For homes not connected to a municipal sewage system, a septic system will be the homes most long-term cost-effective way to handle sewage and wastewater.
What is sewage and wastewater? Sewage and wastewater are all the solids and liquids that come from your toilettes, showers, sinks, dishwashers, washing machines and any other appliances that use water and then drains into your home’s plumbing system.
There are many different types of septic systems available in the market, this will be a brief overview of the different available systems and the pros and cons of each system.
We will start with the most basic system first;
SEPTIC HOLDING TANK
A septic holding tank can be commonly found on older properties or on properties that are restricted on space that would be unable to house a septic field, otherwise known as a leach field. Alternatively, if the ground has a high-water table and inadequate drainage, a holding tank may be the only option available to service your needs. A holding tank is a basic way of containing sewage and wastewater and has been used for decades. It is simply as it sounds, a tank placed in the ground to hold the septic waste discharge from a property. Typically, in newer systems these tanks will either be plastic, fibreglass or concrete and are available in many different sizes, shapes and configurations. It is not uncommon to find on older properties steel tanks buried in the ground being used to hold waste or even wooden tanks. As you can imagine these older tanks tend to deteriorate over time and allow sewage waste and bacteria to leak into the ground, which can possibly contaminate the groundwater or sometimes the waste can even bubble up to the surface and cause unsightly and unhealthy puddles to appear on your lawn.
In newer systems concrete, plastic, or fibreglass are the products of choice and offer pros and cons to each. Fiberglass tanks tend to be the most inexpensive however they offer the least amount of structural integrity and are unable to be buried more than 36 inches in the ground. Once buried you are unable to place any heavy objects on top of them such as a ride on a lawnmower or any vehicles, as this can cause the tank to collapse. Plastic tanks offer a little more in the form of structural integrity and can be buried up to 6 feet in the ground. You are still unable to pass over the top of them with anything more then foot traffic. However, it does give you the option of burying them deeper which potentially allows you the ability to have a basement bathroom or drain point. The main thing to keep in mind is the top of the septic tank must be buried lower than the lowest plumbing fixture in the house in order for it to drain via gravity. It is possible to pump sewage up into a tank however this requires more components to add to the system. In turn, more costs and more possibilities for things to fail, repair and maintain over the lifespan. Concrete tanks can be buried at deeper depths and also have higher structural integrity. It is still not advisable to drive over them however there is much less risk of a collapse in the event that someone does. That being said concrete tanks are generally more expensive and require larger equipment and better access in order to install them.
No one product is best for every situation however having options available makes it easy to tailor a product to best suit your needs.
One thing to note with a holding tank is that once they are full you will be required to have a truck come in to empty the tank, the frequency of pumping will depend on the size of the tank and the amount of water usage for the property.
SEPTIC SYSTEM WITH LEACH FIELD
The two most common types of systems used today are a traditional 2 chamber tank with a leach field consisting of 4-inch perforated pipe buried 2-4 feet below the surface of the ground. The perforated pipes are generally laid on top of a bed of clear stone or sand to allow for good drainage and then buried with the native soil to allow for grass to be grown on top of the field area. This system has been in use for over 40 years and is proven to be simple and effective.
This system works by allowing all the sewage and wastewater to enter the first chamber of the tank, the solids settle to the bottom of the tank and the wastewater, know as effluent enters the second chamber, then flows either via gravity to the leach field or in some cases is pumped into the leach field. Once in the field it seeps into the ground and is naturally filtered out into the ground.
The other commonly installed system is a similar design however it uses a 4 chamber tank that aerates the effluent prior to discharging it. This 4 chamber tank and process filters the effluent so well that once it is discharged it is almost 98 percent clean. The issue that arises from this is the risk of the leach field freezing, in order to prevent this from happening a leach field for this type of system is installed on top of the ground rather than being buried, once installed it is covered with two feet of bark mulch. The mulch helps to keep ground heat in the field and prevents the risk of freezing. The two major benefits of this system are not needing a large area to dig and install the field and piping for the field can be installed above the ground amongst trees or wooded areas without the need of clear-cutting and the discharged water is so clean it minimizes the risk of ground or surface water contamination. The downside to this system is the addition of pumps and aerators which do require more upkeep and maintenance and increases the risk of failure however based on your property it may be required to go this route.
SEPTIC SYSTEM DESIGN
When a septic system is designed the designer and the local municipality will look at the soil type and characteristics of your property and the amount of sewage coming from the home to determine the size and how much drainage is needed. How well the soil drains, water table and soil type will help decide the type of system to install. This will be done by digging a test hole and doing a soil sample. Once this is known they are able to design a system that will be able to properly function for many years with minor maintenance and care.
If you would like to learn more about septic systems, reach out to us and see how we can be of service to you!