Septic Systems 101: A Beginner’s Guide to Residential Sewage Treatment


What is a septic system?

A septic system is an underground wastewater treatment system that is commonly used in residential areas where there is no access to a centralized sewer system. It consists of a septic tank, which is a large container that collects and stores the wastewater from the household, and a drainfield, which is a series of perforated pipes or chambers that allow the treated wastewater to be released into the soil. The septic tank separates the solid waste from the liquid waste, and the liquid waste is then treated by natural processes in the drainfield. This system provides an efficient and cost-effective way to treat and dispose of household wastewater in areas without sewer infrastructure.

How does a septic system work?

A septic system works by treating and disposing of wastewater from a residential property. It consists of a septic tank, a drainfield, and the surrounding soil. When wastewater enters the septic tank, solids settle to the bottom and form a layer of sludge, while oils and greases float to the top and create a layer of scum. The liquid in the middle, known as effluent, flows out of the tank and into the drainfield. In the drainfield, the effluent is further treated by bacteria in the soil, which break down harmful pathogens and remove contaminants. Finally, the treated effluent is absorbed into the soil, completing the sewage treatment process. A well-maintained septic system can effectively treat and dispose of wastewater, ensuring the protection of public health and the environment.

Why are septic systems important?

Septic systems are important for residential sewage treatment because they provide an efficient and environmentally friendly way to treat and dispose of wastewater. Unlike centralized sewage systems, septic systems are self-contained and do not require extensive infrastructure. They work by allowing solid waste to settle at the bottom of the tank, while bacteria and other microorganisms break down the organic matter. The treated wastewater is then released into the drain field, where it is naturally filtered and absorbed into the soil. This process helps protect the environment by preventing contamination of groundwater and surface water sources. Additionally, septic systems are cost-effective and can be tailored to meet the specific needs of individual households. Overall, septic systems play a crucial role in maintaining the cleanliness and health of residential communities.

Components of a Septic System

Septic tank

A septic tank is a key component of a septic system, which is a common method of residential sewage treatment. It is an underground chamber made of concrete, fiberglass, or plastic that is used to collect and store wastewater from a household. The septic tank allows the solids in the wastewater to settle to the bottom, forming a layer of sludge, while the liquid portion, known as effluent, flows out into the drain field for further treatment. Regular maintenance and pumping of the septic tank are necessary to prevent the accumulation of sludge and ensure the proper functioning of the septic system.

Distribution box

The distribution box, also known as a D-box, is a crucial component in a septic system. Its primary function is to evenly distribute wastewater from the septic tank to the drain field or leach field. The distribution box receives effluent from the septic tank and directs it to multiple perforated pipes or distribution lines in the drain field. This ensures that the wastewater is distributed evenly throughout the drain field, allowing for efficient and effective treatment of the sewage. Proper maintenance and regular inspection of the distribution box are essential to ensure the proper functioning of the septic system.


The drainfield, also known as the leach field, is an essential component of a septic system. It is responsible for the final treatment and disposal of the wastewater that flows out of the septic tank. The drainfield consists of a network of perforated pipes buried in trenches or beds in the ground. These pipes distribute the wastewater evenly throughout the drainfield, allowing it to percolate through the soil. As the wastewater passes through the soil, it undergoes further treatment, with the soil serving as a natural filter and purifier. The drainfield should be carefully designed and sized to ensure proper treatment and disposal of the wastewater, taking into consideration factors such as soil type, slope, and distance from water sources. Regular maintenance and proper use of the septic system are essential to prevent drainfield failure and ensure the longevity of the system.

Septic System Installation

Site evaluation and design

Before installing a septic system, it is crucial to evaluate the site and design the system accordingly. Site evaluation involves assessing the soil type, topography, and proximity to water bodies. The soil type determines the system’s ability to treat and absorb wastewater. A percolation test is often conducted to measure the soil’s permeability. The topography of the site affects the system’s drainage and slope requirements. It is important to consider the distance between the septic system and any nearby wells, streams, or lakes to prevent contamination. Based on the site evaluation, a septic system design is developed to ensure effective and efficient wastewater treatment and disposal. The design considers factors such as the number of bedrooms in the house, daily water usage, and local regulations. Proper site evaluation and design are essential for the long-term functionality and environmental sustainability of a residential septic system.

Permitting and regulations

When it comes to septic systems, proper permitting and adherence to regulations are crucial. Before installing a septic system, homeowners must obtain the necessary permits from their local government or health department. These permits ensure that the septic system is installed correctly and meets all the required standards for safety and environmental protection. Additionally, there are regulations in place to govern the maintenance and operation of septic systems. Homeowners are responsible for regular inspections, pumping, and maintenance to ensure the system functions properly and does not pose a risk to public health or the environment. Failure to comply with permitting and regulatory requirements can result in fines and penalties. Therefore, it is essential for homeowners to familiarize themselves with the applicable regulations and ensure compliance throughout the life of their septic system.

Excavation and tank installation

Excavation and tank installation are crucial steps in the process of setting up a septic system for residential sewage treatment. Excavation involves digging a hole or trench in the ground to create space for the septic tank and associated components. The size and depth of the excavation depend on the specific requirements of the system and the local regulations. Once the excavation is complete, the septic tank is carefully positioned and secured in place. This involves ensuring proper alignment and levelness to ensure optimal functionality. The tank is then connected to the inlet and outlet pipes, and the necessary plumbing connections are made. Finally, the excavation is backfilled, and the area is restored to its original condition. Proper excavation and tank installation are essential for the effective and efficient operation of a septic system, as they provide a stable foundation and ensure proper functioning of the tank and associated components.

