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The Septic System

A septic system has two major components: a septic tank and a soil absorption system.

Waste water flows from the house to the septic tank. The tank is designed to retain waste water and allow heavy solids to settle to the bottom. These solids are partially decomposed by bacteria to form sludge. Grease and light particles float, forming a layer of scum on top of the waste water. Baffles installed at the inlet and outlet of the tank force the water to move slowly through it, and prevent scum from exiting the tank.


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 the underlying soil. Dissolved wastes and bacteria in the water are trapped or adsorbed 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 waste water 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.

An alternative to the common drain field is the Seepage Pit (Dry Well). In this type, liquid flows to a pre-cast tank with sidewall holes, surrounded by gravel. (Older versions usually consist of a pit with open-jointed brick or stone walls.) Liquid seeps through the holes or joints to the surrounding soil.

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 a proper rate, or the water table may be too close to the 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.

How to Maintain your Septic System

Maintain your septic system by having it pumped every three to five years. Never dump or flush any chemicals, grease, sanitary pads, tampons or disposable diapers down your drain or toilet when you own a septic system. 

Cover your tank access at all times. A bright green spot on the lawn or strange odor may indicate your septic system is on the blink. Some of us have a direct line to the sewer. Others maintain our own septic systems. Whatever the method, pipes, tanks, drainfields, and other on-site sanitary disposal facilities can all back up or leak into waterways if poorly maintained.

·  Pump every 3-5 years. Septic tanks that do not get pumped out will fail. You must rid your tank of solids and sludge that naturally

   build up. If these do not get removed on a regular basis they will get into the drainfield and clog the soil pores just like grease.

·  Never use septic tank cleaning compounds which impair efficiency and damage the drainfield.

·  Never flush toxic materials.

·  Minimize water flow to the septic tank with low flow shower heads and toilet tank inserts.

·  Don't plant trees or drive on or near your septic field.

·  Do not dump cooking grease down the drain! Grease can clog septic systems, as well as municipal sewage systems, and

   interfere with their proper


·  Know the location of your tank and drainage field. Call your county or local Health Department for a copy of your septic system

   layout especially

   before you start any construction.

·  Don't plant deep rooted trees or bushes over the drainage field. The roots could enter the field and clog the system.

·  Don't drive or allow heavy vehicles on your septic system.

·  Don't flush sanitary pads, tampons, paper, cigarettes, or disposable diapers. They do not decompose.

·  Be on the lookout for signs of septic failure. These include visible drainage, strong odors, and the backing up of drains. Signs of

   failure are not

   always obvious.

·  Don't use a garbage disposal if you are on a septic system. Compost kitchen scrapes or discard in the trash.

·  Keep a cover on your septic tank access at all times.

·  Attend a free University of Maryland workshop on Private Well and Septic System management.

·  Water conditioners should not go to the tank because they kill the bacteria which naturally break down the solids and the

   backwash is briny which can deteriorate the concrete. 

Septic Records and Maintenance Guidelines

Proper design, installation, and maintenance of your septic system will maximize your system's life. It will prevent failures that can be unsightly, foul-smelling, and threatening to your family's health. Good maintenance reduces the risk of contaminating your well water, and may save you from costly repairs of system replacement.

Issues that may arise:

  • Broken or clogged lines

  • Leaking Concrete Tanks

  • Metal Tanks

  • Faulty Pumps & Floats

  • Faulty Alarms

  • Broken Baffles

  • Unleveled Distribution Boxes

  • Full/nearly full drainfields & drywells


The following is Performed during the Septic Evaluation:

  • Locate and access the septic tank.

  • Determine if tank is composed of concrete, metal or fiberglass.

  • Determine if the water level in tank is exactly where it should be.

  • Determine if the back baffle is intact.

  • Check flow from house to the tank.

  • If the septic system has a pump chamber then the pump, floats and alarms will be checked for functionality.

  • Probe the outside of the septic tank to check for cracks/voids in the tank.

  • Attempt to locate the absorption area using county records and a probe to try and determine if the absorption area is functioning or failing.

  • Septic pumping is NOT a part of our standard diagnostic. In the case of home inspections, pumping can easily be scheduled concurrently if required by the buyer. However, under normal circumstances, we suggest that the inspection be performed prior to scheduling a pumping. This saves the buyer money by eliminating a surcharge for pumping the tank, and in most cases it will not yield any value to the customer. If high levels of solids are found during the inspection, the report will reflect this. Only in extreme and rare cases will a septic pumping help in the inspection process. In addition, the outside of the septic tank is probed to ensure there are no cracks in the walls of the tank. A tank should never be pumped within a month prior to a septic inspection without notifying the inspector.

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