Learn About Your Septic System from Nicholson's Waste Management

Understanding & Taking Care of Your Septic System

A septic tank is under the ground, usually a concrete tank; some are two-compartment tanks, though there are some tanks that are plastic or fibreglass. Most septic tanks are 500 – 1000 gallons.

As wastewater flows into the tank, an equal amount of liquid will flow through the outlet to the leach field. The heavy solids settle to the bottom into a sludge layer, the fats float to the top forming a layer of scum, and between the two layers is liquid. Your septic tank is always full unless it has been recently pumped out.

A leach field is usually two or more trenches or a bed configuration to which the liquid waste from the septic tank flows. Soil acts as a purifier as the waste naturally percolates down through the soil. If the solid waste from the septic tank is not removed periodically and it moves into the leach bed it will eventually “seal up” the sides and bottom of the leach bed with biomaterial. Liquids that normally leach from the septic tank cannot percolate into the ground any longer, and therefore has nowhere else to go but up to the surface.

Determining how often maintenance should be performed on your septic system is based on the usage. The size of your family plays an important factor in determining when and how often you should have your septic tank cleaned. Normally for a family of four, every 3 years is the standard. It’s the responsibility of the home owner to dig up the septic tank lids prior to the septic cleaning.

Don’t dump grease down the drain, as grease will harden in the septic tank and could build up, blocking the inlet or outlet lines of the septic tank. Don’t put anything down the drain that is inedible such as egg shells, coffee grounds, cigarette butts, feminine hygiene products, disposable diapers, and cat litter.

Don’t drive on the system or build anything on top of it, such as a dog run, as this could cause your tank to freeze in the winter months.

If buying a new home, have the previous owner clean the septic tank and mark the opening so when you have to have the tank cleaned you know precisely where the lid is. It’s also a good idea to be there when the tank is pumped so you can ask questions.

For information about the importance of cleaning your septic system and other facts, see answers to frequently asked questions.

Septic Tank Illustration
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