Septic 101

  • The Basic Do's & Don'ts
  • Frequently Asked Questions
  • Myth or Fact?

Do This, Don't Do That!

Pump Regularly!

Regular septic tank pumping is a must. If the buildup of solids, sludge, in the tank becomes too high, solids move to the drainfield and can clog and strain the system to the point where a new drain-field will be needed. DEC recommends pumping every 2 years. If you have a garbage disposal, hot tub, or whirlpool you should increase the pumping frequency to once a year.

Don’t add chemical or biological additives to your septic tank.

Because of the cold soil temperatures typically found in Alaska, adding performance enhancing additives like yeast, bacteria or chemicals to your septic tank is of little value. In fact, in some cases, these additives can be harmful to your system or the environment. Because of this, DEC recommends NOT using additives and instead have your septic tank pumped every 2 years.

Don’t flush household wastes such as:

Coffee Grounds, Kitty Litter, Cigarette Butts, Disposable Diapers, Fat, Grease or Oil, Paper Towels, Feminine Hygiene Products.

Don’t flush hazardous chemicals, such as:

Paints, Paint Thinners, Medications, Pesticides, Varnishes, Waste Oils

Frequently Asked Questions

What are septic tanks?

The septic tank serves as a settling basin where solids accumulate and gradually get broken down by bacterial action. Some of the solid waste is actually liquefied by this 'natural bacterial decomposition," however the rest of the waste accumulates in the bottom as a layer of sludge. Additionally, a small percentage of this, waste (mostly fats and oils) float to the top of the tank to form a layer of semi-solid scum

How do septic tanks work?

The population living in metropolitan areas (who have never had the pleasure of maintaining a septic system, or who have never experienced waddling in their leach-field, or even had the experience of pumping out their systems) simply flush their toilets. Those of us living in more rural areas have been forced to learn about the maintenance and working of the sewerage treatment facility attached to our home, "the septic system." Usually a septic tank is connected to a drainage field or seepage pit of some kind. If properly maintained, a well-designed system will last almost indefinitely. However, if it is neglected for too long a time, it can back up and clog the drainage field. This neglect can result in an expensive excavation and even a replacement of the drainpipes that could cost thousands of dollars.

How do I maintain my septic tank?

Since solids will continue to build up at the bottom of the tank, it is imperative that the "septic tank be pumped out periodically." Remember, sludge is not biodegradable, if it's not pumped out, sludge will accumulate until it overflows. The frequency of pumping out will depend primarily on the amount of wastewater that goes through the system each day. The frequency also depends on how careful you are about not throwing excess fats, rinds and other similar garbage down the drains. The more solid waste thrown in the system, the quicker the tank will fill up. Heavy flows of water also tend to make the tank fill up more quickly. That is why it is best not to use a garbage disposal in the system when you have a septic tank, and why water should not be left running indiscriminately in sinks or toilets.

How often should I have my tank pumped?

On normal household use we suggest having your septic tank pumped every two years to avoid septic repair.

What are the components of my sewage system?

A typical household sewage treatment system consists of a house sewer, septic tank, distribution box and absorption field or seepage pit.

House Sewer - The pipeline connecting the house to the septic tank. It is usually identified by a single pipe sticking up within three feet of the house.

Septic Tank - A tank that ‘stores and processes’ sewage. When sewage enters the septic tank, the heavy solids settle to the bottom of the tank; the lighter solids, fats and greases partially decompose and rise to the surface and form a layer of scum. Anaerobic bacteria acts on all of it while in the septic tank. Untreated liquid household wastes (sewage) will quickly clog your absorption field if not properly treated. The septic tank provides this needed treatment. The solids that have settled to the bottom form sludge. Sludge that escapes from the septic tank into the leach area will contaminate and harm the leaching system. Septic tanks do not remove bacteria and, therefore, what is discharged cannot be considered safe. I can usually be found out in the yard – more than 100’ from the well – and has one or two pipes sticking out of the ground.

Distribution Box - Serves to distribute the flow from the septic tank evenly to the absorption field or seepage pits. It is important that each trench or pit receive an equal amount of flow. This prevents overloading of one part of the system.

Absorption Field or Trench - A large underground area or a long, deep trench partially filled with washed gravel or crushed stone into which perforated or open joint pipe is placed. The discharge from the septic tank is distributed through these pipes into trenches and surrounding soil. The subsurface absorption field must be properly sized and constructed. While seepage pits normally require less land area to install, they should be used only where absorption fields are not suitable well-water supplies are not endangered. It can usually be found with one or two pipes sticking out of the ground, further away from the house than the septic tank.

