A: A septic tank is a filter or interceptor placed in your septic system to trap solid waste and debris from getting into your drain field. Much of the organic waste is digested by bacteria in the tank, and what is not digested forms a scum layer on the top of the tank or settles out on the bottom of the tank into a sludge or slurry-type material.
Although it is impossible to keep all this material from getting to the drain field, as some are suspended in the water, the septic tank or tanks is the main line of defense. Any tank (filter) that is not cleaned or maintained on a regular interval will eventually become saturated or overloaded with the material it is designed to trap. This will allow the material that is to be contained in the tank (filter) to travel into the drain field, which can severely damage, and in some cases destroy the drain field and absorption area.
Since the drain field (absorption area) is the most important and most expensive component for a working septic system, not maintaining your septic system greatly increases the probability of replacing your system, which is a very expensive investment. If your property is on a small parcel of land or poor soil, and your system fails, sometimes you are very limited to what type of system you can install, and these alternatives, such as a holding tank system, are more expensive to maintain.
A: There are many variables, which determine the frequency: Size and number of tanks before the drain field or absorption area Number of people in household, what is allowed to go down the drain or toilet, the ratio of bacteria in tank compared to the amount of waste to be digested, how well the drain field is working to absorb the water that is being used by the household, and is there an ordinance in the municipality where you live that requires a minimum interval between pumping.
It is not an easy question to answer. An older system, which is usually a single tank system would best be maintained in the 1 to 3 year of range, whereas a newer 3-tank dosing system could go more toward a 4 or even 5 year maximum range, but all of this depends on the above variables. When a system is pumped, we can get a better idea what would be an appropriate interval.
A: Being efficient using water can definitely be a factor, as each gallon of water that goes into the system has to be treated in the septic tanks and then absorbed into the soil. Low-flow toilets, water saving water fixtures, water efficient washers, and water conservation will lighten the load for your system. Also, any toilets that do not shut off properly or seem to fill when no one is using them, as well as leaky faucets, should be taken care of immediately.
Even a very slow trickle of water can overload a system and cause it to overflow or malfunction. Do not flush anything that is not easily broken down in water. This includes baby or personal wipes, paper towels, cooking oils or grease, paint (water or oil based), solvents, harsh chemicals (even excessive bleach), auto oil, grease, anti-freeze, or toxic materials.
Many of these things can affect the good bacteria level in your tank and even cause permanent damage to your system, including the tanks, pipes, and other components of your system. When in doubt, don’t put it down the drain.
A: We recommend pumping through a large access on all septic tanks, dry wells, and cesspools. This access provides a better pumping, as well as the ability to inspect the inside components and condition of the tank construction. This access would be approximately 20 to 30 inches in diameter with some type of childproof cover.
By pumping on a regular basis, as well as inspecting and maintaining the baffles in the tank, it is possible to minimize solid waste which is to be contained in the tank, from flowing into the drain field or absorption area. This may help you avoid a costly system replacement. When the system is pumped through this large access, we are able to see damage, which is not visible by pumping and looking down a 4 or 6-inch pipe.
Sometimes, these access pipes are close to or even in a baffle, which could cause damage to that baffle. We are also able to better see the solid waste; to make sure all is pumped from the tank.
Many townships now require this access as part of their on-lot sewage pumping ordinance and program. The ordinances prohibit pumping through a 4 or 6-inch pipe (observation ports).
A: A sand mound is a type of drain field or absorption area. Sand mounds can be elevated (above ground level) or below grade (pressure dosing system). There are still septic tanks before the sand mound, which will include a tank with the pump in it.
The pump puts the effluent coming from the septic tank or tanks, into the sand absorption area under pressure, which evenly distributes it through the drain field. These systems can have one or more tanks before the pump tank, but all tanks should be serviced on a regular interval including the pump tank.
If your system has small pipes sticking up through the sand mound and there seems to be water leaking around them, or if they are actually cracked or broken, they need to be repaired immediately. This prevents the system effluent from leaking out on the surface of the ground (which is illegal). Also, sand from the drain field can also come back into the pump when these are broken, which can damage or even ruin the pump.
