Septic System 101

Get a Better Understanding of Your Septic System and How It Works


Septic Systems are not as complicated as you might imagine.  In fact, they are a simple set up that you can effectively manage regardless of your experience level.  You do need to know a few things, but give us ten minutes of your time and we will have you ready.  Everything you need to know about your septic system in one quick, easy to read article.

Let’s start with the name of the systems.  ‘Septic System’ refers to the fact that these systems use naturally occurring bacteria and enzymes to break down and liquefy the solid waste, paper, greases and fats that are present in the system.  This is point number 1.  You need to effectively manage the bacteria in your system.  You can do this by making sure your household cleaners are not designed to kill germs or you can supplement bacteria into your system with the use of monthly septic treatment.

septic systemNow that we understand that septic systems begin and end with bacteria, we need to take a closer look at the septic system itself, so we can get a better understanding of what happens when something goes down the toilet or drains.

As you can see in the image, once the waste leaves your toilet or goes down the drain, it is deposited into the septic tank.  In the Septic Tank, solids are digested (liquefied) by the bacteria and enzymes.  Once liquefied, this effluent (liquid) leaves the tank and travels to the drain field portion of your system.  There, it leaves through perforations in the lines and is absorbed by the soil.

That is how the septic system works, when everything is functioning correctly.  But what happens when bacteria counts drop within the septic tank?  Well the system can no longer breakdown the solid waste and it begins to pile up.  Over time, this build up and particles of the build up make their way into the drain field with the effluent.  It then leaves through the perforations in the lines and is absorbed into the soil.  The soil acts like a natural filter and collects these particles of solid waste and organic material.  Over time this develops into what experts call Bio Mat.

Bio Mat is kind of like a wet sponge, once saturated it restricts the drainage of fluids through the soil in that area.  With time, this build up can completely shut down the systems ability to drain properly, causing you back ups or flooded yards.  All of this because bacteria counts in the septic tank dropped too low, most of the time without the homeowners even knowing their was a problem.

How to Fix a Sluggish Septic System

Fixing a sluggish or failing septic system does not require you to spend thousands of dollars on a septic contractor to replace your drain lines, no matter how many times the contractor may tell you it is the only option.  Truth is that you have a couple options to buy you some time and a couple options to fix the problem all together.

  1.  Replace the Septic Drain Lines.  This is the most expensive option for homeowners.  Quotes can range from $4500-$20,000 to put a new drain field in, depending on your county requirements, etc. Keep in mind, replacing your system will absolutely work and stop the problems, but if you do not correct the issue causing the bacteria counts to drop, you may cause the same issues all over again.
  2. Use Septic Shock Treatments to Open Up Lines – Septic Shock Treatments are powerfully concentrated bacteria and enzymes designed to penetrate the system, spread throughout the drain field and liquefy all of the build up causing your systems sluggishness.  These treatments can cost a few hundred dollars and take 3-5 weeks to work completely, but they will effectively restore your septic system and prolong the life of your drain field.
  3. Regular Pumping – Pumping your septic system is really more a maintenance step than it is a step used to restore the systems performance.  By pumping your tank, you can gain a temporary relief to the problem, however within a months time, the tank will be full again, and the problems persist.  Pumping costs a few hundred dollars per pump out and typically is done every 3 years or so depending on the county requirements from you.
  4. Jet Blasting Drain Lines -Another option your contractor may recommend if replacing the lines is not in your budget is jet blasting the lines.  They apply pressure to the drain lines and force the build up to the end of the lines.  This affects what is in the pipes itself, but not the build up in the soil. Ultimately, this is too is a temporary fix to the problem.  Within a few months time the sluggishness will return along the frustration.

Before you make any decisions regarding the treatment of your septic system, make sure you fully understand the cause of the problem.  Relying on the septic contractor is not always the best idea.  Remember they are directly compensated by your choice, they are not objective and therefore should not be trusted without some verification.

Only you can decide which option is best for your particular situation and budget.  Dollar for dollar, Septic Shock Treatments are the most effective and best overall value for homeowners dealing with septic problems.  Take some time to decide for yourself if a few weeks of time and a few hundred dollars is the right option for you and your septic system.