I have installed many septic systems in my career as a new home builder. There are many different styles, but they all operate the same way. In order to understand what causes a septic system to fail, you must understand how it works. See my article on how to build a septic system here.
The Septic System
A septic system is a self-contained eco-system. When installed properly, it requires little maintenance. Septic systems, like the world’s eco-system, become troubled when the wrong things are put into them. You’ve read and heard about the world “going Green” and trying to cleanup the dumping grounds. Your septic system will also be in peril if you put the wrong things into it.
The Septic Tank
A septic tank processes waste materials. The process inside the tank is called percolating, where all material is turned into a liquid state. The liquid, then, flows out of the tank, through a filter, and into a leach field. There, it is absorbed into the ground.
How to Recognize a Problem In Your Septic System
A failing septic system can be spotted several ways. Problems can be recognized by a sewage odor in the area of the underground tank, a wet spot on a normally dry ground, or drains inside the house backing up.
Causes of Septic System Failure
The septic system fails when waste material, that does not perk properly, clogs the flow. Powdered detergents and cooking oils (fats) are good examples. When they mix together, they cause a build-up on the walls of the septic tank. The area inside the tank gets smaller and eventually, the system ceases to function.
Liquid Detergents in Your Septic System
Liquid detergents break down oils and fats that float on the top of the tank liquids. Oils and fats from dish washing are minimal as long as the solid garbage is scraped from the dishes before washing. Automatic garbage disposals are not recommended when using a septic system, due to excessive fats being introduced into the system.
Yeast and Chemicals in Your Septic System
Some people will tell you that injecting yeast into the system will help it to percolate. This is not necessarily true. Yeast may expand the materials inside the tank and cause it to clog. There are many chemicals on the market that manufacturers claim will help your septic system. Once you start using the chemicals, you must continue their use.
Repairing a System
If a problem occurs in your septic system, you must call a professional to pump and clean the tank. A clean tank and new filter will normally correct the problem.
A properly installed septic system should operate, on it’s own, for several years without any internal maintenance. All maintenance is performed, from the outside, by watching what materials are put into the system. Heavy rains can flood a leach bed and cause the tank to overflow. Once the flood subsides, a well maintained system will drain on it’s own and continue to function.
Sources: Personal experience