The septic tank is buried, watertight container typically made of concrete, fiberglass, or polyethylene. It holds the wastewater long enough to allow solids to settle out, forming sludge, and oil and grease to float to the surface as scum. It also allows partial decompositions of the solid materials. Compartments and a T-shaped outlet in the septic tank prevent the sludge and scum from leaving the tank and traveling into the leach field area.The most common leach field consists of a series of trenches containing perforated pipe surrounded by septic rock, or gravel, and covered with mesh and dirt. The effluent entering the leach field is partially absorbed into the soil and partially evaporated. the leach field should not be driven on or covered by a driveway or patio.
If your home’s plumbing system does include an on-site septic system, it is incredibly important to be aware of the signs of possible damage, along with the maintenance needed to prevent it. A damaged or clogged septic system can be costly to repair. It can also impose possible health risks for homeowners, tenants and neighbors. A failing septic system could be responsible for releasing wastewater and harmful bacteria and viruses, including E. coli.
Unfortunately, there is no absolute way to predict how long a septic system will last or if it will be able to handle an increased load. A septic inspection, however, can yield useful information on the condition of the system as it exists when the system is inspected. While predicting the future with regard to the septic system is not part of any septic inspection, the inspection often uncovers defects in the system which can save the purchaser unexpected expense.
The in-ground type of septic system uses a series of perforated pipes located below the ground surface. These pipes are placed in a bed of crushed stone or aggregate. The sewage flows over the crushed stone or aggregate into the underlying soil. The condition of this soil determines how well your septic system will operate and how large the absorption area needs to be. If the absorption area is too small and the soil is too tight as with clay soils, the liquid cannot soak into the soil fast enough causing the waste to either back up into the home or emerge at the ground surface. An early sign of waste emerging at the surface is “lush growth.” The saying “that the grass is always greener over the septic tank” isn’t true when it comes to a properly operating septic system.
You pump out your septic tank to get rid of the solid sludge that accumulates at the bottom of the tank and the grease that accumulates as scum floating near the top. Both sludge and grease can foul the leaching field. How often to pump out depends on your tank size, family size, and how much of your wastewater is solid waste. For example: suppose your tank is 1,500 gallons, you’ve got four people in the family, and your solid waste is the average amount. Then you should pump your tank every 4 years. The volume of solids in the wastewater varies with such things as garbage disposals, dirty clothes, where you live. A family with a garbage disposal (compared with one that scrapes the dishes into a trash can) dumps up to 50 % more solid wastes down the drain, and, therefore, needs to pump the septic tank twice as often. Additives don’t do any good-or, at least, no controlled scientific study has shown them to be effective. So, save your money.
A choice needs to be made as to how far one wants to go to investigate a system. In nearly all cases it is impossible to check all of the septic system components as this would require unearthing the tank, absorption area, distribution system, etc. If this is done, there is a risk of damaging the system and ruining the landscaping of the property. In addition, the soil conditions change over time due to both natural and man made alterations. Soil suitability testing which is discussed later could be performed, but is usually impractical in a typical real estate transaction.