An explanation of what septic systems are, how they work,
and why they fail,
- What Are Septic
- How do Septic
- What are the
Components of a Private Septic System?
- Where are These
- Care and Maintenance
- Why Septic
- How Long Should
a Septic System Last?
- What are the
Signs of a Failing System?
- Can a System and Dying Leachfield Be Restored Without Being Replaced?
- If I Plan on
Repairing, Installing, or Replacing A System, What should
- If my Family
is Growing and I add a New Bedroom, What Should I Expect?
- How Big Should
a Septic Tank Be?
- How Big Should
the Leach Field Be?
- What is Gray
(Other Types of) Systems
- Should I Add Bacteria
- Septic System Do-Nots
Septic systems are considered
to be on-site systems designed to safely dispose of biological
sanitary waste. "Gray water", such as laundry
waste, is part of the waste system, but it may not result
in what is referred to as "biological" waste.
We will address "gray water" waste as it impacts
the design of a septic system.
Basically a septic system provides a "holding tank"
where natural bacterial action decomposes human waste
products into environmentally acceptable components -
the major end-components being water, mixed with some
other components that are not readily consumed by the
bacterial action, gases, and undigested solids. The end
products, except the undigested solids, are then discharged
to the on-site environment.
The things that are most obvious are the things seen
every day - the sinks, toilets, and pipes in a normal
house. What are not visible are the things that are underground;
the things that are underground, and the ground itself,
greatly impact how a septic system works.
The individual parts of the system are the septic tank,
a distribution box, and a leach field. Bacterial action
takes place in the septic tank where the end products
are mainly water, gases, and undigested material, called
sludge that sinks to the bottom of the tank and scum that
floats to the top of the tank. The septic tank contains
baffles that prevent any scum that floats to the surface
and sludge that settles to the bottom from passing out
of the tank. The gases that are generated vent to the
atmosphere via the plumbing vent system. From the septic
tank, the segregated and relatively clear liquid flows
into a small distribution box where it is then metered
out to several perforated pipes. These perforated pipes
then deliver the liquid to a large soil surface area,
called a leach field, or absorption field, for absorption.
The soil also acts as a filter to remove any small amounts
of solids that may be carried along with the liquid. The
sludge in the bottom of the tank must be periodically
pumped out and properly disposed of.
There are other kinds of systems for special situations,
but the septic tank and leach field is the most widely
used system in our area. The following discussion concentrates
on this type of system.
The concrete, or sometimes
steel, septic tank is buried in the ground, usually a
minimum of 10 feet from the house. The top of the tank
is usually about one foot below the soil surface so it
can be periodically opened for inspection and pumping.
If you do not know for sure where the tank is located,
the first step is to locate where the house sewer pipe
leaves the house. In a house with a basement, this is
where the pipe passes through the wall. Locating the exit
point may be more difficult for a house with no basement.
If the pipe exit can be found, the tank normally begins
about 10 feet from the house outside wall and in line
with the house sewer pipe. If the soil is not frozen,
you can usually find the tank by pushing a slender metal
rod into the ground until it hits the buried tank. You
can buy a metal rod about 1/8 inch in diameter for a few
dollars at most hardware stores. Be careful when probing
for the tank and avoid hammering the metal rod into the
ground - you could break a sewer pipe.
The distribution box
is much smaller than the septic tank and is usual found
about 20 feet from the house. It too is usually only about
one foot below the ground. Again, you can probe the soil
carefully to locate the distribution box with a slender
From the distribution
box, several pipes direct liquid to a series of pipes
in trenches called laterals. The pipes in the trenches
have holes in them to allow the liquid to be evenly distributed
within the trench. To keep the pipes from being blocked
with soil and to provide a space for water to be stored
while it is being absorbed by the soil, the pipes are
laid in a bed of crushed stone. Above the stone is a soil
filter (usually one or two layers of what is called untreated
building paper). Above the soil filter is top soil in
which grass is planted.
Equally important is
WHERE THE COMPONENTS SHOULD NOT BE. If there are wells,
either yours or a neighbor's, the leach field must be
a minimum of 100 feet from the location of the well. In
some areas, the well is not allowed to be down-slope from
the leach field. If there is a stream or pond, the leach
field must also be a minimum of 100 feet from the mean
high water mark. Normally, no part of the system should
be within 10 feet of a property line. In some areas and
in unusual conditions, minimum distances may be greater
than those noted here. In addition, no part of the system
should be under a porch or driveway and you should not
drive heavy vehicles (including automobiles) over the
system lest the system be damaged.
