More people are moving out of the California cities and into the desert areas than ever before, which also means – in many cases – they’re moving into a home with their first septic system and tank. This can be disconcerting for people who are accustomed to civic sewer systems, particularly since having a septic system means treating ones toilet and wastewater a bit differently.
Septic System Experts Discuss How Septic Tanks Operate
Aside from the various pipes hooking everything together, there are two main parts to a septic system – the septic tank, and the drain field.
I. The Septic Tank
The septic tank is, obviously enough, where all your wastewater goes when it leaves your house. And to be clear, all water used in your house flows into it – from toilets, sinks, dishwashers, showers, everything. Obviously, most of this is simply water, with some human waste mixed in.
Once the wastewater gets to the septic tank, it naturally separates into three parts: Solid wastes (called ‘sludge’) sink to the bottom and anything lighter than water (called ‘scum’) floats to the top. Near the top of the tank, there is also an outlet that allows overflow water and scum to leave the tank. This goes to the drain field, which we’ll discuss momentarily.
A septic tank also contains many microbial life forms which flourish in human waste. These microbes are constantly eating away at the sludge, keeping it from piling up too high, and converting it into lighter materials. These microbes are absolutely essential to septic systems. Without them, it would fill up quickly!
II. The Drain Field
The drain field is an area just below the topsoil, filled with pebbles and rocks, which overflow from the tank drains into. Anything overflowing is mostly non-toxic, unlike the sludge. In fact, it’s great fertilizer. There are also microbes here, which further break down anything harmful that might remain in the scum. Otherwise, the overflow water just fertilizes your lawn.
(And that’s why “The grass is always greener over the septic tank.”)
That’s how the system works. However, it’s not perfect. You will put more waste into the tank than the bacteria can dispose of, so you’ll need to call in septic system experts every 3-4 years to drain your tank. They’ll also check your microbial ecosystem and the drain field, to make sure everything is working properly.