If you grew up within the city or town limits, you probably lived in a home serviced by the municipal sewage department and may be hesitant about buying a house with a septic tank. Did you know that one in five homes in the United States rely on a septic tank? So, whether you’re looking to buy a home in Prosper Texas or you’re Denton Texas, this is something you’ll likely come across while house hunting. Understanding what a septic tank is, how it works, and its pros and cons can help take the mystery out of the decision-making process.
Unlike a municipal sewer that services everyone in the town, a septic tank only services one household. The tank is located in the ground and is usually made of concrete where blackwater from toilets and greywater from sinks and showers flow into it. In the tank, the solids sink to the bottom and the fluid drains into a series of underground pipes laid out in a grid on the property. As the water slowly drains from the pipes, it is filtered by the soil and used as a nutrient source by local vegetation. Microbial action in the tank breaks down the solids to form a sludge, which is periodically removed by someone that services septic systems.
Listed below are the pros and cons of septic tanks, why you should get an inspection before buying a home with a septic tank, and answers to other frequently asked questions so you can make an informed decision when balancing whether or not to buy a home with a septic tank.
The pros of buying a house with a septic tank
Cost-efficient: Living within town limits, residents pay a monthly utility bill to cover sewer costs. With a septic tank, you don’t have this recurring expense.
Self-maintaining: With proper care, a septic system lasts for decades. Lifestyle choices like conserving water, limiting the use of bleach, and being careful about what goes down the drains, not only protects your septic but also the environment.
Safe: In the unlikely event you have a blockage that causes waste to back up into your home, with a septic tank you know where that waste came from. On a municipal system, a back-up can bring pathogens from the entire community into your tubs, sinks, and toilets, depending on the location and severity of the backup.
Environmentally friendly: In addition to promoting environmentally conscious behavior on the part of the homeowner, a septic system by design is an environmentally friendly home feature. If a leak were to occur, it would affect only the local property. If a leak occurs in a municipal system, the damage is more widespread.
The cons of buying a house with a septic tank
Required maintenance: Septic systems require periodic checks from a professional. The solid waste should be pumped every three to five years and the tank inspected for damage. The cost of the service ranges from $200-400 depending on your geographic location.
Repairs are your responsibility: If a municipal sewer pipe leaks or backs up on your property, the government is responsible to fix it. But if your septic system backs up or a pipe leaks, the cost of repairs is on you. However, knowing how the system works and being vigilant about calling for service when a drain slows or a soggy patch appears in your yard will prevent significant problems.
Failed drain field: The success of the septic system is only as good as the drain field. Compacted soil in the area due to cars driving over it, tree roots encroaching, or groundwater saturation can cause a drain field to fail.
Get a septic tank inspection before buying a house
If you’re considering buying a house with a septic tank, include the septic system in your home inspection. A septic inspection will give you peace of mind and prevent any costly headaches after moving in. According to the International Association of Certified Home Inspectors, a septic inspection includes the following:
Date of the last inspection to determine if it’s properly maintained
The level of sludge in the tank
Location of the drain field, it should not be located near the well or any body of water
Confirmation that the system is large enough for the home that it serves
Presence of liquid waste on the ground surface
Tank and lid are free of cracks or leaks
Baffles are firmly connected to inlet and outlet pipes
Drain lines each receive the same amount of water
More septic system FAQs
How long does a septic system last? Properly maintained, a septic system should last for decades.
How often should you pump a septic tank? Have your septic system inspected and the tank pumped every three to five years. Check with your local health department to see what they recommend for your area.
What can I put in my septic tank? Hopefully, only your greywater and blackwater will go into your septic. Things like cigarette butts, diapers and wipes, sanitary products, paper products other than toilet paper, or a high level of cleaning products that will destroy the healthy bacteria in the tank should never be flushed or sent down the drain.
Do they need to dig up my lawn to pump my septic tank? If your tank doesn’t have an exposed lid, yes, they’ll have to remove the grass to access it. Though this will only be a small section of your yard and not the entire thing.
Does my septic need additives like Rid-X? No. A well-maintained system has everything it needs to break down the solids and create a healthy septic flora. However, seasonal homes may not get enough solid waste to produce the microbes needed for a healthy system. Only then, do experts recommend the use of additives in your septic tank. Check with your local septic tank servicer to find out their recommendations for your home.
Can I plant anything over my drain field? Yes, but be careful. The root systems of trees and shrubs can damage the underground pipes. Vegetable gardens could also become contaminated from the drainage. However, landscaping over and around a septic drain field with native plants is an appropriate use of the space.