Conventional septic systems are not entirely care free.
The undigested solids (sludge) in the bottom of the septic
tank should be pumped out every two to four years, depending
on usage and tank size. If the sludge is not removed periodically,
it will eventually carry over into the leach field and
cause the field to fail.
A well designed system can handle a reasonable amount
of normal household chemicals such as drain cleaners,
laundry detergent and bleach; excessive usage can be detrimental.
You should avoid putting in chemicals that are toxic to
the bacteria, such as paint thinner, solvents, insecticides,
etc. Cooking fats and grease should also be avoided. If
a garbage disposal is used, more frequent tank pumping
may be needed.
Depending on the size of the tank and your location,
plan on a cost of about $200-$400 each time the tank is
pumped. When the tank is pumped, your service person should
also check the tank baffles for possible damage; ask them
to do this inspection before you contract with them. While
the tank is open, the service technician can also run
some water from a hose into the distribution box to get
an indication that the leach field is also still functioning;
ask if the company offers this service.
If the liquid effluent cannot soak into the soil surrounding
the leach field, sewage may back up into the system and
overflow into the house or puddle on the surface of the
ground. There are several possible causes for this problem.
1. Poor Soil Conditions; Faulty Design or Installation
A leaching system placed in unsuitable soil, a system
that is too small for the house it serves, or an improperly
constructed system may lead to early failure.
2. Soil Clogging
The most dominant cause of system failure is the clogging up of the leach feild. This is caused by the very poor and inefficient break down of the influent. Grease, oils and phosphates that do not get eliminated but usually slowly flow out into the leach field. There it flows out into the surrounding soil, there to impact and not allow breakdown. Some break down occurs by indigenous bacteria but not enough to stop impaction. This continues until the surrounding soils are no longer accessable. While this is happening, the grease, oils and phosphates are impacting the crushed rock of the drain feild. When the field can no longer accept water because of impaction, the effluent rises to the surface and you have a dead system.
So, if grease, oils, phosphates, sludge or scum are allowed to escape into the distribution
box and from there into the leach field, the soil will
quickly become clogged. If this happens, the liquid will
no longer soak, or percolate, into the soil. This condition
can also be caused by broken baffles in the septic tank that
allow grease, oils, phosphates, sludge or scum to escape even faster. Failure to have the tank
pumped can also lead to a situation where the sludge and
scum overwhelm the baffles.
Can this process be reversed? Yes, in most cases, by using our Septic-33 you can cleanup the grease, oils, phosphates, sludge or scum accumulation and impaction. This formulation is not a mixture of a few enzymes and a couple bacteria strains but a specialized blend of 58 strains of bacteria to actually eliminate the problem, restore the dead field and not just delay and extend the problem.
More Septic-33 Information to Restore and Keep Leachfield Clean
3. High Water Table
During wet, or abnormally wet, seasons groundwater may
rise into the leach field and force sewage upward to the
ground surface. This condition may mean the system has
to be re-installed at a higher level. It may also be possible
to intercept the high groundwater with a series of drains
around the system called "curtain drains".
The roots of trees and bushes planted too close to the
system can sometimes enter and block the pipes of the
system. Removal of the plants and clearing the pipes of
the roots is usually required.
5. Physical Damage
Trucks or heavy equipment passing over the system can
damage pipes and joints to the point of rendering the
system inoperable. You should be aware of the location
of the system and direct traffic to avoid such damage.
You can expect a conventional septic system, such as
that being described here, to last about 30 years. Some
systems last much longer and some systems can fail earlier
for reasons like those noted above. Other things can also
affect the life of a septic system. For example, a system
may have been providing satisfactory service for a previous
owner for many years, only to fail shortly after you have
bought the house. If the previous owners were a working
couple with no children, the system was probably not heavily
used; if yours is a family of six, the added load could
push a marginal system over the edge and into failure.
