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T he two most common myths on the subject of septic system function are that the septic tank treats the sewage, and that the soil filters the remaining particles creating pure water underground. In fact the septic tank is merely a concrete box that holds roughly two days of sewage.
In the calm environment of the tank, dirt and solids settle out and fall to the bottom. Grease and lighter particles from the sewage float to the top.
The septic tank works like a gravy boat delivering liquid sewage effluent to the drainfield or leach field and storing solids and indigestible bits for pumping out every few years. Numerous anaerobic bacteria water breathing bugs like those living in the human gut continue working to reduce some of the strength of the sewage, but not much treatment happens in the septic tank.
The separated liquid containing only water and the dissolved sewage solids, "effluent" flows out of the septic tank through a pipe into the drainfield. Here it spreads over the floor of the drainfield trench. Now the real treatment takes place.
Millions of aerobic air breathing bacteria live in the soil 30 million or so organisms live in a teaspoon of soil.
The aerobic bacteria thrive in the area of the trenches and await the sewage effluent, their food source. These necessary creatures will eventually consume all organic material in the sewage, and everything in sewage is organic. In a municipal sewage treatment plant, these same basic bacteria are doing the work of municipal sewage treatment.
However today most new septic systems use the plastic vault technology to create the drainfield as long as the vaults are allowed in the jurisdiction.
Construction process is almost the same for each type with less shoveling with the vaults. Once excavators, contractors and health departments try vaults, they seldom go back to using drainrock due to ease of construction and favorable public acceptance. This picture to the right shows how the vaults look under construction on a standard home-site.
Click on the link to view our page that explains how to build a septic system using the new vault technology, although many of the points apply to the traditional drainrock described below systems too.
The traditional gravity drainfield employs long trenches filled with special gravel inch-and-a-half, round, uniform and washed clean with perforated pipes running down the center of the trench to spread the effluent into the soil.
The vault technology uses no drainrock and no center pipe. The floor of the trench is used to distribute the effluent to the soil.
The vaults, besides providing much greater effluent storage capacity than traditional drainrock, also have the advantage of being easy to transport and place in the trench compared with tons of drainrock.
Some county health departments will allow a reduced drainfield size if vaults are used. However, the cost of vaults will be higher than drainrock. The image to the left shows a standard two trench gravity drainfield using a new stronger PVC vault design with a central post cast in.
This new design was selected because the spot would occasionally be driven over with farm equipment. Careful hand compaction of select backfill is a must.Enter your mobile number or email address below and we'll send you a link to download the free Kindle App.
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