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Septic 101

September 16, 2019

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Whether you are new to septic systems or have lived with them for your entire life, there are some things to know that will set you up for success when operating and treating your septic system. There can be a lot of nuance for each septic system, so yours may be a bit different depending on your situation, but it always helps to have a basic understanding of septic systems, plumbing and everything in between.

Below we have outlined some of the most frequently asked questions we get, as well as some popular topics that people have interest in. Jump to each section by clicking a topic on the list below. If there is something you'd like to see added to this list or if you are needing additional help, please reach out to support@uniquemm.com we are always very happy to help!

Let's explore some foundational understanding of your septic system together!


Contents

What Is A Septic System?


A septic system is a type of home wastewater system. Unlike sewer systems that feed into a larger wastewater system, septic systems are entirely self-contained and do not feed into a larger sewer network.


How Does A Septic System Work (Septic Tank + Field)?


A septic system is fairly simple in design. It normally consists of a septic tank, a lateral line system, and a leach field, but there are a few other designs as well. Learn more about these less common types of systems here.

The septic tank itself is generally made of concrete and holds on average a volume of 1,500 gallons. This tank is the first stop for your waste once it leaves your home through a toilet flush or down a drain. Once your waste enters into the tank it begins to break down into smaller pieces. This breakdown process is accomplished through beneficial bacteria living inside the tank itself that break down the waste and separate it into scum and sludge.

The scum generally floats to the top of the tank and consists mostly of fats, oils, and grease. The sludge layer generally sinks to the bottom of the tank and is made of proteins, carbohydrates, and undigested solids. After the scum and sludge have been removed from the waste water, the water then flows out of the tank and into the septic field where the lateral lines are found. This field is generally a large space (typically in your backyard) where several lateral lines extend from the septic tank.

The lateral lines are long pieces of tubing, generally made of PVC, that have holes throughout and normally have a layer of gravel between them and the soil below. The liquid from the septic system runs through these lateral lines and exits through the holes. A substance called biomat builds around these exit holes. This biomat also contains bacteria that continue to break down any remaining waste left in the liquid from your septic tank as it seeps through it.

Once the liquid exits through the lateral lines and passes through the biomat it seeps into the soil and eventually makes its way back into the ground water as clean water.



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What Kinds Of Septic Systems are there? 



There are several types of septic systems out there. Knowing the type of septic system you have will help you keep things clean and flowing.


Septic Tank + Field

The majority of septic systems installed are the septic tank + field type. In this type of system the waste is collected in a large tank where bacterial processes break down the waste and separate it into scum, sludge and liquid. The scum and sludge remain in the tank while the liquid waste flows out into the septic field, where it is dispersed into the ground water as clean water.


Septic Tank + Seepage Pit

With this type of system, the waste is collected in a large tank where bacterial processes break down the waste and separate it into scum, sludge and liquid.The scum and sludge remain in the tank while the liquid waste flows out into a large seepage pit. This pit has a series of perforations in it that allow the liquid to flow out and into the ground. The difference between this system and a traditional septic system is that a seepage pit allows the liquid to seep deeper into the ground instead across a large field as in a traditional septic system. These systems are best suited for homeowners who do not have large amounts of open space for a septic field to be installed.


Septic Tank + Lagoon

In a septic system that feeds out into a lagoon, the waste is collected in a large tank where bacterial processes break down the waste and separate it into scum, sludge and liquid.The scum and sludge remain in the tank while the liquid waste flows out into a lagoon, a pond-like body of water.


Aerobic System

Aerobic systems pump oxygen into a waste tank to increase the activity of aerobic bacteria.  Without this oxygen influx, a normal septic system has increased activity of anaerobic bacteria, which are often less efficient than their aerobic counterparts.  In the big picture, this means the effluent (or out flow) from an aerobic system is significantly “cleaner” than the effluent from a septic system. This cleaner effluent means the drain field has to perform less filtration, which, in turn, potentially means less maintenance and work to keep things running. To learn a lot more about Aerobic systems click here.


How Do I Determine If I Am On A Septic System? And If So, What Type? 

If you are not sure if you have a septic system operating or not, there are a few things to look out for that may indicate you do indeed have a septic system. The common indicators are:

  • Do you live in a rural location?  Many rural locations do not tie in to sewer system so a septic system tends to be more popular in rural locations.
  • Are there any visible lids or risers in your backyard or fields around your home? These can also be indicators of a septic system.
  • Can you see a stand pipe in your backyard/field? This pipe is also an indicator that there is a septic system tied into your home plumbing.
  • Are you on a well? Many homes that are on a well also use a septic system as their main mode for waste removal.

All of these items can be indicators that you are on a septic system. But do note that it is considered a best practice to contact a septic inspector and schedule a property inspection. This inspection will tell you if you do indeed have a septic system and what type it is. 



How To Care For Your Septic System Safely



Pumping Out Your Septic System

Over time, your septic system fills up with waste. This waste needs to be removed from the system manually. The way this solid waste is removed is through the process of pumping. It is recommended that you hire a pumping service to pump out a septic system.

On average, a septic system needs to be pumped out every 3 years, though using Unique’s Septic System Digester can extend that time between pump outs. Do also note that the pumping schedule may need to change depending on usage as well as the number of people in your household.


What If I Don’t Pump My System?