The Fundamentals of Septic Systems
From Texas Commission on Environmental Quality:
On-site sewage facilities, or OSSFs, must be designed on the basis of a site evaluation that accounts for local conditions.
It's the system of choice for many new homes built in Texas...an On-Site Sewage Facility (OSSF), commonly called a "septic system."
The sudden increase of new housing in suburban and rural areas means that more Texas households depend on an OSSF for treatment and disposal of domestic sewage. In recent years many new systems have been permitted, most in high growth areas of the state. New approaches to design and overseeing OSSFs ensure systems do their job properly and protect the environment.
Site evaluations determine local conditions and the design of OSSFs. In many parts of Texas, soil analyses are ruling out conventional systems where liquids are separated from solids in the septic tank and then spread throughout the drainfield by means of underground pipes or other proprietary products. Organic wastes are treated as the liquids percolate through the soil. But most soils in Texas can't properly absorb pollutants, so alternative treatment methods are required.
Almost all OSSFs must have a permit prior to any construction, installation, repair, extension, or other alteration. Any work on an OSSF must be performed by a licensed installer or directly by the homeowner. If someone is paid for any part of the process, that person must be licensed by the state.
Who checks to make sure the requirements are followed?
In most areas of the state, local authorities have taken on the responsibility for ensuring that OSSFs in their area comply with all state requirements. Many local governments are "authorized agents" (AA) of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality for administering the OSSF Program. Many times, the AA has a "designated representative" (DR) to assist them with their responsibilities, which include reviewing plans for constructing, altering, extending or repairing each OSSF; issuing permits; and inspecting system installation. You can search for your local permitting authority online.
Authorized agents and representatives also respond to complaints to ensure that an OSSF meets minimum standards. If problems are found, the system owner normally has 30 days in which to make substantial progress on remedying the situation. After that, the agent can file a criminal complaint with the local justice of the peace.
OSSFs can handle only domestic sewage. Industrial or hazardous waste will ruin an OSSF by literally killing the bacteria that break down the biosolids. Remember: septic systems are designed to handle human waste, not chemicals.
All OSSFs require maintenance at one time or another. Conventional anaerobic systems need to have the septic tank pumped out to remove the solids and keep the system from backing up. It is recommended that you pump your septic tank every three to five years to prevent short circuiting of the treatment process. Access the Sludge Transporter Query online to obtain a list of registered sludge transporters in your area.
Aerobic systems are more complex and require more maintenance. Some maintenance may be performed by homeowners for systems using secondary treatment or drip irrigation, and surface application disposal. Some permitting authorities have adopted more stringent requirements, which may require homeowner training or even prohibit homeowner maintenance. Check with your permitting authority to find out if it has adopted more stringent requirements. Contracting with a licensed maintenance provider to check, troubleshoot and test the system as required in 30 TAC §285.91(4) will help ensure that the system operates correctly. The maintenance provider inspects components of the system and notes whether or not every component is working during each quarterly site visit. If the system uses an electronic monitor, automatic radio or telephone to notify the maintenance provider of system or component failure and to monitor the amount of disinfection in the system, reporting may be reduced to every six months. The maintenance provider will tell the homeowner of any problems or repairs to be made. Any required repairs that are not made will be reported to the permitting authority.
When disinfection of secondary effluent is required, use a chlorine tablet made from calcium hypochlorite that is certified for wastewater disinfection by EPA. The tablets are very reactive and will kill 99% of the bacteria present in the effluent within 10 minutes. Follow all warning and precaution statements of the chlorine tablet manufacturer to protect yourself and the system equipment.DO NOT USE TABLETS DESIGNED FOR SWIMMING POOL USE AS THESE MAY RELEASE AN EXPLOSIVE GAS CALLED NITROGEN CHLORIDE.
The TCEQ's Small Business and Local Government Assistance Section offers free, confidential help to small businesses and local governments working to comply with state environmental regulations. Call us at 1-800-447-2827.
The TCEQ's Small Business and Local Government Assistance Section offers free, confidential help to small businesses and local governments working to comply with state environmental regulations. Call us at 800-447-2827 or visit our Web page at TexasEnviroHelp.org.
Septic Systems are an Environmentally Sound, Affordable Option
Sewage systems are much more typical since they're funded as well as maintained by city governments. Septic tanks, nevertheless, are proving to be more preferred as a budget- and eco-friendly choice, while also providing homeowners complete control over their drainage.