Septic System Maintenance

Regular pumping

Regular pumping is an essential maintenance task for septic systems. It involves removing the accumulated solids and sludge from the septic tank. This process helps prevent clogs, backups, and the overflow of wastewater into the surrounding soil. The frequency of pumping depends on various factors, such as the size of the tank, the number of people in the household, and the usage of water. On average, it is recommended to have the septic tank pumped every 3 to 5 years. However, it is important to consult with a professional to determine the appropriate pumping schedule for your specific septic system. Neglecting regular pumping can lead to costly repairs and potential health hazards, so it is crucial to prioritize this maintenance task to ensure the proper functioning of your residential sewage treatment system.

Avoiding excessive water usage

To maintain the efficiency and longevity of your septic system, it is important to avoid excessive water usage. This includes taking shorter showers, fixing leaky faucets and toilets promptly, and using water-efficient appliances. Additionally, be mindful of your laundry habits and try to spread out washing loads throughout the week rather than doing them all at once. By reducing water usage, you can prevent overloading your septic system and minimize the risk of costly repairs or replacements.

Proper waste disposal

Proper waste disposal is crucial when it comes to maintaining a septic system. It is important to only flush and dispose of materials that are biodegradable and safe for the environment. This includes human waste, toilet paper, and natural cleaning products. Avoid flushing non-biodegradable items such as diapers, wipes, feminine hygiene products, and grease, as these can clog the system and lead to costly repairs. Additionally, it is essential to avoid pouring chemicals, medications, and excessive amounts of household cleaners down the drain, as they can disrupt the natural balance of bacteria in the septic tank. By practicing proper waste disposal, homeowners can ensure the longevity and efficiency of their septic system, reducing the risk of backups and contamination.

Common Septic System Problems

Clogs and backups

Septic systems can experience clogs and backups due to various reasons. One common cause is the accumulation of solid waste and debris in the pipes, which can restrict the flow of wastewater. Additionally, tree roots can invade the septic system and cause blockages. Another potential issue is the improper disposal of non-biodegradable items, such as sanitary products and grease, which can lead to clogs. It is important to regularly maintain and inspect the septic system to prevent clogs and backups, as they can result in costly repairs and potential health hazards.

Drainfield failure

Drainfield failure is a common issue in septic systems. It occurs when the drainfield, also known as the leach field, becomes overloaded and unable to properly absorb and filter wastewater. This can happen due to various reasons, such as excessive water usage, poor maintenance, or soil compaction. When a drainfield fails, it can lead to sewage backups, foul odors, and potential health hazards. It is essential to address drainfield failure promptly to prevent further damage to the septic system and ensure the proper treatment of residential sewage.

Tree root intrusion

Tree root intrusion is a common problem in septic systems. As trees grow, their roots can spread and infiltrate the pipes and tanks of the septic system. This can cause blockages, leaks, and damage to the system. Tree roots are attracted to the moisture and nutrients found in the pipes, and they can quickly grow and cause significant problems. It is important to regularly inspect and maintain your septic system to prevent tree root intrusion and ensure the proper functioning of the system.


Importance of regular maintenance

Regular maintenance of septic systems is crucial for ensuring their proper functioning and longevity. By regularly inspecting and pumping the septic tank, homeowners can prevent costly repairs and avoid potential health hazards. Regular maintenance also helps in identifying any issues or leaks early on, allowing for timely repairs and preventing further damage to the system. Additionally, proper maintenance of septic systems helps protect the environment by preventing contamination of groundwater and nearby water sources. Therefore, it is essential for homeowners to prioritize regular maintenance of their septic systems to ensure a clean and healthy living environment.

Environmental impact of septic systems

Septic systems have both positive and negative environmental impacts. On the positive side, septic systems can effectively treat and dispose of residential sewage, preventing it from contaminating surface water and groundwater sources. This helps to protect the environment and public health. However, septic systems also have negative environmental impacts. Improperly maintained or failing septic systems can release harmful bacteria, viruses, and chemicals into the environment, polluting nearby water bodies and posing a risk to human and animal health. Additionally, septic systems can contribute to nutrient pollution, which can lead to excessive algae growth and oxygen depletion in water bodies, negatively impacting aquatic ecosystems. Therefore, it is important for homeowners to properly maintain their septic systems to minimize their environmental impact.

Choosing a professional septic system service

When it comes to maintaining your septic system, it is crucial to choose a professional septic system service. These professionals have the knowledge and experience to properly inspect, clean, and repair your septic system. They can also provide valuable advice on how to prevent future issues and ensure the longevity of your system. With their expertise, you can rest assured that your septic system is in good hands and functioning efficiently.

In conclusion, if you are in need of septic tank installation services in Oneonta, look no further than Jones Septic Tanks & Excavating LLC. With years of experience in the industry, we are dedicated to providing top-quality septic tank installation services to our customers. Our team of experts will ensure that your septic tank is installed efficiently and effectively, meeting all safety and regulatory standards. Contact us today for a free consultation and let us take care of all your septic tank installation needs.