A: Baffles are walls or vertical pipes in the tank to protect the inlet and outlet pipes in the septic tank. The baffle on the inlet side diverts water down into tank, which prevents the inlet wastewater from streaming across the top of the tank, which would push the waste toward the outlet pipe. Since the inlet and outlet pipes are near the top of the tank, the rear baffle, which extends down into the tank prevents waste, which is on the top layer of the waste water from going into the outlet pipe.
This traps that waste in the tank and allows the bacteria time to break down the solid waste in the tank as the clearer water in the middle section of the wastewater flows into the outlet pipe. In multiple tank systems, the tank before the pump tank sometimes has a filter in that rear baffle, similar to a lint screen on a clothes dryer. These filters must be easily accessible and maintained a minimum of every 12 months to prevent backup of the system.
If the rear baffle is not present or in good condition, then the waste that is supposed to be trapped in the tank and removed by regular pumping will easily get into the drain field. This can cause damage which in many cases cannot be corrected and result in replacement of the drain field and/or the entire system, which is very expensive. When it is discovered that baffles are damaged or missing, it is very important to have the problem taken care of immediately.
A: This is an older type of drain field, which is no longer legal to install. However, at this time, existing systems such as these are legal as long as there is not a malfunction (creating a health hazard such as water on the surface of the ground, or contaminating the water supply).
When the system fails or malfunctions, a new system, which meets current code and standards, would need to be installed. The cesspool or dry well is a deeper type drain field, which is constructed of stone or blocks walled up with a top and surrounded by stone.
The water is intended to seep out through the stone and be absorbed into the soil. They can range from 2 feet to 20 or more feet deep. The danger in these is the fact that they can be very close to or even in the water table. This is why they are no longer legal.
The difference between a cesspool and a dry well is the addition of a septic tank. A cesspool does not have a tank, so it serves dual purposes as treatment and absorption. These usually fail much quicker because of no filter. The dry well, on the other hand, has a tank to filter the waste before it gets to the dry well and the ground will accept the effluent easier.
A: A holding tank is not a wastewater treatment type system, so maintaining the system is totally different than a septic system. A holding tank is a solid tank or tanks with an inlet pipe but no outlet to a drain field or absorption area. All the wastewater that comes into the tank(s) is held in the tank until the tank is pumped.
Most estimates are that each person uses between 50 to 75 gallons of water per day, so intervals between pumping can be quite frequent. Water conservation is necessary and any leakage or infiltration of ground water must be addressed immediately. This system is more economical to install, but the long-term cost is much higher.
A: When we pump the system we are also looking for other things which could be a potential problem, or an indication that your system is not working as it should. If you only have a small access (4 or 6 inch), only a minimal amount of things can be observed, which is why we recommend a large manhole access. Some of the things we look at are:
The level of the wastewater in the tank. That level should be at the bottom of the pipe that leads to the drain field. If it is higher, it indicates that the water is either not getting to the drain field, or the drain field is saturated and not absorbing as much water as it should. If the level is low, it indicates a leak or crack in the tank, which needs to be addressed so the tank does not collapse, or water leaks back into the house or foundation or possibly the water supply.
Whether the baffles in the tank intact and in good condition, is the water coming into the tank as it should from the house? If not, it can indicate a problem with a clog in the line or a damaged pipe, and is water surfacing behind the tank or in the area of the drain field? Again, this can indicate a problem with a pipeline or a drain field that is no longer absorbing enough water. This creates a potential health hazard with effluent from the tank on the top of the ground.
A: Not all municipalities have an ordinance that requires you or the pumper to notify them when your system is pumped. All pumpers licensed in York County must provide the County with a manifest for each property when it is serviced. Municipalities that do have an ordinance require a copy of that manifest be forwarded to them either by the homeowner or the pumper, depending on the ordinance.
The requirements for each municipality vary and most require an inspection of the system by the pumper, or in some cases, the Sewage Enforcement Officer that represents that municipality. This inspection and its requirements are filled out on the bottom portion of the County manifest. This requires a large access so the inspection can be performed and the information completed.
These inspections often find things that can be corrected, minimizing the potential of a much more expensive repair or replacement had the problem not been found. Repairs or modifications that are needed, due to the findings of the inspection, require notifying your municipality and securing any necessary permits. Work done is directed through the Sewage Enforcement Officer and they can be contacted through your municipality office.