A septic system is one of the approaches used to drain wastewater from residences. The system contains a septic tank, which is put below ground someplace to the side or rear of a property. The septic tank receives outbound drains from sinks as well as bathtubs (greywater) and also commodes (blackwater) of a home. Inside the septic tank, crud and waste are divided from the water, and then the water is sent out to an outbound grid of perforated leach field pipes, where the water is leached into the soil.
All septic systems include 2 main components: a septic tank where solids gravitate to the bottom, as well as a leach field (additionally called a drain field) where the water dissipates. Specifics concerning the kind of septic system you have will be detailed in documents you got when you acquired your residence. The state environmental agency or health department may have back-up documents if finding them is a problem. In addition, a plumber could aid in determining just what you have.
Components of a Septic System
The Septic Tank
The objective of the septic tank is to decrease the circulation of water through the septic system for enough time for the solids to settle. It's where solids are liquefied. As the wastewater goes into the container, its motion is brought to a grinding halt. This permits the solids to gravitate to the bottom of the septic tank where enzymes and microorganisms begin to digest them. The procedure starts with the enzymes, which dissolve the natural solids. As soon as dissolved, bacteria begin to do their task by soaking up the fluid. In this procedure of digestion, methane and also various other gasses are generated as a by-product.
The enzyme/bacteria activity has to be preserved in the septic tank to ensure that the solids are dissolved at the normal rate. The more activity within the container the quicker the solids will dissolve. The more solids dissolved, the cleaner the effluent will certainly be when dispersing in the leach field. A proper environment must be maintained for the microorganisms to thrive. This would certainly consist of having the septic tank installed deeply enough to preserve a temperature level over freezing. The enzymes and bacteria thrive at warmer temperature levels. Consequently, in chillier environments, the activity will certainly be slower.
The reality is, there are several sorts of bacteria. Some require oxygen to make it through and are named aerobic bacteria. Others die when exposed to oxygen. These are called anaerobic bacteria. There are good and bad bacteria. Tossing yeast right into the tank will certainly add some kinds of microorganisms, however definitely not nearly enough of the good bacteria to materially aid your septic tank. As such, yeast is considered somewhat practical, however, it is much better utilized for making bread and beer.
Leach Field Design
A leach field plays a critical role in the efficient operation of your septic system. They can't be casually placed and a qualified professional must be involved, so installing a septic system isn't really a great DIY project.
Leach Field System
A substantial investigation is called for prior to placing a septic leach field near your home. One of the most essential determinations is whether the soil will enable water to percolate through. Various other important tests will also be conducted. It’s critical to establish a firm understanding of drainage direction to avoid any possibility of interaction with community water systems. Even groundwater commonality should be avoided as it translates into the water supply.
After approval is received for the installation of a septic system and the leach field is fully tested, engineers will bury a network of 3- or 4-inch perforated pipe at a depth determined by their testing as appropriate for the soil conditions. To encourage the absorption and distribution of the water seeping from the perforated pipes, an aggregate is incorporated to surround them and allow a less impeded flow.
What Challenges Your System?
The microorganisms that do all the work in your septic system are limited in their ability to process some compounds. Catabolizing chlorinated solvents and petroleum products harsh and unable to dissolve metallic substances. These may become part of the septic tank’s sludge or even absorb into the leach field soil.
Cleaning products may damage the efficiency of your system
Laundry bleach - Microbial activity in the leach field may become sluggish, or stop altogether.
Sanitizing or Deodorizing Compounds - Similar to the effect caused by the bleach, microbial activity is impeded.
Detergents, drain cleaners, and solvents may facilitate the transfer of emulsified, saponified or dissolved fats into the leach field before they’ve had time to be catabolized to organic acids in the scum layer.
A Failed Leach Field
The leach field may over-fill with nonbiodegradables from the septic tank, impeding the water’s ability to commute into the soil. The water will ride the surface and the field will seem wet all the time. Just before you see actual puddles forming, you may notice the grass becoming very lush and green. It makes sense they would suddenly be thriving with the boost in nutrients they would receive from the overflow. Bushes and shrubs will also look lovely. All well and good, enjoy it for a minute, then take a breath. Very soon the odor of sewage will compliment your lovely setting and you’ll know for sure you have a challenge. If you do nothing and the septic system is untreated, it might be time to move… for everyone in range …and nobody’s going to be happy about it. Save yourself the grief and maintain your septic system carefully.
