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Septic system ownership is a liberating experience—one that allows us to live where and how we like. Septic systems give us more options for where we build our homes, freeing us up from the typical grid and empowering us to live just about anywhere.
While most conversations about septic systems revolve around waste storage, treatment, and disposal, it’s also important to remember that our septic systems treat wastewater in order to keep our land pristine. But absent a water treatment plant, how does our septic system keep our ground from overflowing with smelly or potentially dangerous waste?
By improving our understanding of how septic systems work, we can work in harmony with them to add value to our investment while helping them last longer and work harder!
What is Wastewater?
The term “wastewater” is typically used to describe any water that’s been contaminated through human usage. After being used, wastewater may gather harmful nutrients, chemicals, and bacteria that make it unfit for human consumption. The water in your toilet, shower, kitchen sink, and washing machine all qualify as wastewater.
For homes with septic systems, drinking water is usually provided by an on-site well. Once used, however, that water is drained through your septic system and reintroduced into the soil. But if wastewater isn’t safe to drink, won’t it contaminate the ground once it’s released?
Thankfully, septic systems are more artful than that, and it all comes down to a marvel of septic engineering called the leach field.
What is a Leach Field?
After being used, water from your home’s drains and toilets flows into your septic tank along with other solid waste. Once here, your tank separates waste into three distinct categories.
Solid waste (called sludge) sinks to the bottom of the tank, while fats and oils (scum) rise to the top. Wastewater (called effluent) settles in the middle of the tank. Microorganisms break down the sludge at the bottom, and regular pumping from a trusted maintenance company takes care of the scum at the top. Wastewater, however, is treated by being drained out into the soil via a leach field (sometimes called a drain field).
How does a Leach Field Work?
Leach fields are constructed simultaneously with septic systems and are usually built at a safe distance from your drinking water well to avoid cross-contamination.
When installing a septic system, workers also dig a series of shallow trenches nearby. The trenches are lined with pipes and covered with gravel (or another natural, porous material). These pipes are perforated along their lengths, allowing wastewater to trickle out into the soil.
The leach field pipes are installed at a careful depth—deep enough to prevent freezing or regular pooling, but shallow enough to allow oxygen to reach the helpful bacteria that treat the water. Once the wastewater is introduced into the soil, the real magic takes place.
How is Wastewater Treated?
Natural processes and naturally occurring bacteria are your septic system’s best friends. After wastewater is introduced into the leach field, mother nature takes over the treatment process.
At shallow depths along the pipes, helpful bacteria feed on contaminants in the wastewater, purifying it for us while going about their usual business. As the remaining wastewater sinks into the soil (a process called percolation), further bacterial colonies, subterranean creatures, and plant root structures remove substances from the water that are harmful to us but helpful for them. Beyond that, denser sand and soil deposits capture contaminants while the now purified water is reintroduced into the water table.
Just like that (presto, chango) the water is purified enough for human consumption!
How You Can Help
Now that you know how your septic system treats wastewater, you can help it along by avoiding certain practices.
- As we send wastewater into the septic tank, the tank sends an equivalent amount of wastewater out into the leach field. When we overload our septic system with wastewater, we risk sending too much wastewater out at once which may contribute to puddling or flooding.
- If we’re not watchful about what solids we flush (non-organic solid waste specifically) we may cause a clog in a leach field pipe, increasing the risk of more flooding and pooling.
- Regular pumping also keeps your septic system operating optimally. So don’t forget to call your local septic experts for a regular pumping every 3-5 years!
Here for You
Economy Septic’s experts know septic operations backwards and forwards. Together with responsible and informed septic owners, Economy Septic can keep your septic system and household running smoothly and without any smelly puddles or expensive emergency maintenance.
For more information on what you can do to keep your septic system operating at full strength, or to schedule a pumping, call Economy Septic today!
Stay informed and operational with Economy Septic!
Septic system owners can get the most out of their system by understanding how it works. To improve its operation, add to its longevity, and avoid any smelly or expensive emergency maintenance, keep a careful eye on what you flush or drain, and remember to schedule regular pumpings. To learn more, or to schedule recurring pumpings, call Economy Septic today at (256) 435-1086!