Septic Tanks Mandan ND
West Fargo, ND
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QUESTION: My wife and I are buying a weekend home on a lake. There's only one thing that bothers me. The house has a septic system, and I've always owned houses on public sewerage. I'm a little apprehensive about how good septic systems are. How do I know if it's working properly?
ANSWER: Sewage disposal by septic tank can be entirely satisfactory if the tank is properly sized, the leach field is adequate and the system is properly maintained. Information on the size of the tank and the extent of the disposal field may not be available, but the system can be tested using tracer dye and a water flow of 5 gallons per minute for an hour. If no effluent shows on the surface of the ground at the end of the test, it will indicate that the disposal field is in good working condition.
The absolute minimum size for a septic tank is 500 gallons, and a 1,000-gallon tank is better. Unless it was done recently, the tank should be pumped to serve as a starting point. A septic tank that is properly sized for the house should be pumped every seven to 10 years, unless a garbage disposal is used in the kitchen. In that case, the pumping interval should be shortened to five years. The working septic tank (see illustration above) contains three layers: A scum layer about 6 inches thick at the top, a working layer of liquid and a layer of sludge on the bottom.
If the sludge accumulates to the point that it is flushed into the leach field, the soil may become plugged with the fine particles and fail to drain. When that happens, a new disposal field may be required. If that unfortunate circumstance comes to pass, the old field should not be torn up, but a parallel system added with a valve that will allow the effluent to be switched between the two fields. The old field will reactivate itself bacterially over a few years and can be used again at a later date. If the field is in soil with a high clay content, the discharge from water softeners should not be run into the septic tank. The discharge contains salt, and salt will react with some clays to make them impervious to water -- and therefore useless as a leach field.
There are lots of products on the market that claim to improve the action of septic systems and open clogged drains. The U.S. Public Health Service has tested hundreds of substances and found them worthless. However, if there is a problem with tree roots in the septic field, a pound of the cheapest copper sulfate flushed down the toilet every month or two will discourage them. There is a number of materials that should never be discharged into septic tanks. These include:
∗ Poisonous chemicals such as herbicides, insecticides and photographic chemicals containing arsenic. These chemicals are not destroyed by the bacterial action of the tank and will soak into the soil through the leach field, possibly contaminating wells and ground water.
∗ Mineral oils, greases, motor oil and other oil-based products. These float on the material in the tank and inhibit the bacterial action that takes place in the scum layer.
∗ Disposable diapers, sanitary napkins and other products that contain a lot of cellulose, which digests very slowly and causes rapid sludge accumulation. Paper products with wet strength, such as paper towels and some facial tissues, contain resins that make them almost indigestible.
∗ Plastic or rubber products, which will clog the tank and leach field.
∗ Chlorine bleach in large quantities. The amount normally used for laundry will not cause a problem, but chlorine in large qualities will kill the bacteria that make the tank function.
Holding-tank discharge from RVs and portable toilets can also cause problems, since the odor-fighting chemicals added to the holding tanks may contain formaldehyde or other chemicals that can kill bacteria. With attention to detail and careful maintenance, you have nothing to fear from a septic system.