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What It Is and How It Works
The septic tank primarily is a holding tank, generally made of concrete or fiberglass and usually holds the amount of waste that will flow from a house in a 24-hour period. This waste comes from the kitchen sink, laundry tub, washing machine, and bathrooms.
Some health departments insist that flows from washing machines go into a receptacle other than the septic tank. The reason—to avoid large surges going into the septic system. Also, some feel it is wise to keep harsh washing powders from adversely affecting the bacterial action
in septic tanks.
The material going into the septic tank is divided into three general categories: (1) sludge that sinks to the bottom of the tank, (2) solid waste (lighter in weight than water) that floats near the top of the tank, and (3) water that fills the tank. The solid waste is worked on by bacteria (anaerobic) and is broken down into gas and liquids.
The gas is released through the vent system of the house and the liquids originally flow by gravity into the drain field. In theory, this process can go on indefinitely if the system is properly maintained. This maintenance
will be discussed later. Remember, the septic tank normally is filled to its liquid top level in order to function properly. A drain field is a trench or bed excavated just beyond the septic tank to a sufficient depth to provide natural drainage for the effluent (the technical name of the partially treated liquid coming out of the septic tank).
The ability of the ground to accommodate the liquid is determined by the amount of design flow and the type of the soil in which the drain field lies. Usually, the more pervious the soil, the smaller the drain field. Often, impervious soil must be removed from the site and replaced with more suitable material. The depth of the drain field is determined by the type of soil at various depths plus the elevation of the water table. It is necessary to maintain a safe vertical distance between the bottom of the drain field and the water table. Perforated pipes run the entire length of the drain field over a bed of filter media (usually rock or course sand) having a minimum depth of 12 inches. Solids are prevented from flowing from the septic tank to the drain field by a baffle or a “T” at the inside of the outlet end of the tank. In theory, only liquids are removed from the septic tank in this way, thus recycling your household liquids back to the ground. Research is constantly being carried out to discover a more efficient baffle to minimize the amount of minute solid particles allowed into the drain field. These solids, once in the drain field can cause clogging of the media and eventually, drain field failure.
A faulty plumbing fixture such as a running toilet, with which you are no doubt familiar, can force hundreds of gallons of wasted water to go through the tank and into the drain field, thus causing saturation of the earth. Any leaks that develop in the plumbing fixtures should be corrected immediately. A leaking faucet or toilet tank, no matter how small the leak, eventually will result in complete saturation and failure of the drain field.
Washing Machines Many residential clothes washing machines are connected to septic tanks. Washing machines are responsible for the highest volume of water going out of your house at one time. This obviously
will have a great effect on your septic tank, especially if two or three washes are done consecutively. A continuous deluge of water could create a hazard to the smooth operation of your septic tank system. How can you use your washing machine and still not overtax your septic tank? The one thing you can do is to space your washings throughout the week rather
than several loads on just one or two days. Another solution to washing machine heavy surges is the dual septic tank system (one for gray water and one for black water waste.
If there is any one factor that causes more trouble in septic tanks and drain fields, it is grease. For one thing, the type of bacteria that lives, eats and multiplies in septic tanks does not thrive at all in solidified grease.
Remember, grease is not sewage, it is garbage. So keep it out of the sewage system.
The septic tank is a patented invention, relatively new in concept (patented in London, England, around 1900). Most communities have septic tank contractors who can inspect your system periodically. Just be sure the contractor is licensed and reputable. Effective October 1, 1988,
any Florida septic tank contractor (those who install, repair, modify, maintain or pump onsite sewage disposal systems) must be registered with the Florida Department of Health and Rehabilitative Services. He or she must have passed an examination and must renew his or her registration annually by attending six hours of education.
Warning Signals
• Sluggishness when flushing toilet
• Any plumbing backups
• Gurgling sounds in the plumbing
• Grass in the yard growing faster and greener in one particular area
• Ground mushy underfoot
• Obnoxious odors inside or outside
• Low spots beginning to appear in yard, whether or not any of the above symptoms have appeared
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