Sewage backup into the home is one possible sign of a
failing system. However, backup can also be simply the
result of a blockage somewhere between the house and the
septic tank (this is relatively easy to fix). Another
possible sign of failure is a smell of sewage outside
the house. If this smell is more noticeable after a lot
of water has been put into the system - multiple showers
or several loads of laundry (if the laundry waste discharges
into the septic system), for example - this may be an
indication that the leach field is failing. The smell
may also be accompanied by a "spongy" feeling
in some areas of the leach field, near the distribution
box, or near the septic tank. The "spongy" feel
may be caused by water and waste being pushed to or near
ground level. If ponding water is also seen, this is called
"breakthrough" and is an almost positive indication
of failure of one or more parts of the system. This is an extremely dangerous health hazard with the possibilty of contact with raw sewage containing dangerous pathogens. This smell,
however, can also originate at the plumbing vent. In either
case, further investigation is warranted.
If you see such signs, a dye test may confirm your suspicions.
For this test, a special strong dye is put in the system
- usually by flushing it down the toilet. A significant
amount of water is then washed into the system. If there
is "breakthrough", the dye will become visible
on the ground surface. If the dye is seen on the surface,
this would be a very strong indication that the system
has failed. A licensed professional engineer, or a septic
system contractor can usually perform this test for you
if it is needed.
There are two major factors involved in adding a new
system or repairing or replacing an existing one. The
first is the cost; the second is the inconvenience of
possibly not being able to use the existing system while
a replacement is being installed. For new construction,
the second factor is not usually a major consideration.
Repair or replacement cost will obviously depend on what
has to be repaired and/or replaced. If the repair does
not involve the leach field, the cost may be high, but
it will probably not be exorbitant. The least expensive
repair will be associated with a broken pipe between the
distribution box and the house. The cost for this type
of repair is in the order of several hundred dollars.
If only a septic tank needs to be replaced - and the leach
field is still undamaged - the cost will be in the order
of about $1500 to $2500. If a new leach field is needed,
and there is room for such an installation, you should
plan on spending an additional $3000 to $4000 for a typical
home. If there is not sufficient room for a new leach
field, the existing field, including the clogged soil,
must be removed and a completely new system must be installed.
Such an effort can easily exceed $10,000.
Is there a better way? Yes. using NatureClean's Septic-33. By using our proven bacteria formulation we have shown that about 70% of systems can be restored within about 8 - 16 weeks.
More Septic-33 Information
Septic systems are designed to dispose of household biological
waste. The amount of waste to be handled depends on a
number of factors. Among these are the number of people
living in the house and their lifestyle. After many years
of experience, a major guideline in determining the size
and capability of a septic system has been correlated
to the number of bedrooms in a house. The number of bedrooms
typically determines the number of people generating waste
and hence the amount of waste that must be handled. If
your family is growing and a new bedroom is needed, then
the load on the septic system is also increased. If the
septic system capability does not keep up with the increased
demand, system failure may occur.
So, how do you determine the septic system needs for
your growing family? The following sections deal mainly
with sizing a septic system so that it can adequately
perform the desired function. Your design professional
can handle the actual testing and number-crunching - but
we have provided some standard guidelines to aid you.
You may not need all this information, but it could help
in making your decisions.
Septic tanks are sized according to the amount of liquid
waste they must process. This is done by counting the
number of bedrooms. In California the minimum size tank
that can be installed now is 1000 gallons for a 1, 2,
or 3 bedroom house. For each bedroom after 3, add 250
gallons to the size of the tank. If a garbage grinder
is in the kitchen sink, it counts as an additional bedroom.
Determining the required size of a leach field is a bit
more complicated. The first thing to consider is the nature
of the soil in which the leach field is to be constructed.
Because water has to be absorbed in the soil, we need
to know how fast it can be absorbed. This is called the
percolation rate and is expressed as the time it takes
for water in a test hole to decrease in level by one inch
(minutes/inch). We must also know the type of soil and
whether seasonal changes in the natural level of groundwater
will interfere with the satisfactory operation of the
system. Seasonal groundwater must be more than four feet
from the bottom of the leach field trenches. Judgments
regarding the soil conditions and percolation rates are
best left to a professional. If the soil percolates very
fast (less than one minute per inch) or very slow (greater
than 60 minutes per inch) it will not be possible to install
a standard leach field in the existing soil.
