A septic system is something many people really think about, or choose not to for obvious reasons. Whether or not you have a septic tank probably depends on whether or not you live in an urban area with town sewers. If you live off the beaten path like I do, every time you peel a vegetable in the sink or rinse off in the shower after a hot day in the sun, wastewater goes down the drain into your septic tank.
I know what you’re thinking, that wastewater should be out of sight, out of mind. While the “out of sight” part might be true, I think that everyone with a septic tank should understand how they work. That’s why as I install my system at my new home, I took the time to have a conversation with the man who dug the hole and installed it. I’ve been working with foundation contractor Mike Evangelisti for many years on a variety of projects, and he has advanced knowledge of just about everything that happens underground.
Mike explained to me that a septic system is pretty simple. When sewage enters the tank, it’s retained in the tank for a short period of time as it breaks down into scum, sludge and effluent. Solid matter settles at the bottom of the tank, while greases, hair and fat float to the surface and create a scum layer. In the middle is a clear liquid that mostly consists of water, and that drains into a disposal area.
But whenever you turn off the shower, your wastewater doesn’t just sit there - bacteria and microorganisms help break down the solids and keep things moving through the tank. One easy way I’ve discovered to keep your tank environmentally friendly is to watch what you pour down the drain. Drain cleaners, disinfectants, and discarded medications can clog your septic system and kill the bacteria that break down your waste.
If you use non-toxic cleaners like vinegars, salt and baking soda, this will aid the organisms in your septic tank and potentially prevent a costly clog from forming.
The thing to remember about septic systems is that there are several different types, and that what types are available to you vary by state. Each state in the U.S. regulate septic tanks differently, so if you’re installing one you want to make sure that the system you want complies with local and state regulations. In my state, the Connecticut Department of Health estimates that around 40 percent of residents live in homes served by on-site sewage systems.
If you’re curious about what kind of regulations Connecticut has for septic systems, the Connecticut Department of Public Health has a menagerie of information available on their website. Although the regulations are too much to get into in this one blog post, I think it’s a good idea for anyone installing a septic system to be familiar with the rules and regulations governing these systems - knowledge is power and also useful for protecting the environment by building a system that will serve your needs and the creatures that we share the planet with.