Inside of a ditch about one foot and two feet across deep runs PVC piping that connects to a septic tank, which is also below ground. A person is stepping over the ditch.

What You Should Know About Your Rural Wisconsin House’s Septic Tank

What You Should Know About Your Rural Wisconsin House's Septic Tank 

If you grew up in a city, your home was probably serviced by the municipal sewage department. But in smaller rural communities, septic tanks are often the norm. In fact, it’s estimated that one in five homes in the United States run on septic tanks. 

There’s a good chance that your house is serviced by a septic tank. The more you know about this critically important component of your home, the better. So, let’s learn the basics.

How a Septic Tank Works

Ultimately, bacteria are what makes a septic system work. The tanks are typically made of concrete, steel, or fiberglass and are buried under ground somewhere on your property. “Blackwater” from toilets and “greywater” from sinks and showers flow into the tank. Solids sink to the bottom and liquids drain into underground pipes. Bacteria in the tank break down the solids to form a sludge composed of inorganic solids, which must be periodically removed. A layer of scum (mostly fats and greases) floats to the top. Meanwhile, water slowly drains from the pipes, where it is filtered by the soil.

Benefits of Septic Tanks

You can forgive a city slicker for being a skeptic of the septic, so to speak. After all, this is a system that processes our bodily waste, and a lot of other gross things. But a properly functioning septic system offers homeowners many benefits. Here are some of them:

  • Septic systems are cost-efficient because residents often don’t have to pay for sewage costs in their utility bills. 
  • They are self-maintaining and with proper care can last for decades, and in the case of concrete septic tanks, 40 years!
  • Septic systems are safe. For example, in the unlikely event you have a blockage that causes waste to back up into your home, at least you know exactly where that waste came from. This is totally different from when a municipal system backs up, because it brings in pathogens from the entire city into your home. 
  • They are environmentally friendly. In the case of a leak, the only affected areas would be your property. What’s more, septic tanks promote environmentally conscious behavior because people who use them tend to conserve water and are more careful about what chemicals they pour into their drains. 

Disadvantages of Septic Systems

The primary disadvantage of a septic system is that maintenance and repairs are the responsibility of the homeowner. Furthermore, the capacity of septic systems is limited compared to the higher capacity of the average municipal sewage system. Here are some other things to take into consideration:

  • Septic tanks must be pumped every three to five years to prevent backups. This can cost between $265 to $320. Moreover, a septic system doesn’t have the same capacity of a municipal sewage system and can overload, leading to failure. Cleanup can be difficult and costly. 
  • If your home’s water fixtures are inefficient, it can burden your septic system. For homes built 30 years ago or more, toilets tend to be highly inefficient, and old appliances, like washing machines, can also tax your septic system. Bad faucets also create excess water flow. 
  • Septic systems require a drain field on the property. Homeowners must be familiar with their septic drain field and how it’s designed so as not to obstruct and damage the system. Vehicles should never be parked above the drain field, nor should trees ever be planted above or beside the area of soil that covers the drain field. 
  • One of the worst things that can happen to a septic system is ruptured drain pipes that carry gray and black water out of your home. The soil under the lawn of your property could become saturated and smell bad, or even become moist above ground and totally compromised. 
  • Back ups can be a big problem requiring more than a little drain cleaner to fix. You will probably have to have a plumber inspect the system to identify and fix the problem. 

Know Your Septic System

When people find the house of their dreams, whether there is a septic system on its property is usually not a deal breaker. And again, there is nothing inherently bad about a septic system—they have many benefits. Thus, the best thing to do is know as much about your septic system as you can and follow best maintenance practices. 

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