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How does my system work?

A septic system has four main components: a pipe from the home or business, a septic tank, a drainfield, and the soil. Wastewater from your toilet, bath, kitchen, and laundry flows through a pipe from your house and into the septic tank. Microbes in the soil digest or remove most contaminants from the wastewater before it eventually reaches groundwater.

The Septic Tank

A septic tank is designed to intercept and hold solids contained in wastewater from your home or business. The tank

is a large, wastewater

buried, watertight container typically made of long enough to allow heavy solids to settle to the






bottom (forming sludge) and oil and grease

holds the to float to

the surface (as pumping, solids

scum). Solids that are not decomposed remain in the septic tank. If not removed will accumulate until they eventually overflow the drainfield, causing costly repairs.



Septic tanks may have one or two compartments. Two compartment tanks do a better job of settling solids and may be required for new systems. Tees or baffles are provided at the tank’s inlet and outlet pipes. The inlet slows the incoming wastes and reduces disturbance of the settled sludge. The outlet keeps the solids or scum in the tank. All tanks should have accessible covers for checking the condition of the baffles and for pumping.

The Drainfield

Wastewater exits the septic tank and is discharged into the drainfield for further treatment by the soil. Generally, the drainfield has a network of perforated pipes laid in gravel-filled trenches or beds in the soil. Wastewater trickles out of the pipes, through the gravel layer, and into the soil. The size and type of drainfield depends on the estimated daily wastewater flow and soil conditions.

The soil filters effluent as it passes through the pore spaces. Microorganisms in the soil provide final treatment by removing harmful bacteria, viruses, and nutrients. After the effluent has passed into the soil, most of it percolates downward and outward, eventually reaching groundwater.

How do I maintain my system?

If properly designed, constructed, and maintained; your septic system can provide long-term, effective treatment of household wastewater.

Pump Frequently

Your system should be pumped every three to five years - depending on the number of persons in the household and the size of the system.

Use Water Efficiently

Using more water than the soil can absorb is the most common reason for failure. The more water a household conserves, the less water that enters the septic system. Efficient water use can improve the operation of the septic system and reduce the risk of failure.

  • Replace your existing toilets and shower heads with high-efficiency models

  • Install aerators in the kitchen and bathroom faucets

  • Repair leaky faucets and toilets

  • Run the dishwasher and clothes washer only when they are full

Watch Your Drain

What goes down your drain can have a major impact on how well your septic system works. A garbage disposal takes a lot of water to move scraps down the drain. Once in the tank, some of the solids break down by bacterial action, but most of the grindings will have to be pumped out. Using a disposal could cause you to have your tank pumped more often. Composting is a better way to recycle kitchen scraps.

Care For Your Drainfield

Your drainfield is an important part of your septic system. Remember to:

  • Plant only grass over and near your septic system. Roots from nearby trees or shrubs can cause damage.

  • Don’t drive or park vehicles on any part of your septic system. Doing so can compact the soil and damage the pipes.

  • Keep roof drains, water softeners, sump pumps, and storm water run-off away from the drainfield. Flooding the drainfield with excessive water slows down or stops the treatment process and can cause backups.

Why should I maintain my system?


Additional Information

When septic systems are adequately designed, carefully installed and properly maintained, they effectively reduce or eliminate most human health and environmental threats posed by pollutants in wastewater. Routine maintenance is cheaper than emergency maintenance or repairs - and much cheaper than total system replacement.

Where is my tank located?

You may be able to find the lids or manhole covers for your septic tank; otherwise the St. Clair County Health Department may have a drawing of your septic tank and drainfield on file.

A Homeowner’s Guide to Septic Systems U.S. Environmental Protection Agency 800 – 490 – 9198 www.epa.gov/owm

Saves You Money

Having your septic system pumped regularly (every 3-5 years) is a bargain when you consider the cost of replacing the entire system. Failing septic systems are expensive to repair or replace and poor maintenance is often the culprit.

Protects Your Home Investment

An unusable septic system or one in disrepair will lower your property value and could pose a legal liability. To sell your home, the disposal system has to be in good working order.

The tank can be found by gently tapping a steel rod into the ground starting 10 feet from the point where the pipe leaves the house or by waiting for a light snowfall and observing where the snow melts first.

Should I use additives?

Many products such as solvents, yeasts, bacteria, and enzymes claim to improve septic tank performance or reduce the need for routine pumping, but have not yet been found to make a significant difference.

Several bulletins on septic systems are available in Michigan State University Extension’s Water Quality (WQ) bulletin series: MSU Extension Office 200 Grand River Ave, Suite 102, Port Huron (810) 989 - 6935 www.msue.msu.edu/waterqual/wq-mats.html

Onsite Works! – Housing Education and Research Center, MSU www.canr.msu.edu/cm/herc/onsite/index.html

Protects Your Health

The safe disposal of sewage prevents the spread of infection and disease,

groundwater resources. Inadequately contamination, posing a significant threat

treated sewage can be to wells and drinking water.




and protects groundwater

In fact, septic tanks already contain the microbes they need for effective treatment. Periodic pumping is a much better way to ensure a safe and effective system.

National Small Flows Clearinghouse www.nesc.wvu.edu/nsfc/nsfc_septicnews.htm

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