July 1, 2022

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The concept of plumbing, sewer pipes, and running water dates back to the days of the Roman Empire, when lead-coated pipes were often used in cities. Today’s plumbing and sewage utilities are far more advanced, and in a city or large town, public pipes will deliver fresh water to buildings and carry away dirty water, and huge water processing plants make dirty water fit for use. Still, around 25% of American homes are too far away from these utilities to connect to them, so instead, those properties make use of septic tanks and drainage fields to dispose of waste. These are self-contained systems that can filter and clean up dirty water, and allow cleaned water to enter the natural water cycle. This is quite practical for rural homes, but such hardware will sometimes need septic system repairs or cleaning. When is it time for septic rank repair or general septic system repairs? And how exactly does this system work, anyway?

How a Septic System Operates

The house will flush all dirty water through pipes, and that waste water flows down into a large underground septic tank. Such tanks can store hundreds of gallons of content at once, and inside that tank, bacteria colonies break down organic waste. Waste particles settle to the tank’s bottom to form a thick sludge, while fats and oils float to the water’s top, leaving relatively clean water in between. This process takes a few days, and then the water will pass through a filter grate for further cleaning and pass deeper into the system.

Now, this cleaner water flows through a branching series of pipes found just under the soil’s surface, and holes and nozzles in those pipes allow the water to leach right out. Loose soil, gravel, and bacteria colonies act as natural filters for this loose water, cleaning it even further as it re-enters the natural water system in a drainage field. The process is now complete, and it is largely automated. But still, a homeowner should closely monitor their septic system’s performance, and know when septic system repairs are needed.

Septic System Repairs

What might go wrong with a typical septic system? The tank itself will need periodic cleaning, mainly for the sludge inside. That sludge has no means of leaving the tank on its own, so it will continue to accumulate over time. So, the homeowner can use a long measuring stick (nicknamed a “sludge judge”) and insert it into that tank, to measure the sludge’s level. Once the tanks one third to one half full, it is time for septic tank services to be called, and these workers will arrive with a truck-mounted tank, pump, and hose. The workers will unearth the tank’s hatch and open it, attach the hose, and draw out all of the waste matter found inside. This may need to be done once every few years.

If the septic tank is very old, such as 20 years old or so, it may start leaking, and that is a real problem. This calls for repair crews who can remove the old tank entirely and put a new one in its place, and if need be, that new tank may be even larger than the old one. What is more, a tank’s filter grate may be clogged or damaged, which impedes water flow. It should be cleaned off, repaired, or replaced as needed to maintain proper water filtration and flow.

Besides septic pumping and tank replacement, the system may need help with its pipes. Those pipes in the drainage field may become clogged on the inside with sediment or other waste, and that restricts water flow. Professionals can be called upon to dig up those pipes and scour their insides clean with pressurized water, and then put them back.

The homeowner should take care to not flush down items such as tobacco, baby diapers, or moisturized hand towels, which tend to clog plumbing and cannot be broken down in the septic tank. Also, no motor vehicles should drive across the drainage field, since a vehicle’s weight will compress the earth too much and block natural water flow there. Signs or fences may help prevent vehicles from driving across that field by accident.