If you live in an area that doesn’t have municipal sewage treatment, then chances are you will have to go with a conventional septic system. This is a good way to treat, collect, and get rid of waste water from a home. However, they need to be installed the right way, sited correctly, and always maintained. If not maintained, any conventional septic system can and will fail. Some of the problems inherent in a septic system that fails are: horrible odors, lowered value of the property, pollution of the groundwater, and surface water contamination. It is quite costly to fix and replace conventional septic systems.
Usually, conventional septic systems consist of a septic tank along with a drain field. The septic tank is made of strong concrete that has been reinforced, and is buried in the ground close to the residence. Waste water from the kitchen, bathroom, and laundry go into the tank. A layer of sludge is formed at the bottom of the tank due to the settling of solids. On the top of the water is the lighter solids and grease. The water that has been cleaned in the middle, runs through a pipe that has been buried and watertight.
A simple schematic diagram of a typical conventional septic system.
It can cost between $4000 to $20,000 to have a conventional septic system installed, and is dependent on how big it needs to be, the condition of the soil, and how the land is laid out.
The drain field is made up of between two to six different trenches dug into the soil. Every trench has a pipe with holes that is covered with rock, and then soil. The drain field is responsible for slowly leaching wastewater to the rocks and soil so that viruses and bacteria can be effectively filtered out and decomposed, or perhaps absorbed into the soil until they are no longer viable. Also, some chemicals that are found in the water are changed to other, less noxious forms or can be taken in by the soil.
Some of the proper maintenance practices are making sure that harmful materials (paint thinner, harsh acids or alkaline chemicals, many cleaners, etc.) are kept out of the conventional septic system, being certain to have the system pumped and maintained regularly, and being aware of things that can cause potential damage to the septic system. Too much vegetable waste or cooking oil can harm a septic system, so I’d highly recommend putting that kind of stuff in the trash or, better yet, a compost pile.
To help protect a system, it is essential to have it pumped on a regular basis. These times will differ depending on how big the tank is, and how many people use the system. On average for a 1,000-gallon tank, it needs to be pumped every 2 to 3 years if you have four or more people living in your house. If there are two or less, then it needs to be pumped about every 5 to 6 years. To have solids removed from your conventional septic system, you will need a person who is certified in pumping. Every bit of material needs to be taken out of the tank, but the tank itself doesn’t need to be cleaned or scrubbed down.
If not removed, solids will overflow from the tank and clog the drain field, resulting in the system backing up. If this happens, often a brand new drain field will have to be constructed, and this can cost thousands of dollars. To save money and time, it is crucial to always maintain a proper conventional septic system.