A septic system is an underground structure used to treat wastewater. They are generally found in rural areas that don’t have centralized sewer systems.
Septic systems are made up of four components – a pipe from the home, a septic tank, a drainfield and soil. Wastewater flows into the tank through a pipe from the home. Then the tank works to filter and decompose the bacteria in water. The water is then filtered into a designated drainfield made up of soil, where the pollutants are neutralized.
For further explanation on how septic systems work, we have expanded steps below. We also explain how to locate your septic system and how to detect if your system needs maintenance.
Steps to How a Septic System Works
1. All the water from your house is directed through one main drainage pipe into your septic tank. The tank is typically made of concrete, fiberglass or polyethylene and the water generally comes from your kitchen, bathroom or laundry room.
2. Once the water is in the system, it’s held there so that the solids can settle at the bottom to form sludge and the oil and grease can float to the top to form scum. Partial decomposition of the solid materials occurs in the tank.
3. Sludge and scum are then trapped in compartments and a T-shaped outlet so that they won’t leave the tank and make their way into the drainfield. Screens also help to ensure solids don’t enter the drainfield. The sludge and scum need to be removed from the tank during scheduled pumpings to avoid buildup and keep the tank working properly.
4. Then the wastewater is released into the drainfield and pretreated wastewater is directed through the pipes to remove all the contaminants. The wastewater leaves the septic tank and enters the drainfield for further treatment by the soil. Then the partially treated wastewater flows into the drainfield when new wastewater enters the tank. This means the tank will always appear full.
5. Flooding can occur if the septic tank is overloaded with too much wastewater. The normal operating level of a tank is at the bottom of the incoming pipe from the house. So for every drop of water that enters the tank, one exits the tank into the drainfield. That’s why it’s important not to do 20 loads of laundry in one day. If flooding occurs it can lead to backups in the toilets, sinks and pipes, or the water can flood the drainfield.
6. Lastly, the wastewater filters into the soil in the drainfield. The water percolates into the soil and loses all of its harmful coliform bacteria, viruses and nutrients that are typically found in fecal matter. Once the microbes in the soil digest or treat the contaminants in wastewater, it can eventually make its way to groundwater.
Locate Your Septic System
First, you’ll want to determine if you have a septic system. A general rule of thumb would be if you use well water, don’t pay a sewer bill or your neighbors use a septic system.
Once you determine if you have a septic system, the next step is to locate your system. You can find your septic tank by looking in your yard for manhole covers or lids, which is why it helps to know how many lids you should have. If you’re having trouble locating your septic system, you can contact your local Environmental Health Department (e.g. Larimer County Environmental Health, Weld County Environmental Health) to see if they have a copy of your septic permit on file. Many times the permit will show a map of the tank and drainfield.
It’s important to know where the your septic tank and drainfield are located to ensure no structures are built on top of them and no driving occurs over them. Also the placement of trees and bushes can affect both the tank and drainfield. You have to plant accordingly because the roots from trees, plants and bushes can travel and cause issues with your tank and field.
Know if Your Septic System Needs Maintenance
Sure signs of a septic system malfunction:
- A strong odor emanating from the system or drainfield
- Slow drainage or backups in your toilets, sinks, pipes, etc.
- Bright green, spongy grass located above your drainfield
- Gurgling water noises when you flush a toilet or run a faucet
- Pools of water, soggy grass or mud in the backyard
If you suspect there’s an issue with your septic system, don’t hesitate to contact a professional. At Front Range Septic, we have been providing septic and grease trap services to all of Northern Colorado for over 10 years. We’re a locally owned and operated business, so when you give us a call, you will speak with the owners directly.