Not pumping a septic tank can lead to disastrous results. Foul odors escaping from the drains in your home, drain backups, home flooding, and standing water in your septic field are just some of the results from not pumping out your septic tank. This is why it is crucial to keep track of how full your tank is through personal or professional inspection.



How Do I Treat My Septic System?

It is wise to treat your septic system regularly in order to keep your system flowing and free from backups. We recommend using Unique’s Septic System Digester. Septic System Digester comes in a variety of different dosage methods, so click here to see which method is best for your system. Using Septic System Digester on a regular basis will cost your 



Is It Necessary To Treat My System?

In an ideal world, a septic system treatment is not necessary, but unfortunately issues can indeed arise from not using a treatment method. Backups, clogs, and foul odors can result if you do not regularly treat you septic system. 



Can I Damage My Septic System?

Septic systems work using a delicate bacterial balance to break down your wastes. Using harmful or caustic chemicals can kill off that bacteria and hinder the breakdown process, thus causing backups and odors.

Not only can you damage your septic system by using improper chemicals, but it is also possible to cause issues through overuse. Overuse can vary depending on your septic system, but it is best to avoid activities that involve sending high volumes of water through your septic system in a 24-hour period.

Environmental factors will also present issues to septic system users. Tree roots can spread out and cause damage to the septic tank itself. These issues can be extremely costly so making sure root systems are controlled is crucial to septic system owners.



How Long Will My Septic System Last?

A well-built and maintained septic system should last at least 40 years or more.



Common Questions



Septic Systems Near A Well

If built correctly your septic system being built near a well should pose no problems, but if you are worried about cross contamination issues, leaks, etc. be sure to contact a septic system inspector to set up a time to have your well water tested.


Do I Have To Pump My System? What Happens If I Don’t?

Over time, your septic system fills up with waste. This waste needs to be removed from the system manually. The way this solid waste is removed is through the process of pumping. It is recommended that you hire a pumping service to pump out a septic system.

On average, a septic system needs to be pumped out every 3 years, though using Unique’s Septic System Digester can extend that time between pump outs. Do also note that the pumping schedule may need to change depending on usage as well as the number of people in your household.



Do I Have To Treat My Septic System? My Pumper / Neighbor Says I Don’t Have To. What Happens If I Don’t?

It is highly recommended that you treat your system for a couple of reasons. Firstly, treating your system regularly will extend the period between pump outs, saving you money. Secondly, treating your system gives you peace of mind knowing that you won’t experience any unwanted odors or slow moving water through your system.



Can I Damage My Septic System?

Septic systems work using a delicate bacterial balance to break down your wastes. Using harmful or caustic chemicals can kill off that bacteria and hinder the breakdown process, thus causing backups and odors.

Not only can you damage your septic system by using improper chemicals, but it is also possible to cause issues through overuse. Overuse can vary depending on your septic system, but it is best to avoid activities that involve sending high volumes of water through your septic system in a 24-hour period.

Environmental factors will also present issues to septic system users. Tree roots can spread out and cause damage to the septic tank itself. These issues can be extremely costly so making sure root systems are controlled is crucial to septic system owners.



Can I Overuse My Septic System?

It is possible to cause issues through overuse. Overuse can vary depending on your septic system, but it is best to avoid activities that involve sending high volumes of water through your septic system in a 24-hour period.  



Do I Need To Use Special Toilet Paper For My Home On A Septic System?

Many septic system owners worry about what kind of toilet paper needs to be used in a septic system. The answer is quite simple: So long as you are using Unique’s Septic System Digester, you can use any toilet paper you would use in a traditional sewage system. The bacteria contained inside of Septic System Digester will break down the Toilet paper very effectively, leaving you worry-free about clogs in your septic system.



Can I Plant A Garden On Top Of My Septic Field?

Many septic system owners opt to use the water from their septic system to water their garden. This can be a very good use for that septic system water, but caution does need to be used when choosing what to plant. Avoid anything that has a deep or complicated root system. Also be sure to avoid anything that requires you to dig more than a few inches into the ground as you do not want to upset the balance of the septic system below.

It does also need to be noted that water from your septic system CANNOT be used to water any gardens containing any food that will be consumed by anyone. Some sources indicate that it is safe within a certain amount of feet, but here at Unique we suggest that you avoid it altogether, simply for the sake of being overly cautious.



How Gray Water Systems Work

A grey water system gathers all the water not linked to your septic system. This water does not contain any traditional wastes and comes from places like bathroom sinks, showers, bathtubs and laundry lines (NOTE: Kitchen sinks and dishwashing lines are NOT part of the grey water system as they contain food waste). The water from the grey water lines runs through a small filtration system then into a small holding tank, generally only large enough to hold a few gallons of water. From this holding tank, the water makes its way through a network of lateral lines and out into an abbreviated, or smaller, leach field system that operates similarly to that in the traditional septic system. The water from this grey water system is then generally used to water a garden, or line of trees, etc. 



Treating A Gray Water System

Treating your grey water system is a good and necessary practice in order to keep things clean and clear. We suggest once per month you simply pour 2oz of Unique’s Septic System Digester down the drain found in either your bathtub or shower. Adding Septic System Digester to your grey water system will ensure a longer life out of your filtration system and will prevent any slow moving water that might occur from buildup inside the lateral lines.









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