We must now determine the amount of water that has to
be absorbed each day. As with the septic tank sizing,
there are also "rules of thumb" that can be
used to find out how much water must be absorbed each
day for each bedroom in the house (expressed as gallons
per day per bedroom). For older houses (built before 1979)
we must allow 150 gallons per day (gpd) per bedroom. For
houses where the toilets are limited to no more than 3.5
gallons per flush and the faucets and showerheads are
limited to 3 gallons per minute or less, we must allow
130 gpd per bedroom. For houses with water-saving toilets
that use only one gallon per flush we allow 90 gpd per
bedroom. The required flow rate is found by multiplying
the appropriate flow by the number of bedrooms (in this
case, we do not have to count a garbage disposal as a
Knowing the rate at which water can be absorbed by the
soil (the percolation rate) and the flow rate (in gallons
per day), we can use the following table to calculate
how many square feet of absorption field is needed.
Percolation Application Rates
minutes per inch Gallons per Day per Square Foot
1 - 5 1.2
6 - 7 1.0
8 - 10 0.9
11 - 15 0.8
16 - 20 0.7
21 - 30 0.6
31 - 45 0.5
46 - 60 0.45
Soil with a percolation rate less than 1 minute per inch
or more than 60 minutes per inch is unsuitable for a conventional
Required Area (square feet) = Flow Rate (gallons per
day) / Application Rate (gallons per day per square foot)
Now that we know the number of square feet of absorption
field that is needed, we can divide by the width of each
trench to see how many feet of trench is required. The
normal trench width is two feet.
Let's do a sample calculation to see how this works.
Assume you are buying a 3-bedroom house that was built
in 1971. The leach field has failed and a new one must
be installed. You have had a percolation test performed
and the design professional has determined that the soil
is suitable, the groundwater conditions are acceptable,
and the percolation rate is 32 minutes per inch. How big
an absorption field will be needed?
Since the house was built before 1979, the flow rate
is 3 bedrooms times 150 gallons per day per bedroom, or
450 gallons per day. From the table above, the application
rate is 0.5 gallons per day per square foot for a percolation
rate of 32 minutes per inch. The required trench area
is then 450 gallons per day divided by 0.5 gallons per
day per square foot. You will need 900 square feet of
absorption area. If the absorption trenches are 2 feet
wide, you will need a total of 450 feet of absorption
trench. Most health codes limit the length of any one
trench (called a lateral) to no more than 60 feet, the
minimum number of laterals is 450 feet divided by 60 feet
per lateral, or 7.5 laterals. Where property conditions
permit, it is best to keep the laterals the same length,
so your design professional may specify 8 laterals, each
60 feet long. But what if there is only room on the property
for laterals that are 45 feet long. In this case, you
would need 10 laterals, or trenches. In addition to the
area needed for the leach field, you should also allow
room for possible expansion (50% expansion area is required
in some states).
Gray water is usually water from a laundry system, perhaps
the effluent from a sump pump, the foundation footing
drains, roof runoff, and sometimes shower drains. This
water usually does not contain human waste products and
does not need to be digested like human waste. The disposal
requirements for this type of water are less stringent
than those for human waste. If there is a space problem
on your site, it may be possible to segregate the gray
waste from the human waste and minimize the size of the
system needed for control of the human waste.
This is the future of onsite waste water treatment. Very efficient, environmentally friendly and allows re-use of the effluent without contamination of the surrounding eco system.
Aerobic treatment systems (Onsite Waste Treatment Systems) provide a competitively priced and environmentally safe method to treat household wastewater. They are intended for use in areas where sewers are not available and conventional septic tanks are not suitable due to soil or site constraints. NatureClean’s primary single home systems is a three-chamber Aerobic Treatment Unit (ATU). The NC-SM500 has met the NSF requirements for noise levels (less than 60 dbA at a distance of 20 feet) that successfully met the performance requirements established by NSF/ANSI Standard 40 Class I effluent. As well as the NSF threshold odor requirements.
After processing, the treated effluent is pumped into a network of shallow (6” to 10” deep) drip irrigation lines that are specially fabricated by GEOFLOW to prevent clogging, root intrusion and microbial growth. Because of both pressurization and shallow depth, drip lines can be installed in areas of shallow bedrock, rocky soils, around trees and in a variety of situations where a conventional septic drain field could not be constructed.
