When it comes to the maintenance of your home there are lots of different things to keep on top of. For many people, cleaning and emptying your septic tank regularly is probably not the first thing that you think of – after all, out of sight can mean out of mind. Emptying your septic tank regularly is, however, extremely important and should not be overlooked or forgotten.
Failing to clean and empty your septic tank can lead to a number of unpleasant problems and issues that you will most certainly want to avoid, which is why it is very important to get clued up when it comes to your septic system and the maintenance required. Below we have put together a guide on why emptying your septic tank is so important.
What is a septic tank?
A septic tank is an underground watertight chamber that is made of either plastic, concrete or fiberglass. This chamber collects and treats sewage and wastewater produced by kitchen drains and bathrooms at properties that are not connected to main sewer systems. They are far more common in rural areas than in big cities, which usually have large sewer systems.
How does a septic tank work?
A septic tank works by separating sewage and wastewater into three different layers: scum, liquid effluent and sludge. The layer of scum is made up of materials that float on water such as fats, oil and grease. The second layer is made up of liquid waste and the third bottom layer, sludge, is made up of materials that are more dense than water (the solid portion). The bacteria that thrives in these three layers breaks down and liquifies the layers of scum and sludge, allowing them to degrade into the liquid layer. Typically, water leaves a house through one main drainage pipe which leads to a septic tank. The liquid wastewater layer exits the tank into a drainfield: a shallow pit of unsaturated soil. This soil filters through the wastewater while treating it.
Causes of blockages and damage
Septic tank emptying is very important, and failing to empty your septic tank correctly can lead to a number of different issues, such as a build-up or blockage. Worse still, incorrect maintenance can lead to overflow issues. Signs of a damaged septic tank include the smell of sewage, your drainage slowing down, wastewater backing up into your household drains, pools of effluent on the surface of the tank and unusually green grass around your system.
Damage, blocks and overflows can be caused by a number of issues:
- Dangerous gasses. When sewage is decomposing it has the potential to turn into hydrogen sulphide which can then turn into sulphuric acid. This can attack the inside of the tank, causing the baffle to crumble and therefore leak.
- Rusting and cracking. Septic tanks can corrode (depending on the type of chamber that you have) from toxic gasses inside the tank, or simply from rust. The concrete inside the tank is also susceptible to cracking due to the pressure.
- Tree roots. Tree roots can play a big factor in septic tank leakages. Typically, roots get into the tank through a damaged inlet or through the seal around the lid. It is usually difficult to tell if there is a problem with a tree root in your septic tank as it is underground and hidden.
- Everyday items. Blockages can be caused by various items being flushed down our toilet or kitchen drains, such as cigarettes, dental floss, baby wipes, sanitary items, cotton buds and other non-biodegradable items.
- Age of septic tank. The age and condition of your septic tank is important and could be the reason for any leaks or blockages. Some septic tanks can be extremely old and therefore work less efficiently than modern ones.
- Septic tank maintenance. The maintenance of your septic tank is very important and a common misconception is that once you have a septic tank, you do not need to do anything. Failing to have your septic tank emptied regularly can lead to blockages.
Benefits of septic tank emptying
Regularly emptying your septic tank has many advantages that go far beyond just preventing bad smells and avoiding blocked toilets and drains. Other benefits of septic tank emptying include:
- Extend the life of the tank. Emptying your septic tank regularly and removing solids from wastewater ensures that the drainfield and soil absorption area does not become clogged up. If this area does become clogged it can cause your septic system to fail and reduce the lifespan.
- Protect the environment. Damaged or overflowing septic tanks can be extremely damaging for the environment. Chemicals that are used in septic tanks can be very dangerous if they leak and can cause a number of issues for the environment. An overflowing tank can contaminate the ground with dangerous pathogens and viruses which can be harmful to the environment. Prolific plant growth caused by overflowing tanks can also lead to algae blooms, which can result in the blooms of toxic cyanobacteria. Cyanobacterial mass populations can lead to water quality problems leading to both animal and human poisonings.
- Good health. A poorly maintained septic tank can lead to improperly treated sewage and wastewater, contaminating the surface and groundwater. This can lead to pathogens in your drinking water, potentially spreading harmful diseases such as dysentery and hepatitis.
- Property value. Naturally, no one wants to buy a home that has potential issues, especially when it comes to blocked toilets and drains, horrible smells and a leaking septic system – all of which can cause a number of unpleasant issues. A poorly maintained septic tank can put buyers off your home after inspection and reduce the value of your property.
- Financial savings. Having your tank cleaned and emptied regularly by a company means that they will be able to spot any possible issues or potential damage early on, and can advise you on preventing these problems before they occur. This will save you from having to spend a lot of money on getting your entire septic system replaced if an unresolved issue caused the system to fail. The cost of septic tank pumping far outweighs the cost of a brand new tank entirely.
Septic tank cleaning: how often should you do it?
Generally, it is recommended that you empty your septic tank around once a year. Even if your septic tank is not completely full, you should have it emptied regularly to keep it in good condition and to ensure that it continues to work correctly. Other factors to take into consideration when deciding on how regularly to empty your tank include the number of people that live in your household and the water usage in your property, the size of your tank, the age of your tank and the weather (for example, torrential rain can overload the drainage field and stop the tank from emptying).
What is the difference between septic tank emptying and cesspit emptying?
Septic tanks and cesspits both serve the same purpose: they are buried underground and collect sewage and wastewater. While a septic tank has a drainage system that treats wastewater and filters the water back into the ground, a cesspit has no treatment or drainage process. This means that a cesspit needs to be emptied more regularly as they do not have an outlet and the only way for the water to leave the tank is by being manually emptied by a registered waste handler. Septic tanks should be checked and emptied annually whereas cesspits may need to be emptied monthly or quarterly, depending on the number of people in the household and the amount of water used.
J H Willis and Son: Septic tank emptying and servicing
The best way to keep your septic system in top condition and to avoid potential leaks, blockages and damage is to have regular inspections, maintenance and emptying by a professional company. Here at J H Willis and Sons, our team of experts provide regular domestic and commercial maintenance and routine emptying in the North West of England to ensure that your septic tank functions smoothly and efficiently, taking the stress off you.
We are passionate about minimising the environmental impact of waste disposal which is why we work closely in collaboration with the Environment Agency and Environmental Health. All of our waste is disposed of responsibly to licensed premises.