The Environmental Protection Agency offers the following for Homeowners:

EPA Homeowners Guide to Septic Systems

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Indiana Onsite Wastewater Professionals Association

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Homeowner Information
If you are a homeowner, there are a lot of "Little" things that can sorely effect your septic system. IOWPA is driven to assist and educate the homeowner, not the just the professionals in the onsite industry. We all need to help each other to obtain our individual objectives, so IOWPA is here to fill the gap. Please feel free to contact us at any time with any questions you may have.  All of those involved with IOWPA are very eager to help those in need, or toassist you with any problems you may have currently regarding onsite.

How the tank works:

The contents of the septic tank separate into three layers:

Floating scum layer - soaps, greases, toilet paper, etc., on the top of the tank.
Liquid layer - water, liquid, and suspended solids in the center of the tank.
Sludge - heavy organic and inorganic materials at the bottom of the tank.


Solids separate in the tank by gravity – lightweight materials float to the top and heavy materials sink to the bottom. Naturally occurring bacteria in the sewage begin to break down the organic materials. This is often referred to as primary treatment. Pathogens in the waste are NOT destroyed in the septic tank. Anaerobic bacteria that live with very limited oxygen in the septic tank prepare the sewage for final treatment in the soil treatment unit.  Liquid leaving the septic tank is referred to as effluent.

Drainfield (Trench): A solid pipe leads from the septic tank to a distribution box where the waste water is channeled into one or more perforated pipes set in trenches of gravel. Here the water slowly infiltrates (seeps) into theunder lying soil. Dissolved wastes and bacteria in the water are trapped or absorbed to soil particles or decomposed by microorganisms. This process removes disease-causing organisms, organic matter, and most nutrients (except nitrogen and some salts). The purified wastewater then either moves to the ground water or evaporates from the soil. Trench systems are the most common type of system used in new home construction.
  Another alternative is the Sand Mound System: These systems are used in areas where the site is not suitable for traditional septic systems. For instance, the soil may have too much clay to allow the water to seep through at the proper rate, or the water table may be too close to the ground surface.  In these systems, the waste water flows from the septic tank to a storage tank. The liquid is then pumped from the tank to perforated plastic pipes buried in a mound of sand built on the original soil surface. This system provides a layer of suitable soil thick enough to ensure adequate time and distance for proper treatment of the waste water. Vegetation growing on the mound helps to evaporate some of the liquid. This is particularly important in areas with shallow water tables.

What is a septic tank?

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
A septic tank, the key component of a septic system, is a small scale sewage treatment system common in areas with no connection to main sewerage pipes provided by private corporations or local governments. (Other components, typically mandated and/or restricted by local governments, optionally include pumps, alarms, sand filters, and clarified liquid effluent disposal means such as a septic drain field, ponds, or peat moss beds.)  Septic systems are a type of On-Site Sewage Facility (OSSF). In North America approximately 25% of the population relies on septic tanks; this can include suburbs and small towns as well as rural areas. (Indianapolis is an example of large city where much of the city's neighborhoods are still on separate septic systems) In Europe they are generally limited to rural areas only.

The term "septic" refers to the anaerobic bacteria environment that develops in the tank and which decomposes or mineralizes the waste discharged into the tank. Adding a supplemental bacterial agent to the tank may accelerate the digestion of solids in the tank. Septic tanks can be coupled with other on-site wastewater treatment units such as biofilters  , aerobic systems involving artificial forced aeration.  Other options are mound systems or dosing systems.

Periodic preventive maintenance is required to remove the irreducible solids which settle and gradually fill the tank, reducing its efficiency. In most jurisdictions this maintenance is required by law, yet often not enforced.  Those who ignore the requirement will eventually be faced with extremely costly repairs when solids escape the tank and destroy the clarified liquid effluent disposal means. A properly cared-for system, on the other hand, can last for decades and possibly a lifetime.

A septic tank generally consists of tanks between the size of 1,000 and 2,000gallons (4000 - 7500 litres) which is connected to an inlet wastewater pipe atone end and to a septic drain field at the other. These pipe connections are generally made via a T pipe which allows liquid entry and egress without disturbing any crust on the surface. Today the design of the tank usually incorporates two chambers (each of which is equipped with a manhole cover) which are separated by means of a dividing wall which has openings located about midway between the floor and roof of the tank.

Wastewater enters the first chamber of the tank, allowing solids to settle and scum to float. The settled solids are anaerobically digested reducing the volume of solids. The liquid component flows through the dividing wall into the second chamber where further settlement takes place with the excess liquid then draining in a relatively clear condition from the outlet into the leach field, also referred to as a drain field, or seepage field, depending upon locality.

The remaining impurities decompose in the soil, and the water is eliminated through percolation into the soil, and eventually taken up through the root system of plants or added to the groundwater. A piping network, often constructed in a stone filled trench (see weeping tile), distributes the wastewater throughout the field with multiple drainage holes in the network.  The size of the leach field is proportional to the volume of wastewater and inversely proportional to the porosity of the drainage field. The entire septic system can operate by gravity alone, or where topographic considerations require, with inclusion of a lift pump.

