Septic systems are considered to be on-site systems designed to safely dispose of biological sanitary waste (all waste water from a household).
Basically a septic system provides a ‘holding Tank’ where natural bacterial action decomposes human waste products into environmentally acceptable components the major end-components being water, mixed with some other components that are not readily consumed by the bacterial action, gases, and undigested solids. The end products, except the undigested solids, are then discharged to the on-site environment through the absorption field.
The New York Department of health Operational & Maintenance Manual says the contents of the septic tank should be pumped every 2-3 years or when the total depth of sludge & scum exceeds 1/3 of the liquid depth of the tank. If the tank is not cleaned periodically, the solids are carried into the absorption field; rapid clogging occurs; premature failure follows; and finally, the absorption field must be replaced. Pumping your septic tank is less expensive than replacing your absorption field.
A conventional septic system has the house plumbing, a septic tank (typically 750 to 2000 gallons), distribution box, and a leach absorption field (perforated pipe buried shallow in an extended area).
Septic tanks may be made of concrete (typical) , fiberglass, plastic or steel (older style).
The concrete, plastic, fiberglass or sometimes steel (older style) septic tank is buried in the ground, usually a minimum of 10 feet from the house. The top of the tank is usually about 8″-24″ below the soil surface so it can be periodically opened for inspection and pumping. The septic cover or lid access for service & pumping is approx 18″ round or square up to 24″x48″, the tank size is approx 8’x6’x6′. The 4″ pipe vent that sticks through the ground is not access for service or pumping & only serves as a vent & a locator for your septic tank. If you do not know for sure where the tank is located, locate where the house sewer pipe leaves the house. In a house with a basement, this is where the pipe passes through the wall. Locating the exit point may be more difficult for a house with no basement. If the pipe exit can be found, the tank normally begins about 10 feet from the house outside wall and in line with the house sewer pipe. If the soil is not frozen, the tank can be located by pushing a slender metal rod into the ground until it hits the buried tank. An inexpensive metal rod about 1/8 inch in diameter for can be purchased at most hardware stores. Be careful when probing for the tank and avoid hammering the metal rod into the ground – you could break a sewer pipe.
Experts agree, properly maintained septic system discharges treated effluent directly into the ground, where its close contact with soil results in additional purification. A central sewerage system discharges very large volumes of treated effluent into a body of water at one location.
The biggest reason is from improper maintenance, by not having your tank pumped & serviced on a regular 2-3 year basis. The solids build up in the septic tanks & then get passed to the leach field & clog the leach system. If the liquid effluent cannot soak into the soil surrounding the leach absorption field, sewage may back up into the system and overflow into the house or puddle on the surface of the ground. There are several possible causes for this problem.
You can expect a conventional septic system, such as that being described here, to last about 25-30 years. Some systems last much longer and some systems can fail earlier for reasons like those noted above. Other things can also affect the life of a septic system. For example, a system may have been providing satisfactory service for a previous owner for many years, only to fail shortly after you have bought the house. If the previous owners were a working couple with no children, the system was probably not heavily used; if yours is a family of six, the added load could push a marginal system over the edge and into failure.
Yes there are many things that should not be flushed; cigarette butts, cotton swabs, cat box litter, sanitary napkins or tampons, disposable diapers, baby wipes, condoms, & any other non-biodegradable products.
Under normal use detergents, cleaning products, and bleach will not damage the septic system. However, homeowners should be aware that if excessive amounts of these products are used, the naturally growing bacteria in the septic tank may be killed. Homeowners with heavy usage of these products or with the growing use of Anti-bacterial soaps & cleaners you may want to consider using a biological enhancer to ensure the proper bacteriological environment.