Bruce & Pam Wachter, REALTORS
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Septic Tanks are Our Friends!
Many people considering the White Mountains of Arizona for relocation or vacation homes are surprised to learn that their prospective home may NOT be on a sewer system.
Generally, sewer systems are too expensive for the rural communities that comprise the White Mountains where that homes can be pretty spread apart. Also, the topography of the area is not conducive (in most cases) for the installation of sewer systems. For these areas, the septic tank is a good alternative, and mostly the only alternative.
The average septic tank holds on average about 1,000 gallons of water. It is made of concrete of steel and is buried in the yard. Wastewater from the dwelling flows into the tank and separates itself into three layers. The first layer is the scum layer. Anything that is floating on the surface of the water is found here. The second layer is mostly clear water. This clear water contains bacteria and chemicals that act as fertilizers. This water eventually flows back out into the ground. The third layer is the sludge layer. Anything heavier than water sinks to the bottom to make up this layer.
Septic tanks produce gases as a result of the breakdown of the organic material. To prevent this gas from leaking into the house, sinks are equipped with P-traps, which block the gases and force them up a vent pipe instead, which leads to the roof.
As wastewater flows into the septic tank, it displaces the old water, which then flows into the drain field (leach field). The drain field is a series of pipes that disperse the water into the ground. The type of soil surrounding the septic system determines how big your drain field needs to be. If the ground readily absorbs water, the drain field can be small, but if the soil is hard clay, for example, the drain field needs to be much bigger. The drain field pipes are buried in trenches that are about 4-6 feet deep. The first 2-3 feet of the trench is filled with gravel, and the remaining depth is filled in with dirt.
Septic systems require nothing but gravity to operate. They are completely passive systems.
A typical septic system will need to be pumped every three to five years. This time frame varies based on several factors: the size of the tank, and the amount and type of solids entering the tank. Generally, a septic tank needs to be pumped when the scum level is within 3 inches of the bottom of the outlet tee or baffle and when the top of the sludge layer is within 12 inches of the bottom of the outlet fitting. It is not necessary to use septic tank additives for your septic tank to function properly. Doing so can cause solids to carry over to the drainfield, which will result in early soil clotting. Such organic solvents can also can pollute the groundwater.
There are many things you can do to avoid the costly and unpleasant situations that can occur with a failing septic system.
2. Keep records. It’s important to be informed about the size of your septic system and where it is located. If you do not have this information, check with your local health agency or septic service provider. It’s also important to keep record of when your system has been maintained. This information will be valuable to the next owner of your home.
3. Inspect your system annually. Every year, you should inspect the scum and sludge levels inside your tank to make sure they are not in the “early warning level” range. You can do this yourself, or have a septic specialist do it for you. You should also make sure the baffles and tees are in good condition and working order. You should also periodically check the drainfield to make sure there are no odors, wet spots, or surfacing sewage.
4. Pump out your septic tank when necessary. Routine pumping will keep you from having problems later. If you use your garbage disposal frequently, you may have to pump more often.
5. Never flush harmful materials into the septic tank. Things that do not easily decompose should not be flushed. Some examples would include grease, cooking oils, newspaper, paper towels, rags, coffee grounds, sanitary napkins, and cigarettes. Other chemicals, such as solvents, oils, paints, and pesticides, should also not be flushed since they are harmful to the system and can damage the ground water. Septic tank additives are not a replacement for pumping and do not reduce the need for it.
6. Keep all runoff away from your system. Water from roofs, patios, or driveways should be diverted away from the area of your septic system. The dirt over your septic system should be slightly mounded to help water run off.
7. Protect your system from damage. Keep vehicles, heavy equipment, and livestock away from the area your septic tank is in. They could damage the drainfield or compress the soil. You should also check on the location of your tank before you plant a garden, install a pool, or construct a building. 8. Properly landscape your system. The best thing to cover your system with is grass. Concrete or other materials reduce evaporation, as well as the supply of air to the soil.
9. Never enter a septic tank. Work on the tank should be done from the outside. Poisonous gases in the tank, as well as the lack of air, could be fatal.
10. Contact your local health agency if you have problems with your system. Although some repairs can be costly, others are minor and don’t require much effort.
Hire a licensed pumper and hauler to service your system. This is primarily for homeowner safety, since septic systems produce harmful fumes and can be dangerous to clean for those not adequately prepared. Using qualified professionals also reduces the chance of improper monitoring or possible damage to the system during pumping. Contact either your local health and sanitation department or check the Yellow Pages in your area phone book to find qualified pumpers. It is much less expensive to maintain a system than to repair or replace it later.