Septic tanks are very different from sewer systems. They function differently and are maintained differently. Old Hickory home buyers who have never had a septic tank before should be aware of the differences before they purchase a house with a septic tank. Here's what you need to know.
Understand How Your Septic Tank Functions
A septic tank is a giant underground tank that can hold hundreds or thousands of gallons of waste water at any given time. Any time someone in the home flushes a toilet, runs the dishwasher or does the laundry, that waste water enters the septic tank. All waste water from the home goes into the septic tank.
Once there, water in the tank separates into three layers: scum on top, solids on bottom, and a murky water (called effluent) in the middle. When the septic tank gets full enough, the effluent is drained from the tank via a pipe that empties the water into the soil. The soil filters and cleans the water, so that when it reaches the ground water supply, it is safe.
Know What Can (and Can't) Go in a Septic Tank
Septic tanks rely on bacteria in the tank to break down and liquify the solids. This is what prevents the septic tank from filling up quickly. If the bacteria in the tank were to die off, the tank would fill with solids much faster.
Homeowners must be careful not to flush anything into the tank that could potentially cause the bacteria to fill up. Chemicals like bleach and antibacterial soaps are two products that could potentially kill off bacteria in the tank.
Therefore, homeowners should be aware that certain household products should not be flushed down the toilet or the sink. Examples of products that should not be flushed into the tank include:
- Medication (especially antibiotics)
- Antibacterial soap
Even with bacteria in the waste water, septic tanks can still fill up quickly if too many solids are flushed down the drains of a home at one time. Therefore, homeowners should never flush any of the following items into their septic tank:
- Bits of food from the food processor
- "Flushable" products like disposable wipes and diapers
In general, the only things that should be flushed into a septic tank include waste water and human waste. Everything else should be thrown away.
Practice Proper Septic Tank Maintenance
Unlike sewers, septic tanks are owned by the homeowner, and must be maintained by the homeowner as well. Septic tank maintenance is fairly straight forward. Every three to five years, septic tanks need to be pumped by a septic tank professional.
During this process, the solids are removed from the bottom of the tank. If the septic tank is not pumped, solids could clog the pipes leading to the drain field, which in turn could cause a sewage backup inside or outside the house.
The pumping schedule required depends on the size of the tank, the number of people living in the household, and their day-to-day activities. Some tanks need to be pumped more often than others. The best way to find out how often a septic tank needs to be pumped is to consult with a septic tank professional.
Contact a Septic Tank Professional Before Buying Your Home
The best way to ensure that the septic tank servicing the home you want to buy is in good condition is to work with a septic tank professional. Your septic tank professional can inspect your tank and recommend repairs if needed. For more information about how you can take care of the septic tank in the home you're thinking about buying, talk to a septic tank professional today.