the winter, as the bacteria works at breaking down the solid waste heat are generated. The last thing you want is for your system to freeze over the winter.

It is good practice to have your septic tank inspected prior to it being pumped. In case of recent flooding, or if you don’t know what kind of shape the tank is in — pumping can potentially do more harm than good and can cause damage to the septic tank.  Always have the tank visually inspected, then pump and not the other way around. 

When should you pump your tank?  Typically a septic tank can be pumped every three to five years, but this will vary depending on the usage and the number of occupants living in the home.  Perform regular inspections, and your authorized person will be able to tell you when it’s time to pump the tank.

When buying a property with a septic system, it would be a wise decision to have it inspected. You will not be properly informed of the history of that system.  By keeping records of all your inspections and maintenance it will provide a detailed report and a history of maintaining your system which benefits future buyers and informs you as the purchaser and homeowner.

How to Increase Efficiency  and Lifespan

Being sensible about your septic system and knowing that it cannot be treated like a municipal sewer system will help keep it in good shape.  Being mindful of how much water usage we put into our systems can extend the lifespan, when we wash, flush, shower or cook wastewater is being produced and moves through our septic system. Whether you have an onsite wastewater system or are hooked up to a municipal sewer system, here is some information you might want to know.

Canadian uses an average of 329 litres of water daily.  Approximately ten percent of that is used to drink and cook with, and a staggering 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. It all adds up.

Just switching your shower heads with more efficient models can bring your water usage down to 5 litres per minute. On average, a household member flushes the toilet about five times a day, which can add up to 30 percent of our daily water use.  Using a water saving toilet and fixtures will save a considerable amount of water over the course of the year.

And if you’ve got a leaky faucet, you could be wasting up to 1,200 litres per year.

To keep your septic system functioning well a combination of proper maintenance, and not abusing the system will ensure a proper functioning system.  Now you know how to maintain it — so you might consider swapping in some efficient fixtures, too. But if you’ve got a teenager who loves taking those long showers, well, sorry, I can’t help you there.

Contact us, we can help you with any questions.

Luis Goncalves, ROWP, IN, PL

I fell into this amazing trade quite by accident, I have always loved being around heavy machinery and moving earth and in contrast love working with designing things.  This trade in the septic field has led me down a wonderful path of exploring all of my skills and passions while working hard at achieving success.

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