Septic Tanks: What You Need to Know

Septic tank diagram illustration

Image courtesy of

Although they are simple in design, septic systems are incredibly efficient and are more economical than centralized sewer systems in rural areas with large lot sizes. Many properties in Vista have these systems, especially areas such as the Warmlands. They are self-contained and dispose of household wastewater, which makes them less expensive to install and also to maintain. Here are some important things to know about septic tanks and systems:

What is a Septic System?

Consisting of two parts, a septic system has a septic tank and a drainfield. The septic tank itself is made of concrete or fiberglass and is a watertight box. The wastewater from the home flows to the septic tank through the sewer pipe and is treated naturally. Septic systems do not use outside sewer lines to carry wastewater so they are much less disruptive to the environment. The tank separates the waste into three layers inside it: grease and oils at the top, partially clarified wastewater in the middle and heavier solids and the bottom. The bacteria found in wastewater works to break down the solids, while the stuff that cannot be broken down stays in the tank until it is pumped. The clarified liquid flows into the drainfield and disperses out into the soil and gravel, which are natural biological filters.

Schematic of a septic tank

Image courtesy or Wikipedia

Maintaining Your Septic System

Maintenance is the key to a healthy septic system. With very minimal preventative maintenance, you can save a ton of money by not having to replace the whole system. Typically, a new septic system can run from $3,000 – $10,000, compared to $100 – $300 a year to have the system routinely maintained annually. It is important to call a professional plumbing company to come check for cracked pipes, inspect the whole system and determine if the tank needs to be pumped. The last thing you want is your tank overflowing into your yard! There are three important factors to keep in mind to determine how often your pump should be emptied:

  1. The number of people residing in your house
  2. The number of people in your home plus the amount of water use will determine the amount of wastewater that is generated
  3. How much solid matter you put down your pipes that ends up in the wastewater

Protecting Your Septic System

To protect and prolong your septic system, here are a few things you should avoid doing:

  • Avoid planting trees or shrubs in the absorption area. Roots can grow into the lines and plug them up
  • Do not drive cars, trucks or any heavy equipment over the absorption field
  • Make sure any runoff water from patios, driveways and roofs does not drain into the absorption field. Instead, divert the surface runoff water to somewhere else.
  • Avoid covering the absorption field of your septic tank with materials such as concrete or asphalt. Instead, use grass to cover it, as it will absorb water and prevent erosion.

Watch What You Flush!

Certain items should never be flushed down drains and toilets if you have a septic system. These items can destroy the system and clog the pipes and pumps. Below is a list of things not to flush:

In the kitchen:

  • Food scraps
  • Coffee grinds
  • Other food items
  • Grease and cooking oils
  • Paper towels
  • Cigarette butts
  • Chemicals such as thinners, varnishes and paints

In the bathroom:

  • Sanitary napkins
  • Tampons
  • Tissues
  • Condoms
  • Clumps of hair
  • Dental floss
  • Kitty litter

North County Plumbing is located in Vista, California and has been in the service business since 1970 providing quality plumbing services including leak detection and drain service in northern San Diego County. Our qualified technicians are available 24 hours a day to help with emergency plumbing repair services… with no overtime charges!

If you found this blog helpful, you may want to check out our post “Drain Cleaning and Repair

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