How Septic Tank Systems Work – And Why We Still Use Them



Septic Tank Systems are used in many parts of the world as underground wastewater treatment centers. Most commonly used in areas where there is no centralized sewer system, or by people who do not wish to be connected to the local sewer system, they are often found in rural areas. They are also common in new developments that have not previously had a connection to the local sewage treatment facilities.

Septic tanks take wastewater from the home, including the bathroom and kitchen, and treat that water. 

How A Septic System Works

A typical septic system will have two major parts: a septic tank and a soil absorption field or drain field. These parts are on the outside of the home and connected to the inside. 

The septic tank colleges the organic matter (i.e. human waste) and solids from the wastewater. The system discharges the sanitized water into the drain field through a bunch of pipes or opening. The release is slow, so most people never notice that the water is being released into their yards. More advanced systems will use pumps or gravity to move the water through sand and other elements to construct wetlands or remove pollutants. Even so, it can be extremely dangerous because of the pathogens in the water. Remember, those pathogens are extremely dangerous and should only be handled by septic system professionals.

For most people, their septic tank works in the same way. The water goes from the house into the main drainage pipe, and then into the septic tank. This tank, which is typically made of concrete or fiberglass, is water-tight and buried somewhere in your yard. It holds the wastewater for a long enough time that it naturally starts to separate. The solids sink to the bottom of the tank, forming a type of sludge on the bottom of the tank. The water settles in the middle and the oils and grease float on the top. The sludge, scum, and water are able to leave through the aforementioned pipes.

However, if there is too much sludge in the tank, it can start to cause problems. The tank may not be able to hold enough water, causing it to go into the drain field too quickly, thus flooding the drain field.  

It is important to know that this water is still dangerous, even if it has been treated. When water moves too quickly, the pathogens aren’t able to be effectively leeched from the water.

Who Has A Septic System?

Most people know if they have a septic system or if they use the local sewage system – they will get a bill for the sewage. However, people who have just purchased their homes or who rent may not always know if they have a septic system. 

There are some common signs that you have a septic system, including having no sewer bills, having well water, not having a water meter, you live in a rural area, you live in a new development, your neighbours have a septic system, or you see flooding in your yard.

Where Is My Septic System?

Another problem with having a septic system is that people don’t always know where their tank is, especially if they suspect they are going to have problems. The one thing you can do is look at a plan for your property if you can find one – they often show the pathway to the septic tank. Another thing you can do is take a walk around your yard. If you see a manhole cover, that is likely the cover to your septic tank. You may also notice spongy grass, which is a sign of a nearby septic tank and a sign of a problem.

How Do I Know If My Septic Tank Needs Servicing?

There are a few different ways to know that your septic tank needs servicing, but the most common sign is that you smell something that doesn’t seem normal. You may also notice slowly draining water down your drain, pooling water in your yard, a water backup in your basement, or bright grass in a specific area of your yard.

Septic tanks aren’t always convenient, but they are the way of life for so many people. It is important to understand your septic tank and at least know the basics so that you can take care of it.