With regular septic systems , if ground water or percolation rates are
unsuitable, it may be possible to install what is called
a "mound" system. In a mound system, a suitable
soil is placed above the unsuitable soil. A conventional
system is then installed in the mound. There are some
additional requirements for this type of design.
If there is not enough room for a conventional leach
field, it may be possible to install one or more cesspools,
or seepage pits. These units are usually round, require
less open ground, and are deeper than a conventional leach
field. Again, there are specific requirements for these
Conventional, mound, and seepage pit systems all work
by what is called anerobic bacterial action. This means
the bacteria work without oxygen. Some systems are designed
to be aerobic - meaning the bacteria need oxygen (air);
There are also hybrid systems that use a combination of
anerobic and aerobic sections.
Should I Add Bacteria ?
One dictionary defines bacteria as: "typically one
cell organisms which have no chlorophyll, multiply by
cell division, and can be seen only with a microscope.
Although some bacteria cause diseases, others are necessary
for grease reduction, fermentation, hydrocarbon reduction,
etc." Bacteria are single-celled organisms that do not have well-defined organelles such as a nucleus. The cells are typically enclosed in a rigid cell wall and a plasma membrane. Bacteria contain all of the genetic material necessary to reproduce, and they reproduce by simple cellular division. Many companies want you to use Enzymes, however an enzyme is a protein that acts as a catalyst and does not reproduce. The enzyme is responsible for accelerating the rate of a reaction in which various substrates are converted to products through the formation of an enzyme-substrate complex. In general, each type of enzyme catalyzes only one type of reaction and will operate on only one type of substrate, extremely specific.
We say bacteria cultures are what our Creator gave us
to dispose of organic waste. The reason we are not knee
deep in dinosaurs is because when something dies, the
bacteria in the ground and in the corpse consumes it.
If you take an apple and throw it out on the lawn, in
a short time it will disintegrate. We are told the apple
rotted. That’s just another way to say the bacteria are
breaking it down so they can eat it.
The word biodegradable means bacteria can and will eat
something. Anything that is biodegradable is known as
organic. If bacteria cannot eat it, generally, it is inorganic.
Problems arise when there are just too many organics
for the bacteria on site to handle. These on site bacteria
are known as indigenous organisms. They can be overwhelmed
by heavy loadings of organics. That’s when Naturclean
Septic-33 is the answer. Working with the indigenous organisms,
they provide the right team in large enough numbers to
get the job done.
When placed in the sewer, Naturclean Septic-33 build
a biological slime on the pipe wall. The slime is the
same thing you get on the media of a trickling filter
in a sewer treatment plant. You can also compare it to
the slime you find on a stone picked up in a creek. The
bacteria will make the tank wall and pipes too slippery
for grease to get a hold. They eat the grease they come
in contact with.
What is Septic-33 ?
Naturclean Septic-33 contains adaptive microorganisms
and a broad spectrum of biochemical accelerators specifically
formulated for use in septic systems.
Naturclean Septic-33 is composed of aerobic and facultative
anaerobic microorganisms. These microorganisms have
been carefully selected from nature, and adapted for optimum
performance in septic systems. Naturclean Septic-33 is
more effective in degrading undesirable proteins, fats
and carbohydrates than naturally existing bacterial strains.
This means more consistent and more balanced treatment
performance with fewer systems upsets. The microbial
protoplasm produced is a biodegradable source of food
for higher life forms.
Naturclean Septic-33 contains a natural microbial
growth stimulant and coordination compound which increases
the rate of microbial growth and the ability of the microorganisms
to use nutrients. Naturclean Septic-33 organisms secrete
significantly higher enzyme concentrations than unstimulated
microorganisms resulting in improved waste digestion
The regular use of Naturclean Septic-33 establishes and
maintains a biomass which is resistant to the effects of organic inhibitors commonly found in wastewaters. Synthetic detergents and other surfactants are commonly found in septic tank wastewaters. These compounds
reduce oxygen transfer rates. Reductions in oxygen transfer
rate reduce the ultimate capacity of a system to handle
wastes. Naturclean Septic-33 is specifically formulated
to degrade synthetic detergents. Naturclean
Septic-33 thereby allows vital oxygen to be transferred
to the biomass at a more rapid rate. This increases the
wasteload handling capacity and system stability under
higher than normal shockload conditions.
