Monthly Archives: January 2016

Are Septic Tanks for You?

They’re not the most pleasant household appliances to think about, but they keep life civilized for plenty of home owners all around the world. They also allow for RVs, airplanes, busses and boats to have bathrooms onboard, which many a weary traveler has appreciated in their moment of need. So how do septic tanks work and when is it time to invest in one? This article will help you answer those questions and many more.

septic tank2How do septic tanks work? Well, it’s not all that complicated. A septic tank is basically just a giant concrete or steel tank that is either buried in the yard or stored somewhere onboard a vehicle. Tanks vary in sizes and generally hold hundreds or even over a thousand gallons of water before they’re even used. Pipes between toilets and the tank allow for waste to enter the tank, where it either floats on top of the water and forms a scum layer or sinks to the bottom of the tank and forms the sludge layer. The middle layer is composed of a fairly clear mix of the original water and whatever particles of waste neither float nor sink.

Septic tanks contain bacteria that break down organic material in wastewater. The process creates gases that most people find extremely unpleasant. This is why sinks have loops of pipe called P-traps that hold water in the lower loop. That water blocks gases from flowing from the tank and into the house or vehicle where the tank is stationed. Instead, the gases flow up a vent pipe that generally opens up at the tip of the roof.

You may be wondering what happens when the septic tank fills. Overtime new water enters the tank, it actually displaces water that’s already been in there, which then flows out of the septic tank and into a drain field. These fields are made of perforated pipers buried in trenches filled with gravel. Drain field pipes are relatively large (around 4 inches in diameter) and open up into trenches 4-6 feet deep and 2 feet wide. The trenches are filled with about 2-3 feet of gravel and then another layer of dirt on top.

septic tank3The waste water is then slowly absorbed and filtered by the ground in the drain field. The size that the drain field needs to be is determined by how well the ground absorbs water. If the septic tank is installed in a place with hard clay that absorbs water slowly, the drain field has to be much bigger. Drain fields tend to actually be moisture and nutrient rich, making the land above them proliferate with foliage.

So who uses septic tanks and why? Septic tanks are definitely a pain to install (and downright awful to troubleshoot given some kind of issue), but they don’t necessitate a plumbing system, making them ideal for people that live off or far from the grid. They’re a lot more sanitary than a hole in the ground, but they don’t need any more electricity or infrastructure to create.