Septic System FAQ's


What is a septic system?

A septic system is an underground system put in place to treat and dispose of wastewater in locations where a typical central sewer system is not the most feasible option. Septic systems are often preferred when the homes or other buildings are close together and in rural regions. It is contained on-site, making it a very efficient method of wastewater disposal.


How does a septic system treat and dispose of wastewater?

Your septic system will utilize two main components, the septic tank and the drain field, to treat and dispose of wastewater.

First, wastewater leaves the home and enters the septic tank. Since wastewater is comprised of many types of matter, from solid waste to oil and other liquids, the water separates into a "sludge layer" in the bottom of the tank and a "scum layer" floating on the surface. The sludge layer will decompose as much as possible before removal in this tank.

From here, "clarified liquid" or "effluent" that has separated between the two layers of lighter and heavier waste leaves the septic tank through a perforated outlet pipe and disperses in the drain field. In some cases, the drain field includes features that help filter the effluent, such as sand or plant matter.


What issues may arise with a septic system?

Septic system issues are often caused by a user error or an installation error. Here is a list of common issues related to a poorly maintained, selected, or placed septic system:

  • Over-filled Septic Tank - An over-filled tank could be due to a few different factors:
    • Inefficient water use in the home or building can fill the tank too quickly. A typical septic tank requires time to break down solid material and convert other waste into gas. Filling the tank too quickly reduces the total amount of time during which this process can take place. The water level rises over the outlet pipe level and solid material lodges in the pipe before it has a chance to decompose, effectively blocking the effluent's passage into the drain field and over-filling the tank.
    • Dumping non-organic waste can similarly over-fill the septic tank. Many soaps, detergents, oils, grease, and personal hygiene items are non-biodegradable, once again causing too much solid material in the tank that then becomes lodged in the perforated outlet pipes when the water level rises. It is important to be careful even with items such as paper towels, used cigarettes, and kitchen scraps.
    • Using detergents and soaps rich in phosphates encourages algae growth, which can then clog the perforated outlet pipes. Be sure to use the manufacturer directed amounts of these products to reduce the risk of algae in your system
    • Failing to pump sludge out of the tank on a regular basis can cause too much heavy, solid material to build up and similarly raise water levels. The material will then clog the outlet pipes and cause further damage as the tank continues to fill without an outlet.
  • Contaminated Soil Surrounding a Septic Tank - Septic systems typically allow waste to separate into layers based on weight, then disperse the remaining water into the surrounding soil through outlet pipes. Because most solid waste naturally settles in the tank, very little waste should leave through the outlet pipes with the water. However, dumping cleaning chemicals, fuels, and other toxic liquids disrupts this process. What cannot be converted into gas and released through vents flows out of the tank with the effluent, directly into the surrounding soil. Even some products that claim to clean septic systems can enter the drain field this way and damage the land and water surrounding the tank.
  • Broken Septic System Components - Many issues involving broken septic system components are a result of rusted elements or damage from sulphuric acid. This could be a sign that it's time to update an aging septic system or upgrade to materials like fiberglass rather than concrete or steel, so be sure to discuss options with a professional.
  • Tree Roots Compromising the Drain Field or Septic Tank - Tree roots can cause significant damage to a septic system. Ensuring that trees are planted a safe distance from the system can help, but there is always a chance that a stray root or unplanned sapling can cause damage down the road. If you are concerned about tree roots compromising your system, seek professional help to remove the risk or existing problem. A trained septic system professional will know the proper environmentally-safe chemicals or other methods to use in removing the roots, and how to fix root damage.
  • Issues from Topographical Features - Septic systems rely on gravity and must be placed at a specific depth, so it is important to consider the lay of the land around your home or other building before installing a septic tank. A septic professional will be able to tell you whether or not there is too much slope for the gravitational system to work, if the soil type or rockiness of the ground is appropriate, and if the water tables are at a suitable level for the tank and drain field to function properly. Homes with basements have special considerations as well as homes built on hills, in low areas, or on other rugged terrain.


How do I handle a septic emergency?

If you are experiencing an immediate issue with your septic system such as water or waste backed up into your home, contact Hills Septic immediately. It is important to keep a safe distance from the waste material to avoid exposure to chemicals or toxins that were disposed of previously. Any clothing and other materials, including cleanup equipment, that comes in contact with overflow should be disposed of or disinfected with a 9:1 ratio mixture of water to bleach. After cleanup is completed, the area must be completely dry for a full day and night before normal room use can resume. It is also helpful to contact a local administrative office involved in septic health and regulations to ensure that proper cleanup procedures take place.


What type of maintenance does a septic system need?

There are several types of maintenance and general use considerations that should be employed with any septic system:

  • Schedule regular tank cleanings and inspections, about every two years. Smaller systems should be inspected and pumped more frequently than larger systems.
  • Try to use a more moderate amount of water. Using a large amount of water on a daily basis can over-fill the system and cause issues.
  • Make sure you know where your system is and how to check on it regularly. Monitoring your system is an easy way to prevent issues from sneaking up.
  • Keep track of all maintenance that is performed on the system. This is a good idea for when you sell your home or if a professional has a question about the life of your septic system.