How Your Septic System Works

Septic Processing Facility Stuart

A majority of residents of Martin and St. Lucie Counties on the Treasure Coast of Florida have septic tank systems with drain fields. If you don’t understand how your septic system works, you’re not alone. Since we are experts in this specialized area for over 50 years, let’s try to help you understand how things work a bit better.

What is a septic tank? What is a drain field?

Your septic tank is a large, watertight container buried near what is called a drain field on your property. The drainfield is a core component of a septic system along with the tank and piping. It is a wastewater disposal structure in the open area behind or to the side of your home that’s designed to eliminate impurities and contaminants from the water that comes out of a septic tank after anaerobic digestion has taken place. All wastewater from your home flows into the septic tank which flows out to your drain field.

How Does it Work?

Live bacteria in your septic tank break down heavy solids that have settled to the bottom of your tank turning them into gas and sludge. The grease and other lighter solids float to the surface forming what is known as a “scum” layer. This process usually lasts for 24-48 hours and once complete, the decomposed materials known as “effluent” flow into your drain field where it gets purified. Perforated pipes allow the effluent to drain through gravel then into the soil providing for the final treatment and purification.

Septic drainfield and tank

When Should You Have Your Tank Pumped?

Materials left in your septic tank that have not been decomposed remain there until they are pumped out. Most homes in the Stuart and Port St. Lucie area produce up to 300 gallons of wastewater every day. This means that your septic tank should be pumped out every 3-5 years. If not there is a significant risk of having your drain field overflow with polluted solids causing extensive and costly property damage.

You should periodically check your septic tank to determine the levels of the “scum” and “sludge” left in the tank to determine when it’s time to have it pumped.

If the scum layer is within 3” of the bottom of your outlet pipe you should pump your tank. Simply attach a small block to a pole that is 5’-6’ in length. Plunge the block through the scum layer and gently pull up until you feel resistance from the bottom of the scum layer. Mark the pole where it is level with the ground. Next, pull the pole up until you feel resistance from the bottom of the outlet pipe and once again mark the pole where it is level with the ground. If both marks are less than 3” apart it is time to pump your septic tank.

If the sludge layer is within 12” of the bottom of our outlet pipe you should pump your tank. This can be done by wrapping a rag around the bottom 3’ of the same 5’- 6’ pole you used to check the scum layer. Push the pole to the bottom of the tank and spin it a little. Check the distance of the top of the sludge layer on the rag and the mark you made previously of the bottom of the outlet pipe. If the distance is less than 12” you should have your tank pumped.

When to Call Cooke’s for Septic Assistance

Give Cooke’s a call if any of the following occur:

  • After you have checked your tank and determined it is time to have it pumped.
  • Your septic tank backs up.
  • Your in-house plumbing backs up.
  • The fixtures in your home start to drain noticeably slower than normal.
  • The area of your drain field has wet spots or excessive growth of vegetation, has a noticeable odor, or sewage surfaces ( comes up out of the ground )

Cookes Septic Pump TruckHow To Extend The Life Of Your Septic System ( And Save Money )

You should check inspect your septic system once a year to prevent solids from entering your drain field. It is also best to set up a routine septic filter maintenance schedule to have your system pumped instead of waiting until a problem occurs. By reducing daily water use, you will extend the life of your drain field and put less strain on your septic system.

Never allow the following items to enter your septic tank:

  • Egg shells
  • Coffee grounds
  • Disposable diapers
  • Cigarette filters
  • Cooking grease
  • Tampons
  • Condoms

It is also recommended that you never park your car or anything equally heavy over your drain field, doing so could cause damage to the pipes below.

If you still don’t understand how your septic system works, you’re not alone. You are also not alone because you have help only a call away. If you need assistance on your system from installation to pump outs and maintenance – Quick…Call Cooke’s! At (772) 287-0651 ( Stuart ), (772) 878-7444 Port St. Lucie, or (772 465-8300 ( Vero Beach / Ft Pierce. )

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