Waste that is not decomposed by the anaerobic digestion eventually has to be removed from the septic tank, or else the septic tank fills up and undecomposed wastewater discharges directly to the drainage field. Not only is this bad for the environment, but if the sludge overflows the septic tank into the leach field, it may clog the leach field piping or the soil porosity
itself, requiring expensive repairs.

How often the septic tank has to be emptied depends on the volume of thetank relative to the input of solids, the amount of indigestible solids and the ambient temperature (as anaerobic digestion occurs more efficiently a thigher temperatures). In general some septic tanks tanks may need to be emptied every six months while others every year depending on use. When emptying a tank, only a small residue of sludge should be left in the tank. Anaerobic decomposition is rapidly re-started when the tank re-fills.

A properly designed and normally operating septic system is odour free and,besides periodic inspection and pumping of the septic tank, should last fordecades with no maintenance.
A well designed and maintained concrete, fibreglass or plastic tank should last about 50 years.









What can go into my septic tank?
Do not use a garbage disposal or dump coffee grounds in the sink.  Increasing the load of solids into the tank decreases the capacity and shortens the interval between pumpings. Do not pour fats and oils down the drain. They can build up and clog the septic tank pipes. Do not put paper towels, tissue, cigarette butts, disposable diapers, sanitary napkins, tampons and other material in the toilet, use the trash can.  Use normal amounts of detergents, bleaches, drain cleaners, household cleaners and other products. Avoid dumping solvents like dry cleaning fluid, pesticides,
photographic chemicals, paint thinner, or auto products down the drain.

Do I really need to pump my tank, if so how often?
YES, PUMP YOUR TANK: Tanks need to be pumped every two to five years, depending on use. If the tank gets too full, particles of scum or sludge will flush out of the tank. This material will clog the drain tiles and cause the septic system to fail. HIRE A LICENSED PROFESSIONAL (listed in the phone book under "septic tank cleaners") to pump the waste out of your tank. The tank should be pumped out through the manhole, not the smaller inspection ports. The tank should be cleaned completely, leaving nothing in the tank. Make sure the baffles are inspected and that the tank is checked for leaks.

Do commercially obtained additives or yeast help mysystem?
You do NOT need to add any commercial products or yeast to your system.  Additives do not improve how well your system works. There are always plenty of natural bacteria available to do the job. (They come from YOUR digestive system.) In fact, additives can damage your system by breaking up the sludge and scum layers, causing them to flush out of the tank and clog the infiltration bed. Additives that say "Never worry about pumping your septic tank again" are the worst!

Is excess water bad for my system?
YES, CONSERVE WATER. Fix leaks and drips. If you replace old fixtures, install new "low flow" types.  Direct downspouts and excess ground water AWAY from the septic field to avoid saturating the area with excess water.   Do not overload the system -- this is the primary cause of system failures.  Early morning and bedtime are peak water use times in the bathroom. Run
dishwashers and washing machines at other times of the day. Don't do all the family laundry in one day.

Can I plant anything over my septic field?
THE GRASS IS ALWAYS GREENER:  Dense grass cover and other shallow rooted plants are beneficial over a septic field.  However, do not plant trees because large plant roots can clog or break the pipes.  Avoid compacting the soil over the infiltration area. DO NOT DRIVE OR PARK vehicles over the area and don't build a shed or driveway in this area. These activities can also
crack pipes or cause the distribution box to settle unevenly, meaning that effluent will only flow into part of the drain field.

What can I do to increase the longevity of my system?

In-tank, external canister, and dosing tank Filters are one of the best forms of insurance against premature system failure available for a system.  These do so by trapping scum, sludge and other particles, preventing the possibility of said items reaching your leaching field and clogging the lines.  Available in many different types, particulate filtration sizes, and flow rates, these can be
installed during initial system installation or into an existing system.   Pump your system on a regular basis, watch what you put down the drain, andconserve water.

Is my system in failure?
The septic tank has not been pumped out in the past five years. Even if the system appears to be working well, sludge may have built up to the pointwhere waste water is released without sufficient time in the tank for treatment and settling of particles. This situation may result in pollution of groundwater or cause eventual clogging of the drainfield.
A wet area or standing water occurs above the drainfield. This situation can develop when sludge particles clog the drainfield, when tree roots orbroken pipes keep the waste water from dispersing through the entiredrainfield, or when water use in the house regularly exceeds the design capacity of the system. When these conditions occur, waste water does not move through the soil as it should, and instead rises to the surface creatinga serious health risk and odor problems.
Toilets run slowly or backup: in the worst cases, the basement is floodedwith sewage. This can be the result of plugged sewer lines to the tank, a plugged inlet or outlet pipe, a full septic tank, or a failed drainfield.
Septic odors occur in the house, above the tank and drainfield, or escape from the vent pipe. If the system is operating properly, there should be no odors. If there are odors, it can be an early warning sign that the system is failing.