The concept of plumbing, or using man-made pipes and devices to move water to and from a building, dates back to the ancient Romans. The Romans coated their pipes with lead, and this is where we get lead’s atomic symbol, Pb. Today, pipes rarely contain lead, and a plumbing system may be much more complex and powerful than anything the Romans built. In particular, rural houses and buildings often have septic tanks and septic systems in them, and these self-contained plumbing networks are ideal for disposing of waste water into the surrounding terrain. Remote and rural buildings are far away from public utilities, so they are independent, and around 25% of all American houses make use of them. Septic tanks can go a long way toward cleaning out and processing dirty water, and the owner of any septic tank should know how and when to repair, clean up, or replace any part of this system. That can keep it all running smoother and for a longer time.
How the Process Works
The average American household uses 70 gallons of water per person, per day, and that can add up fast. Fortunately, a septic system in good shape can handle it all, and this begins when dirty, used water flows from the house and into the underground tank. These tanks vary in size, but all of them can hold many gallons of contents, and the waste breakdown process begins here. Colonies of benign bacteria will at once start breaking down solid wastes in the water, meaning that solid particles will settle at the tank’s bottom and form a thick sludge. Meanwhile, fats and oils will float at the water’s top, leaving relatively clean water in between. It may be noted that the sludge has no means of leaving the tank on its own.
This may take two or three days to finish, and then the septic system moves the water along. Now, the water flows through a screen filter on the tank that leads deeper into the system, helping to further filter the water clean. At this point, the water is flowing through a number of pipes that are just under the earth’s surface, and a number of nozzles and holes allow that water to seep out. Loose gravel and dirt act as natural filters for that water, along with more bacteria colonies, further scrubbing the water clean and making it safe to put back into the natural water cycle. This takes place in a dedicated field known as a drainage field, which may be roped off or otherwise marked so that people don’t drive vehicles across it.
Care for the Septic System
Like with any other hardware system, a septic tank and its attached pipes and filters may need some maintenance, inspection, and cleaning every so often. Septic tank treatment routinely involves removing the sludge from the tank, and the owner can use a measuring stick known as a “sludge judge” to to determine how full the tank has become. By the time that tank is one third to half full, it is time to call in professionals who can use a truck-mounted pump to remove it all. These workers will unearth the tank, open a hatch, and remove all sludge with their strong pump’s hose. This may be done every few years to keep the tank clean.
A very old septic tank may start to malfunction, or the attached house becomes larger and starts sending over more dirty water. In either case, the owner can hire experts to dig up and remove the septic tank, then install a new, larger one that’s ready for operation. Meanwhile, the filter between the tank and pipes may become clogged or damaged, but simply removing the filter to restore water flow is a bad idea. Instead, the filter can be carefully cleaned, repaired, or even replaced so that it functions well and filters the water.
The pipes may get waste caked onto their interior, restricting their water flow. When this happens, experts may dig up those pipes and blast them clean with pressurized water. Finally, it should be noted that no vehicles should drive across the drainage field, since this will compress the soil and gravel and block the necessary water flow for filtration purposes.