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DIY Series - Septic Tank Overview & Maintenance

Posted by Ben James on

DIY Series - Septic Tank Overview & Maintenance

Septic Tanks Overview

Septic Tanks are one of your home's most important components, housing all of your home’s dirty secrets - so to speak.

They are a wonderfully green choice which can save you on any local sewer charges that would normally appear. 

Septic tank design is simple and they are relatively easy to care for if you are keeping on tops of things. 

In this article we are going to run you through nearly everything you need to know about your Septic tank and how to maintain it to ensure proper functioning for many years to come.

How Septic Tanks Work

A septic tank must be filled with water before it is used. The water helps start the treatment of the sewage by the bacteria. 

Wastewater enters the first chamber, where solids settle to the bottom and is called sludge and scum floats to the top. The scum blanket on top as it’s affectionately known forms an airtight layer that allows anaerobic digestion of the solids (microorganisms breaking down biodegradable material in the absence of oxygen). The lack of air helps in the breakdown of the sewage by the bacteria thereby reducing the volume of solids.

The sludge gathers at the bottom of the tanks. Eventually there will be too much sludge in the tank and it must be pumped out and the sludge disposed of correctly.

The clarified liquid between the sludge and scum layers know as effluent (wastewater) flows through the opening in the dividing baffle into the second chamber, where further settlement occurs. The partially clarified liquid then flows from the outlet into absorption beds or mounds where further nutrients and microorganisms are drawn from the liquid.

CAUTION - Septic tank water still contains germs and parasites. You must never enter a septic tank as it contains toxic gases that can be lethal. 

Here are the key parts of a Septic Tank to know;

  • Scum Blanket - Hard crust that blankets the contents of the tank and acts as an air seal to the sewage which in turn helps breakdown the sewage with contained bacteria
  • Septic Tank Sludge - solid substances formed in tank, when there’s too much - it's time to get a pump out
  • Baffle - the vertical pipes letting wastewater in and filtering it out
  • Effluent - waste water created by tank design
  • Cap - Septic tank lids always check for signs of damage and leave opening these to the professionals.

 This septic tank diagram below helps to more fully understand their design;

septic-tank-design-and-maintenance

How to maintain your septic tank

Simply remember that anything you put down the drain will end up in the septic tank, and not all of it will be healthy for the system.

Always ensure you're using green cleaners and paper products that are septic-safe, and refrain from overloading the system with other contaminants.

Be sure you are actively adding a waste water treatment to your drains regularly such as Bio Enzymes Drain and Septic Maintainer that Vandy's stock in-store and that you frequently check your Septic Tank Caps for any sign of cracks or damage.

Vandy’s have a full range of Septic Tank lids and filters available including;

  • Polymer Septic Tank Lid - which Suits Everhard Septic Tanks
  • Reln Septic tank lid
  • Septic Tanks Filter - Xtra Treat - to assist with the clarification of waste water.

5 signs your Septic Tank is full

  1. Pooling Water - Have you noticed any wet areas at the top of the septic tank? Perhaps pooling at the edges?
  2. Slow Drains - Are your toilets and sinks slow to drain away?
  3. Sewerage backup - This is when your drains are no longer draining away and there is physical sewerage sitting in your toilet or sinks.
  4. Strong Odours - House drains starting to stink badly? Maybe there's a super smelly stench around the septic tank? Time to get it checked.
  5. Super Healthy Lawn Surrounding Tank - This is a sign that too many nutrients from overloaded Septic Tanks are leaching into the lawns. So if your grass is greener around your Septic Tank, other than impressing your neighbours, it is a surefire sign your tank is full. 

Common Problems with Septic Tanks

Here are some of the most common problems we encounter when it comes to septic tanks.

  • Tanks rising out of the ground after rainfall
    • Generally due to an anchoring problem.
  • Stormwater in your septic tank
    • This can occur when your tank is too low or run-off is not diverted properly.
  • Septic Tank Sludge accumulation
    • Sludge is too high and is problematic, generally caused by lack of maintenance and proper chemicals.
  • Septic Tank Size too small
    • Often times the hydraulic load or size of household is under estimated

Septic Tank Cleaning

The Department of Health recommends that;

“Septic tanks should be pumped out every five years to keep the disposal system working properly. However, this may need to be done more often, for example, if they overflow or become blocked.”

If you are experiencing any concerns or problems with your septic tank, then it will need to be pumped out, with a thorough cleaning and check as a top priority.  

Leave the pumping out of the sludge to the professionals.

Vandys work with local wastewater management companies such as John and the team at Lockyer Valley Waste Management to ensure our customers always find someone to do the job.

For the first few times an EHP pumps out a septic tank, it is important to always check with the local EHO or Environmental Health supervisor before any pump-out work is commenced. 

These people will provide information on disposal sites and the correct pump-out methods as well as technical help in assessing the inside parts of the septic tank.

Being present for the septic pumping process can actually be beneficial as well, as most septic professionals can inspect the contents of your tank as it's being pumped and give you an idea of how well your system is working so you know how to keep it in tip-top shape.

Concrete VS Plastic Septic Tanks - which is best?

Concrete Septic Tanks

  • More durable can last several decades
  • Susceptible to cracks early on if not high quality
  • Susceptible to cracks if not property maintained
  • Concrete is a heavy material meaning more expensive to make and install
  • When cracks or problems arise usually not an easy fix

Plastic Septic Tanks

  • Very resistant to cracking - generally watertight throughout lifespan
  • Much lighter material meaning transport and installation easier/cheaper
  • Generally more cost-effective and more hygienic than concrete
  • Most common concern is low effluence, check regularly to ensure all working properly.

Have any more questions on Septic Tanks or need the team to help kit you out for your Septic tank needs? We are your Gatton and Lockyer Valley supplier of Septic tanks and accessories. Contact the Vandys team now. 

Vandy’s Water Solutions offers a full range of water solutions with speedy service and a smile. Visit us today to come and talk to those who know your water needs best.

References

https://www.waternsw.com.au/water-quality/catchment/living/wastewater/systems/septic-tanks

http://www.health.gov.au/internet/publications/publishing.nsf/Content/ohp-enhealth-manual-atsi-cnt-l~ohp-enhealth-manual-atsi-cnt-l-ch2~ohp-enhealth-manual-atsi-cnt-l-ch2.9


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