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How Is A Septic Tank Different From A Sewer?

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Living with a septic tank is not quite like living with a sewer. For homeowners who have always had a sewer and now live on a property with a septic tank, there may be an adjustment period. Knowing the differences between your septic tank and a sewer and what must be done to maintain the septic tank can help you take care of your property.

How is a septic tank different from a sewer?

A sewer is a series of tunnels that carries waste water away from buildings and homes. Often sewers deliver waste water to a facility, where it undergoes treatment.

A septic tank is a tank buried on a property. Waste water from the property is delivered straight into the septic tank. Once in the septic tank, the water separates into three layers: sludge at the bottom, water in the middle, and scum at the top. The sludge is generally comprised of human waste and solid particles that sink in water. The scum at the top is a layer of fat and grease, which floats on the surface of the water.

The waste water stays in the septic tank for a while, until the septic tank fills with enough water that it can wash into the drain field. Once in the drain field, the water is filtered through the soil. Bacteria from the septic tank is cleaned during this filtering process, thus keeping ground water in the area safe.

What's the difference between maintaining a sewer and maintaining a septic tank?

Sewers require occasional cleaning when they become clogged, either by tree roots or solid waste from the house. However, unless the sewer is very old or in disrepair, this kind of maintenance is rare.

Septic tanks, on the other hand, must be pumped on a regular basis. Septic pumping is the process of removing the sludge from the bottom of the tank. If the septic tank doesn't get pumped, the solid waste at the bottom of the tank may enter the drain field, causing a clog. This clog may cause the septic tank to over fill, resulting in a backup.

How often should a septic tank be pumped?

Septic pumping is generally necessary every two or three years, depending on the size of the household, the amount of waste water the household produces and the size of the tank. If you're a new homeowner and aren't sure how often you should have your septic tank pumped, talk to a septic pumping professional (like Elliott's Septic Service). He or she can talk assess your needs and recommend a cleaning schedule that's right for you.


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