A Guide to Septic Systems 1024 1024 Matthew Cooney

A Guide to Septic Systems

One fourth of all homes in the U.S. have septic systems.  A properly designed septic system should provide long-term effective treatment of your household wastewater.  However, lack of regular maintenance can cause them to fail.  Repair to a septic system can be very costly.  When purchasing a home with a septic system it is extremely important to have a professional complete a thorough inspection of the septic system because repairs or replacement can cost many thousands of dollars.

Components of a Septic System:

Pipe from the home:  The household wastewater exits the house through a pipe known as a building sewer.  This pipe leads into the septic tank.

Septic tank: The septic tank is a watertight container that is buried beneath the ground.  Typically, the tank is made of concrete, fiberglass or polyethylene.  The tank is designed to hold the wastewater long enough that the solids can settle forming sludge on the bottom of the tank.  Oil and grease float to the top of the tank forming scum.  A tank is designed so that the sludge and scum stay in the tank but the wastewater flows out to a drain field (also called a leach field) or seepage pit depending on the system.

Drain field: Once the wastewater exits the tank, it is discharged into a leach field for further treatment by the soil.  Everytime new wastewater enters the tank, it is pushed out into the leach field.  If the leach field is overloaded with too much liquid, it will cause the sewage to flow to the ground surface causing backups in plumbing fixtures and preventing treatment of the wastewater.

Soil: Once the septic tank wastewater flows to the leach fields, it percolates to the soil.  The final treatment of the water occurs when microbes in the soil provide treatment by digesting or removing harmful bacteria before they reach the groundwater.  If your field doesn’t have suitable soil, there are alternatives systems which involve: sand, peat and other matter to treat the wastewater.

Locating your tank and field:

When purchasing a home, the seller should provide the buyer with a drawing that shows the location of the septic system.  If they don’t have them, you can ask your local health department for the drawings.  Unfortunately, if the house is old and depending on the record keeping of the town, the local health department may not have the drawings.  If that is the case, it is best to hire a professional to locate the system.


It is important to maintain your septic system so that it doesn’t fail.  Good maintenance includes:

1) Pump and inspect the tank every couple of years.  The tank will either have a riser or some kind of clean-out pipe providing access.

2) Do not dispose non-biodegradable items or hazardous materials into the system.  This includes: latex paint, pesticides, other hazardous materials as well coffee grounds, paper towels and personal hygiene products.

3) Use water efficiently

4) Take care with the leach field.  Don’t park your car over the area where the system is located.  It is important to be careful not to plant trees or other heavy vegetation as roots may damage the system.

For more information, or if you need a referral for a knowledgeable Realtor© in your area, contact:

Matthew Cooney
Sales Associate
Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage
211 South Street
Morristown, NJ 07960


(C) 973-832-5932
(O) 973-267-8990 x153
(F) 862-345-3273