What is a Septic System?
Septic Systems have been installed since the late 1800's replacing the old outside facility known as the outhouse. A septic system is a mini onsite sewage treatment system used when municipal sewers are not available. Depending on the age of your home, septic Systems on Long Island usually consist of a primary receiver (septic tank) and a drainage area (cesspool or drainage field). Homes constructed after 1973, will have a septic tank as the primary receiver while homes built prior to 1973 will have a cesspool as the primary receiver. (All homeowners residing in homes built prior to 1973 be sure to read the article on block construction cesspools on the home page) If properly installed and maintained on a regular basis, your septic system will provide many years of trouble free service.
How Do Septic Systems Work?
Wastewater leaves your home though a pipeline called the mainline, then enters the septic tank (primary receiver). The septic tank holds the waste for primary treatment where solids and liquids are separated by gravity. The heavy digested solids form a layer called "sludge" that accumulates at the bottom of the tank. The lighter materials, (fats, greases, and oils) form a "scum" layer that floats to the top of the tank. Natural bacteria generated by the solid waste partially decomposes the waste in the septic tank and reduces the amount of solid material by as much as 60 percent. Note however that the septic tank is only one part of your septic system. It is designed to remove solids from your wastewater as shown, prior to the wastewater entering the cesspool (drainage area). Solids and sludge should be pumped from the tank every 2 years (as recommended by the county health department) by a licensed septic contractor. This service frequency will prevent solid material overloading the septic tank and more importantly from entering and clogging the cesspool. Homeowners that routinely maintain the septic tank will thus avoid costly repairs to the cesspool drainage area commonly referred to as the overflow.
What is an Overflow?
The cesspool (drainage area) commonly referred to as an overflow, is designed to catch leach water only. Wastewater leaving the septic tank enters the cesspool where it drains into the soil. Cesspools are most efficient when they receive water with the least amount of solid waste possible. As solid wastes leave the septic tank due to lack of maintenance or overuse they clog the surrounding soils and bottom of the cesspool. The homeowner should have their septic contractor inspect the overflow system when the solids and sludge are pumped from the septic tank to insure proper drainage. If it is determined that the overflow requires service the homeowner may elect pumping, aeration, and application of drainage additives to the overflow to restore drainage.
Why do Septic Systems Fail?
Generally, systems fail due to lack of maintenance. When the septic tank is not pumped on a regular basis it will become overloaded with solid waste. Solid waste can prevent proper flow through the tank and allow solid waste to enter the cesspool. Solid waste entering the cesspool will clog the surrounding soils preventing proper drainage. This will cause the system to overfill leading to the possibility of waste backing up into the household.
How Long Should a Septic System Last?
A properly installed septic system with proper maintenance will provide many years of trouble free service in most cases.
What are the Signs of a Failing System?
1.Sluggishness when flushing the toilet.
2.Water back ups in sinks, bathtubs, showers, etc.
3.Gurgling sounds in plumbing.
4.Grass in yard growing faster and greener in one particular area.
5.Ground mushy underfoot.
6.Obnoxious odors inside or outside your home.
7.Low spots beginning to appear in yard,
The "Do's and Don'ts" of Everyday Household Septic Maintenance
1.Know where your septic system is located.
2.Have your septic tank (main receiver) pumped and inspected every 2 years by a licensed septic service contractor.
3.Direct all storm water run-off away from the septic system.
4.Conserve water by using water saving plumbing fixtures.
5.Fix all leaking plumbing fixtures.
1.Drive or Park vehicles over the septic system.
2.Plant trees or construct accessory buildings over the septic system.
3.Dispose of non-biodegradable materials in the system.
4.Dispose of kitchen grease and food scraps in the system.