Tips for Planting the leach field
When growing a lawn over a septic tank leach field area, do not include added dirt, unless it is a very small amount to repair erosion effects or replace dirt removed incidentally, such as when removing a plant. If you need to till the soil before you can put down any seed, be extremely careful and DO NOT use a rototiller. The pipes could be as close as 6 inches from the surface, well within the range of an enthusiastic rototiller. When you’re area is ready and you’ve laid down your seed, only cover it with two or three inches of soil. Much more could stop the air and water exchange required for leach field effectiveness.
Why Plant Anything?
There are numerous factors that might motivate you to plant your leach field. Mitigating the risk of erosion is a big one. Plants also enhance the septic system’s efficiency by optimizing the exchange of oxygen and moisture removal through transpiration. From this standpoint, the best choice is grass.
Alternatively, your reasons may be more aesthetic. Perhaps your leach field is the only area to receive regular sunlight, or it’s your front yard. If you’re planting anything but grass, consult the experts before making any decisions on what to plant. Some types of vegetation have root systems that may potentially damage your perforated pipes. If that happens, you’re in for a multitude of problems. Gradual decay of your septic system, leading to floating effluent with the attendant odors, followed by inconvenient and costly repairs. It pays to consult with a septic system professional.
Although the drain field may appear to be a vegetable paradise, it is not advisable. Different soils are able to filter contaminants from the effluent, but to varying degrees, and by no means are they guaranteed to filter ALL harmful contaminants. The health risks affiliated with bacterial contaminants make a leach field highly inappropriate for planting any kind of consumable. Even without the health risks, the need to cultivate the soil and maintain it throughout the growth cycle with supplemental watering and fertilization poses a risk to the components of your septic system. Even raised bed planting is not recommended as it interferes with soil moisture evaporation.
Multiple Disposal Areas
Some leach field designs incorporate multiple disposal areas, allowing rotation of which areas are filtering effluent, from a single tank. This lets an area rest periodically. The nematode community will continue to consume the biofilm and fats, naturally cleansing and potentially reducing clogging. This hopefully results in improving the field’s hydraulic capacity as the consumed material is oxidized and increases available interstitial space. The rested area may never fully realize the original percolation rate held prior to resting, but it’ll come close. The potential benefits are felt by many to be worth the risk.
If you feel a septic system is your best option, then it is highly recommended you contact a qualified professional installer for further advice and examination of your property for suitability. They will be able to determine if your property is appropriately configured for installation of a septic system and answer any further questions you may have regarding sustainability and maintenance.
Safety Tips For Working Around A Septic Tank System
As a septic system owner, you may want to try your level best to stay safe. This is more important if you are around the opening of the septic tank. As a matter of fact, you should know all of the important safety precautions that should be taken prior to working on the septic tank system.
Follow the safety tips given below.
Septic tank lid
Make sure that the access port of your tank is covered with a solid lid. Make sure that the lid is strong enough. Kids should not be able to open it. If you have no idea as to how to install the system, you can call a professional for help. The company will be more than happy to help with the inspection.
The tank opening
You should never lean over the septic tank opening. The reason is that the gasses that come out of the tank may knock you out. You may also fall in the tank, which may prove fatal.
Don't Start a fire near the tank
The septic tank may produce a lot of methane gas. And this gas is highly explosive. Therefore, we suggest that you don't ignite fire near the tank.
Electrical wire hazards
If you are going to dig outside, you should consider the buried mechanical or electrical lines. It can be dangerous to break through the electrical or mechanical lines when working around a septic tank system.
Don't enter the tank
If you really need to get into the tank, make sure you have enough experience and that you have put on special equipment. The equipment should include special breathing apparatus as well.
Calling emergency services is highly recommended if you want to be on the safe side. Meanwhile you can direct a fan to the tank opening for fresh air.
Since falling in the tank can be fatal, we suggest that you don't work on the tank on your own. You may call in an experienced friend or relative. The best thing is to call a professional for help.
When working on a septic system, make sure you cover any open cuts. Aside from this, you may want to wash up once you have done your task. As a matter of fact, septic systems may be infected with bacterial and viral hazards. For safety, you should get help from a professional.
Driving Over The septic system
Driving heavy machine on the ground where the tank system is buried is not a good idea. Actually, you may have to bear heavy costs in order to get the broken pipes repaired. So, make sure you don't drive heavy equipment or machinery on the ground where you buried the tank system.
Maintain your Septic Tank System Safely
So, these are a few precautions that you may want to take if you are going to work on a septic tank system. This is important should you want to keep you and your family safe around the system. When in doubt, it's a good idea to call a local septic service. Hopefully, these tips will help.
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