How Your Septic System Works

We understand that many of our customers have just moved to a home with a septic system for the first time, or have confusion about what and where their tank might be. This page should help!

Some basic diagrams below show how a typical septic system works. It is important to know where your septic system is located on your property and how it works. Knowing where your septic system is, and how it works can reduce your chance of costly repairs, and having to pay for service calls.

Knowing where your septic system is and how it works is the first line of defense in preventing septic back-ups, and septic failure!

This is a basic, modern septic system. The Left side of the image shows the home. When a toilet is flushed the effluent travels down the inlet pipe (next in line from the house) and into the inlet baffle (these are usually concrete). Once the effluent level reaches the divider in the tank, most of the solid matter should stay behind in this compartment while the wastewater flows over the divider, and into the second compartment. The first compartment has the inlet access cover (this is what needs to be uncovered for regular septic pumping service). As you continue to use water in the home, the waste water will eventually reach the outlet baffle. This second compartment is where you will find the outlet access cover The wastewater will flow into the outlet baffle and into the outlet pipe. The outlet pipe flows out to the Distribution box (D-box), which distributes the wastewater into several out-flowing pipes into your leach field.

This diagram also shows a basic, modern, septic system, as describes above. In this depiction you can see the layout of the distribution box, and leach field as it relates to the home and septic tank. This depicts a standard “stone and pipe” leach field. The leach field serves as the last stop of wastewater from your septic. It is typically lines with layers of stone and sand to filter the wastewater to remove hazardous material before it eventually flows into the ground water. Pumping your septic system regularly ensures that no solid waste or sludge end up flowing into your D-box or leach field. High levels of sludge accumulation due to lack of maintenance, overuse, or misuse can result in leach field and septic failure.

This Diagram (right) shows a septic system with a pump chamber. Not all systems have a pump or a pump chamber. Septic pumps are installed in system when the leaching field is located in an area that is above the home and or septic tank. What this means is, if the home is located close to a waterfront, or wetland, or if the land in the property does not allow for the effluent to flow safely with gravity to a leaching area, the effluent must be pumped uphill. A septic system pump chamber is located on the outlet side of the tank. Between your septic tank and your distribution box. Septic pumps require an electric power source. These are typically wired by a licensed electrician. Septic pumps are typically (and should be) equipped with an alarm. This alarm will alert the homeowner if the pump has stopped working. If your septic alarm goes off do not panic! the alarm will sound before you run out of tank volume. This means you should use water carefully and call for service. You may still flush your toilet but avoid doing large amounts of laundry, dishes, and heavy water use until your septic is emptied and your pump issue has been resolved. If your alarm goes off, check to make sure the fuse on your circuit breaker is not blown, unplug the alarm and pump for at least 30 seconds. Plug the pump back in first, wait about 20 minutes, listen for the pump to kick back on, then plug in your alarm. If the pump does not turn on, or your alarm is going off despite the pump running properly. Septic systems with pump chambers still need to be pumped regularly.

This Diagram (right) shows a Cesspool. These are older, and outdated septic systems. These are no longer installed and they are essentially obsolete. We typically see these at historic properties or some of the older “camps” located around the lake areas. Cesspools have an inlet pipe (shown on the far left of diagram), this is where the effluent flows from the house. These types of septic systems typically have no leach field. Some of the older cesspools have a dirt bottom where the wastewater eventually flows into the ground. Some cesspools are made of concrete or brick, or stone and serve as a basic holding tank. This means that the solid waste and water sit in this tank and do not flow out to any kind of leach field. If the water and waste have no where to go, eventually the tank will fill up and the septic could back up if it is not pumped out regularly. These types of tanks need to be pumped more often than a modern system. Folks with these types of tanks should be conscious of their water use. Excessive water use will increase the need for pumping and liken the chance of having frequent septic emergencies.

This diagram (left) shows a typical septic system with a leach field compared to a cesspool (described above).

This diagram (right) shows an older septic system. Some older homes have a cesspool or a septic tank that flows into what is commonly called a drywell this is also known as a grey water holding tank. A drywell essentially serves the purpose of a leach field in older systems (see description of a leach field above). Rather than the water flowing out to a leaching area, the overflow of waste water will flow up to an outlet pipe on the septic tank or cesspool, and flow into the outlet pipe and into the drywell. The tank or cesspool should be pumped on a regular basis, and the drywell containing only wastewater should be pumped less frequently than the tank (every other service would be adequate). The same disclaimer applies to these as cesspools. Due to the age and nature of these types of systems, water usage needs to be monitored and regular pumping must be done to avoid a septic back-up.

This diagram (left) shows how an overflow drywell or cesspool in relation to your home and septic tank. These systems are no longer installed, and updating your septic is highly recommended if you have one of these systems at your property.

These are the typical types of systems we service, diagnose, and repair. It is important to know where your tank and leach field are to avoid damaging them with vehicles, snow plows, construction projects, and and roots. Knowing where your septic tank access covers are located helps to avoid labor costs when having your septic tank serviced and ensures that all solid matter can be removed from your tank at the time of service. Regular septic pumping keeps your septic system in good working condition, prevents back-ups, and gives you more years of use of the existing septic system. Tanks should be pumped every two to three years depending on water usage and condition of the system.

Lakes Region Septic Services


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