Septic 101

At Quantum Environmental Enterprise we believe our best customer is a well informed educated customer. We have assembled a list of questions below that should help to provide a basic understanding of your septic systems. As always we are available 24/7 by phone to answer any additional questions, 484.889.6007.

What are septic systems and why do we need them?

Septic systems are individual waste treatment systems, they are installed most often in rural to semi-rural areas where access to public sewage disposal and treatment is limited or non-existant.

What are the components of septic/sewage treatment systems?

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

What is meant by “house sewer”.

House sewer refers to the pipe line connecting the house with the septic tank or septic system.

What are septic tanks and how do they work?

The septic tank is the key component of the septic water treatment system. The tank serves as a settling basin where solid waste accumulates, settles and is gradually broken down by natural bacterial action. During this process some of the organic waste is actually liquified while the rest accumulates on the bottom as a layer of sludge. Additionally a small percentage of fats and oils may float to the top to form a semi-solid layer of scum. Most septic tanks are connected to a drainage or seepage field. When properly maintained, a well designed system can last indefinitely. Without regular maintenance, the system can backup and clog the drainage field resulting in expensive excavation and actual replacement of the drain pipes.

What is a distribution box?

The distribution box distributes 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.

What is a absorption field and sewage pit?

An absorption field connected to the overflow of the septic tank is a system of narrow trenches partially filled with a bed of washed gravel or crushed stone into which a perforated or open joint pipe is placed. The discharge from the septic tank is distributed through these pipes into trenches and the surrounding soil. The water filters through the soil, usually back to groundwater. In the process the water is further purified biologically and the bacteria are filtered out providing clean water to the aquifer or groundwater system. The subsurface absorption field must be sized and constructed properly. While seepage pits normally require less land area to install, they should be used only where absorption fields are not suitable and well-water supplies are not endangered.

What is a cesspool?

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 down 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.

Why do I need to pump out my septic tank?

A septic tank is a filter in the septic system designed to trap and stop solid waste and debris from reaching the drain field. much of the organic solid waste is destroyed in the tank during this process. 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, the inorganic fraction of the sludge is not biodegradable, if it's not pumped out sludge will accumulate until it overflows where it can cause problems in the absorption field resulting in expensive excavation and replacement of the drain pipes.

How often do I need to have my septic tank pumped?

The frequency of pumping out the septic tank varies from both septic system to septic system as well as from township to township. Many townships now have ordinances requiring pumping to a schedule by a certified company. We can help you determine a schedule that is best for you and provide the certification for your system.The frequency of pumping out will depend primarily on the amount of wastewater and solids that go 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. If a garbage disposal is used, pumping more often is advised to remove the solids. Heavy flows of water also tend to make the tank fill up more quickly and this is why water should not be left running indiscriminately in sinks and toilets.

Why is the red light on, on my septic system?

There are many reasons the light on your system may be on, the primary being overuse of water. The light should be viewed as a warning and it is best to call us so we can help you troubleshoot your system.

What is a baffle and why is it so important?

The baffles are walls or protective devices positioned inside the septic tank at the water inlet and outlet pipes. They control and direct the flow of water so that waste is not pushed toward the outlet pipe and into the drain field.

How important is bacterial action to the proper functioning of the septic system and what can I do to encourage it?

The bacteria's job is to digest all organic waste matter in the system. If there is no bacteria in your system it will simply act as a holding tank for your waste. If it becomes full, and natural digestion will not occur. That is when the system backs up. Bacteria are killed off or inhibited because of:

- Excessive quantities of detergents, laundry waste, bleach, household chemicals, and caustic drain openers.
- Garbage disposal grinds which substantially increase the accumulation of solids. Even though they are mostly organic, they break down slowly and can cause problems before they completely breakdown.
- Disposal of items not biodegradable in the system (plastics, etc.)
- Disposal of excessive amounts of grease and fats, which are biodegradable but need particular types of bacteria to digest them efficiently. Biological additives containing oil and grease degrading bacteria can help with this.
- Disposal of cigarette butts, sanitary napkins which are also biodegradable but are not readily decomposable.
- Too many people using a smaller/inadequate or failing system.

How do I get a building permit for a septic system in PA and DE?

The states of Delaware and Pennsylvania set codes and policies that each county must follow. The codes are basic guidelines, the counties and townships add to the the guidelines resulting in more rigorous polices. Permits must be acquired through your local township and will most often require a licensed contractor. Quantum can help or guide you through this process.

What documents are needed to obtain a septic permit?

As all codes are subject to state, county and township polices they are not all the same. However most require a septic design, as well as house and plot plans. Quantum Environmental Enterprise can design your system and help with the needed documents.

 What is the design of the modern septic tank?

Although designs vary, most septic tanks consist of a watertight, below ground tank that has one or two manhole covers (buried a few inches below the ground) to provide access for pumping, cleaning and inspection. Effluent (waste) from the house flows into the tank through an inlet pipe near the top on one side. It flows out through a discharge or overflow pipe at the other side. The pipe may end in a large tee-fitting or into a baffle (wall) preventing the effluent or scum from flowing straight across from one pipe to the other.The incoming effluent will be diverted downward with a minimum of splashing, allowing the solids to sink to the bottom. Outgoing effluent is drawn from the several feet below the top layer of the floating waste (grease, oil, scum) so that only liquid waste or solids that have been liquefied by the BACTERIAL ACTION going on at the bottom of the septic tank are discharged out into the drainage field. In the drainage field, further decomposition of the soluble organics will occur releasing the basic building blocks back to the environment. Many new tanks installed today have two compartments built in to the unit side-by-side. Having the tank divided into discrete units is done for several reasons. One is to minimize the potential for solids carryover to the drainage field. The majority of the solids are allowed to accumulate and digest in the first section of the tank. The potential for solids to accumulate in the bottom of the second compartment and to be carried over to the leach field is significantly reduced.In some newer aerated systems, which accelerate the digestion of solids and breakdown of organics (BOD) from the sewage through introduction of air to keep the first chamber aerobic, the second compartment can be used as a settling chamber and also to oxidize nitrogenous components of the sewage once the organics are removed.

How Can Quantum Environmental Enterprises help me maintain my septic system?

- We can coach you on all local laws and regulations
- We can check out your system
- We can coach you on the proper maintenance of your system
- We can save you money by pumping out your system before it fails
- We can make repairs to your existing system
- We can design and construct a new system