Cesspools - Work in a similar manner to septic systems. Sewage water usually seeps through the open bottom and portholes in the sides of the walls. These can also clog up with overuse and the introduction of detergents and other material which slow up the bacterial action. When the sewage backup occurs, homeowners usually have the system pumped out. Pumping out will only relieve the system temporarily. The clogged pores in the ground remain and eventually the system will have to be pumped again and again.

You should find all of these pipes and mark them. They become very difficult to discover when you system has problems in the middle of the winter.

What are the laws for septic tanks?

One factor under scrutiny is the septic system. Rather than leave it up to the home owner to decide how often to clean and pump a system, a growing number of municipalities are imposing requirements. In addition, state laws are becoming more stringent. If an existing system fails, or in the building of new homes, some states have begun imposing tighter regulations on the types of systems allowed. The best way to avoid major septic repair or replacement, and being fined for operating a substandard system, is to call your local septic professional.

  • He can coach you on all local laws and regulations
  • He can check out your system
  • He can coach you on the proper maintenance of your system
  • He can save you money by pumping out your system before it fails

Myth or Fact?

1. Myth: Septic tanks do not need routine maintenance.

Fact: Most septic tanks require annual maintenance and inspections, with pumping needed every 1-3 years depending on septic tank size and the number of people using it. Regular maintenance is necessary to keep your septic tank working at premium utility and to raise the potential for a longer system lifespan. It can also prevent spending thousands of dollars for unnecessary septic tank repairs and replacements.

2. Myth: The tank is of greater concern than the drain-field.

Fact: While the tank is necessary for the septic system to function, the majority of the waste clearing process occurs in the drain-field. It is important to carefully inspect both the tank and drain-field. to ensure your septic tank system is working at its optimal level.

3. Myth: Only worry about your septic tank when you notice a problem.

Fact: Don’t let the phrase “out of sight, out of mind” leave you drowning in costly repairs or replacements with your septic system. Regular maintenance and inspection of your septic system will keep it running properly and will help avoid pricey problems.

4. Myth: Regular septic tank maintenance is more costly over time than replacing a failed system.

Fact: With septic tank systems, it is much less expensive to be proactive in preventing problems than to be reactive in fixing them.

Bacteria

6. Myth: The septic tank system doesn’t need to be pumped if bacteria additives are used.

Fact: Bacteria additives help to ensure the proper functioning of septic tank systems, but they do not alter the need to pump the system regularly. Bacteria additives support the process, they do not replace it.

What Does, and Doesn’t, Belong?

7. Myth: Anything can be flushed down the drain without harming your septic tank.

Fact: Remember that whatever goes into your drains comes out of your septic system and into your drain-field. If hazardous waste and chemicals are flushed or rinsed down the drain, they can threaten the health of the environment and your family. Take precautions in carefully and properly getting rid of hazardous waste.

8. Myth: Household chemicals do not harm septic tank systems.

Fact: Referring back to the section on bacteria, household chemicals can harm your system by killing necessary bacteria, especially if used in excessive amounts. As long as the cleaners are disposed of in moderation, your septic tank will function properly.

Pumping

9. Myth: Regular septic tank pumping rids of all system problems.

Fact: The main purpose of septic tank pumping is to help prevent future problems with the system, and also to help identify issues such as a clogged or broken pipe. However, pumping will not fix all problems, especially when it comes to drain-field. failure.

Septic Tank Repair and Replacement

10. Myth: The use of garbage disposals, water softeners and large amounts of water don’t harm your septic tank system.

Fact: Garbage disposals increase the amount of solid waste put into the septic tank system that needs to be decomposed, and water softeners and high volumes of water increase the amount of waste water that needs to be processed. Just like with household chemicals, as long as these aren’t used excessively, your septic tank system will properly function. However, it is important to be aware of their impact on your system.

11. Myth: Your septic tank system can last a lifetime.

Fact:The average lifespan for a septic tank system is between 20-30 years, while some have lasted up to 50 years, or even just one year without proper care and treatment. The lifespan can be extended with proper system maintenance and inspection, but septic tanks are meant to be replaced after a certain amount of time.

We hope you found these myths vs. facts helpful in solving the mystery of your septic tank system! If you have any questions or concerns about your septic system, don't hesitate to call the friendly professionals at A-Two Septic. One more tip, be sure you don’t drive over your septic system!

This video contains plenty of additional information regarding septic systems in general. Some things discussed may not apply specifically to Alaskan septic system best practices but that’s why the pro’s here at A-Two are available to answer your questions. Regularity is an important part of your septic system maintenance - important for your home, important to the health of your family and, also, important to the environment.