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Septic Tank Resources & Homeowners Guide

Did You Know...

...that a properly designed and installed septic system can be the safest, most economical way to treat your wastewater as long as it is properly maintained? If you are like most homeowners, you probably never give much thought to what happens to what goes down your drain. But if you own a car and understand how important it is to do preventative maintenance (like changing your oil), then you can understand how maintaining your septic system can save you money and headaches "down the road." The resources listed in this section of our website can help you be sure that your septic system is used and maintained properly.

How Do Septic Systems Work?

System Description:
A septic tank system uses natural processes to treat and dispose of the wastewater generated in your home. It typically consists of a septic tank and a drainfield, or soil absorption field. The septic tank provides the first step in treatment. As wastewater flows into the tank, the heavier solids settle to the bottom to form a sludge layer, and the lighter solids, greases, and oils float to the top to form a scum layer. The liquid wastewater (effluent) from the tank flows into gravel-filled trenches in typical drainfield where it is distributed via perforated pipes and then treated by the natural soil system. The diagram to the right shows the components of a typical septic system.

System Operation:
The septic tank provides some biological treatment of the sludge and scum layers that accumulate there. The majority of treatment occurs in the drainfield where the effluent enters the soil and is treated as it percolates to the groundwater. The soil acts as a biological and physical filter to remove harmful substances, including disease-causing bacteria and viruses, toxic organics and other undesirable wastewater constituents remaining in the effluent.

Outlet filters or baffles are located in the tank and are designed to prevent the sludge and scum from flowing into the drainfield. If the tank is not pumped regularly to remove the accumulated solids, the tank will fill with sludge and the solids will be washed out into the drainfield, or clog the outlet filter. If solids reach the drainfield or clog the outlet filter, they will quickly clog the soil and eventually lead to system failure.

Where Is Your Septic System Located?

In order to maintain your system, the tank needs to be accessible for plumbing and the drainfield should be protected. Locating your system is not always an easy task. If you do not already have one, contact your county health department for a copy of your septic system permit, which will indicate the approximate location of the system and the size of the tank. The completed permit may have a diagram of the actual system installation and include other information about your system. Keep your permit for future reference and to pass on to the next homeowner.

The resources portion of our site is based in part on similar publications by the National Onsite Wastewater Recycling Association (NOWRA), North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service, Cornell Cooperative Extension, and the South Carolina Department of Health and Environment Control (SCDHEC). The downloadable PDF was prepared and published by the FDEP Nonpoint Source Management Section. For more information, contact your county health department or FDOH, Bureau of Onsite Sewage.