Septic Tanks

In San Jose, and the bulk of the South Bay Area, most homes are connected to the city (or county) sewer system.  For those of you who are not, you will be on a septic system.  Part of that system is the septic tank.  In this article, we will be taking a look at the septic tank, how it functions, and what to do if you have an issue with yours.

What Does the Septic Tank Do?

We covered this a bit in our Absorption Field article, but knowing how a septic tank works can be a great first step towards making sure your works efficiently.

Any time you use a fixture that results in water/waste flowing down the drain, it will travel through the drain pipes, into your house mainline, and then into the septic tank.  Once there, the tank does a few things.  The first thing it does is separate the waste into three parts.

Scum – The scum is the lightest parts of the waste that floats on the top.  It is kept within the tank either by baffles, barriers, or a “tee” in the outlet pipe.  It is important that this scum not make it into the drain field.

Liquid – The liquid is allowed to flow through the outlet pipe into the absorption field, where it is treated and returned to the water table.

Sludge – The heaviest of the waste settles at the bottom of the tank, as sludge.  The sludge (and to a lesser degree, the scum) is what must be periodically pumped from the tank.

Besides just separating the waste into these three parts, the septic tank has another very useful function.  As the waste accumulates within the tank, a natural bacteriological process breaks down the scum and sludge, and begins to break down and neutralize the toxins.  While most of the liquid waste treatment is done in the absorption field, a proper bacteria balance in the tank is important.

Septic Tank Problems

While septic systems were the staple for sewage treatment for many, many years, they are far from full proof.  By far, the most common cause for septic problems is lack of maintenance.  Septic tanks need regular pumping to keep the solids from building up to a point where they can enter the drain field.  If that happens, it will ruin the drain field’s ability to drain.

You do not need, or want to use septic tank treatment chemicals.  These chemicals do not help to break down the waste, and in many cases can actually upset the natural balance in your tank.  In other words, they can actually make matters worse!

Another problem that sometimes occurs is when the baffles, or tees somehow get damaged.  If this happens, the sludge may be able to get directly into the outlet pipe, and wreak havoc on your absorption field.  For this reason, it is important that the tank is thoroughly checked every time a maintenance is performed, and any damage repair immediately.

The two most difficult issues to repair are failures of the drain field, or damage to the tank itself.  We discussed the former in our Septic Field Pipe Repair article, but what about the tank?  Unfortunately, if the tank itself goes bad, it will usually have to be replaced.  This is especially true of older tanks.

Replacing a septic tank can turn out to be a pretty big job.  Before starting anything of this magnitude, you may want to see if you have an option to abate your current septic system, and get your home connected to the city (or county) sewer.  While septic abatement is a pretty large job as well, being tied into the municipal sewage treatment system is far more efficient, and cost effective, over the long term.

If you would like to know more about septic systems, or need help with your septic tank, give us a call.  We will get a qualified, friendly Gogo Rooter Plumber to your door, ASAP.

For your convenience, here is a handy little guide to septic tank maintenance from the DHEC. 

**picture courtesy of Natural Environmental Services Center

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