There are two types of sewage disposal system, a septic system and the conventional sewage system that is maintained by the state of local government. In the septic system, the waste, which is mainly sewage is channeled through a network of sewage pipes to a temporary storage facility known as a septic tank.
Unlike the septic system, the state-run sewage disposal system depends on a large network of pipes that channel waste sewage from households, offices and institutions to a large sewage system that flows to a treatment site for proper disposal.
Septic systems are common in suburban and rural areas because the population is not densely populated like in urban areas. The septic tank is not only a temporary storage for waste sewage, but it also acts as a chamber where decomposition occurs and the bacteria can decompose the sewage to make it less to toxic and have less odor.
A septic tank can either be made of concrete or plastic. Regulations in the United States and Europe state that septic tanks should be stored underground. The most suitable method of storing the septic underground is to dig a large hole and either place the plastic tank in it or construct a concrete reservoir.
An average septic tank has a capacity of about 1500-2000 gallons. The tank has an inlet and an outlet. The inlet lets in the waste from households while the outlet drains filtered water into a drain field, commonly located a further distance from the households.
The septic tank also has a manhole at the top, the manhole has two purposes. First, it allows the tank to be emptied and secondly, it is used as an entry point when repairs are needed in the tank.
A traditional septic tank has a single chamber, i.e., waste would flow in, the solids would settle, and the excess water would immediately leave the tank through the outlet.
Modern septic tanks are however different; they are constructed with three or more chambers that filter out the different sizes of solids allowing for efficient filtration and disposal of less toxic liquid to the drain field.
When the sewage enters the first chamber where heavy solids settle and the lighter scum flows to the second chamber. Anaerobic bacteria digest the solids and the final product is a sludge that occupies a much smaller volume than the previous undigested solids.
The floating scum then flows into the second and subsequent chambers where further settlement occurs. The water that leaves the last chamber is supposed to be completely free of any solid material, the presence of solid materials is a signal that the tanks need repair, or it is full and needs to be emptied.
Before a septic drain field is identified, a percolation test is first done on the soil. A percolation test is a test that determines the absorption rate of the ground. A good septic drain field should have an above average absorption rate depending on the regulations of the authorities.
Once the water is drained into the drain field, it is drained in three ways. – First, by percolation. Percolation is the process where water or a liquid drains to the ground and is absorbed by the soil.
– Secondly, by evaporation, where due to the increase in atmospheric temperature, water evaporates into the atmosphere.
– Thirdly, the water is absorbed by plants in the drain field, which then uses it up or releases excess it to the atmosphere through transpiration.
The water in the drain field is evenly distributed using a network of pipes that pour the water at different places of the field or gravity evenly distributes the water.
Once the tank is full, it needs to be emptied before the solids flow out through the outflow of the system experiences a flow back. A flow back is a situation where the septic tank is full but since more sewage is flowing in, the sewage starts flowing back to the source.
Flow back does not only cause a health problem but it also causes odor. When solids are not filtered and flow out to the draining field, anaerobic digestion does not occur. As a result, the field turns to an open space sewage disposal that produces odor, causes health issues to animals and humans and is responsible for the death of plants that cannot withstand acidic conditions.
Furthermore, it is a violation of the law, and one can be charged with destruction of the environment and pollution. When full, the sludge should be emptied by vacuum trucks. Vacuum trucks are operated by sewage disposal organizations and sewage companies.
A good tank that is properly maintained is odor free. A guest would not even notice the presence of the tank. Modern tanks also have the chambers to separate the incoming waste from the digested sludge. A septic tank can last for up to fifty years but regular maintenance is to keep the tank in a good shape.
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Maintenance of septic systems involves frequent diagnoses by experts in the field who can determine whether repairs are needed or not. A lot of items can cause damage to the septic system.
The most common is flashing down non-biodegradable items such as napkins and sanitary pads. Harmful chemicals should also not be dumped into the tank. The chemicals can kill the bacteria responsible for digestion preventing digestion from occurring.
Oily substances should also not be disposed into the tank; this is because these substances cause blockage of inlets and outlets. Whenever they flow to the septic drain field, they prevent evaporation from occurring. Paint and table salt also damage the septic tank by clogging pipes and preventing outflow of water.
If you discover that there is a problem in your tank, the best solution is not to try and fix the problem by yourself. It is to contact a sewage expert, preferably the company that installed the system since they already have the layout. Trying to repair the system by yourself exposes you to health hazards, and you might end up causing more damage to your system.