Naturclean Septic-33's specific, adapted microorganisms
secrete lipase enzymes in significant quantities. Trapped
lipids are enzymatically hydrolyzed, liquefied and solubilized.
Solubilized solids are readily broken down and degraded
by the biomass. Mats or "cakes" are eliminated and grease deposits loosened and removed.
Grease and fats also tend to be surface active and thus
interfere with oxygen transfer. The use of Naturclean
Septic-33 in the presence of large quantities of grease
and fat, generally increases oxygen transfer efficiency
and thus tank efficiency.
Lots of Bacteria
Note that our plate count is extremely high—the highest
count we’ve ever seen- in fact we average over 4.5 billion
bacteria to the gram. This brings us to a competitive
situation you must be aware of. There are companies who
promise anything to get a sale. They tout their product
as the best. One of the things they use to confuse the
customer is plate count. They will claim to have enormous
numbers of bacteria in their product and sometimes they
do. However, not all plate count claims are valid. Unless
the count can be verified in a certified testing laboratory,
using accepted procedures, the claim should be discounted.
While plate counts are important, they are not what
determines the best product. Always remember that
we are not playing a quantity game; we are playing a QUALITY
game. If you could clean sewers solely with a vast number
of bacteria, no septic system would need you. If you take
a plate count of almost any septic system, you will find
it loaded with bacteria. The plate count may even be higher
than our formula. The septic tank has plenty of bacteria.
The septic system does not need more bacteria,
he needs a whole new cast of characters; one that will
handle the varied waste that is introduced to the system.
Different Strains - Why?
Many strains of bacteria will not eat sewer grease under
any circumstances. They simply die off. The only effective
formula is one that will eat sewer grease after all other
food is gone. This requires a carefully selected formula.
Naturclean Septic-33 includes bacteria strains that will
eat sewer grease. When the cultures are first developed
in the laboratory and later grown during production, they
are fed grease. Due to this process, the bacteria will
look for grease when they wake up in the collection system.
Carefully selected means exactly that. Not every bacterium
will consume sewer grease. As a matter of fact, there
is no such thing as bacteria that prefer to eat sewer
grease. Most bacteria would rather eat carbohydrates (sugars,
starches, and cellulose) first. Next they will choose
protein. After all that is gone, they will work on the
fats and greases starting with the ones that are easiest
to break down. Rest assured, sewer grease is on the bottom
of the list.
Meanwhile, sewage carries everything known to man, even
in a septic system At any given moment, you will find
many varieties of chemicals, soap, petroleum products,
cellulose, and numerous other compounds. In addition,
the pH of the water can swing back and forth without notice.
On top of this, the stream can change characteristics
without warning when someone dumps something down the
line. This is especially prevalent during holidays.
To the best of our knowledge, Septic-33 contains more
strains of specific bacteria than any other formula available.
It is necessary to have this formula because of the complexity
of sewage systems. Septic-33 contains 58 carefully selected
strains of bacteria. These include strains to eat grease,
oils, hydrocarbon and wax degradation, cellulose, proteins,
H2S, also for the
degradation of detergents and surfactants and the degradation
of phenolic and aromatic compounds.
In order to clean a sewer you must put the right cast
of characters on the scene at the right time. If a football
coach wants to win a game, it’s better if he picks the
team instead of taking the first eleven people who show
up on game day. Just as the coach needs people with different
skills to man his team, we need many strains of bacteria
to win the war with grease. On a football field, it’s
called teamwork. In a collection system, it’s called synergism
Synergism is simply a group of bacteria working together
to get the job done. For instance, a molecule of grease
may consist of several compounds. One strain of bacteria
cannot break it down. However, when the right team of
bacteria goes to work, each consuming a different substrate
(food), the compound is quickly consumed. order. QUALITY
separates Naturclean Septic-33 from everyone else. Used
as directed, Naturclean Septic-33 will work every time.
Application Dossage Page
We hope the preceding has helped you in understanding
what a private conventional sewage disposal system is
and what the maintenance and replacement costs might be.
Some of the material presented may be more technical than
you expected - but we hope it will be useful and informative.
Contact us for more info