Question: What is the difference between Lloyd Blankfein and Aunt Toby?
Answer: Aunt Toby has a septic system to make sure that her shit doesn’t hurt anyone else. Blankfein, on the other hand, couldn’t care less.

Rim shot.

Septic systems (in the Miller Analogies format) are to homes not reachable by muni sewer what sewage treatment plants are to municipalities. That’s right – when you live in the country, you have a legal obligation to treat and dispose of the ‘faire pee-pee” and ‘faire ca-ca” in a manner so that people who are next to or down-slope from you are not harmed. That is, their water supplies are not contaminated and their noses are not offended.

And you thought living in the country was cheap.

On a ‘boil it down to the basics’ standpoint, a septic system (or household sewage treatment system, if you prefer) consists of:
1) A way to get the stuff from your home (which is known in the trade as ‘black water’ out of the house. That’s usually a black iron pipe that leaves the house, pitched at a downward slope (and no, I don’t know how many degrees; just take my word for it – it goes DOWN).

2) A holding tank of one or more chambers installed under the surface of the ground that allows, mmm, the solids to follow gravity and decompose under the action of anaerobic bacteria. The liquids at the top are discharged out to another treatment system, either through gravity fed pipes (the so called ‘tile field’) or using other treatment systems (oxygenation treatments, sand filters with a pump station and so on).

3) Ultimate filtration system where the liquid effluent is allowed to pass through either soil or a combination of sand, soil, gravel etc. , through a series of pipes.

(there are going to be people who will say, “Aunt Toby, in my area there are people who use ‘septic ponds’ or ‘lagoons’. That’s true and in large agricultural operations, that is a fairly common, though noxious, manner of dealing with the problem. In my area, these are now illegal due to safety reasons)

Things I have learned about septic systems through bitter, bitter experience:
1) If you have a home built before about 1960 and the septic system has not been replaced, you undoubtedly have a steel tank, which will be full of holes and leaking untreated materials all over the place, which is why the grass is soooo green over your tank and tile field and the ditch in front of your house stinks. The standard now is a concrete tank with a multi-chambered insert.

2) If you have a sand filter and pump station system, you can absolutely count on the pump and the alarm on the pump to go toes up once every 5-10 years. Make sure when the pump and alarm are put into your system that they get a licensed electrician to put it in. Also, no matter how long they tell you a sand filter lasts – it will undoubtedly seize up and stop working properly 1-2 years before the deadline.

3) Make friends with your county health department. It does not pay to try to bluster, threaten or have some sort of ‘we don’t need no stinkin’ badges’ confrontation with the sanitary engineers. They have the law on their side and you have a moral as well as legal obligation not to be a public health hazard.

4) If you need to dig a new well on your property, you are going to need to be at least 50 feet away from the tile field and hopefully uphill from that facility as well. Beware of buying property in the country where there are older homes which are now selling off small chunks of property for suburban homes. You might find that you have someone else’s well in your front yard and no place to put YOUR well or septic. We have two areas in our county that had this problem and the county had to build muni water and sewer out to both them because EVERYONE’S well was contaminated.

5) Don’t put anything down a toilet or sink that will kill bacteria. I realize that the little buggers in the septic tank are ‘out of sight/out of mind’ but believe me, they do NOT appreciate being plied with chlorine bleach, chlorinated cleansers, drain cleaner, or oven cleaner. Trust me on this one.

6) You will have to clean out the septic tank on a regular basis. Again, trust me on this one. What’s supposed to go out those pipes to the tile field or the sand filter is liquid. Just liquid. If you don’t call the removal guys to empty out the tank on a regular basis – the recommended period is every three years – the solids will be high enough in the tank to start going out the pipes, which will block up the pipes and cause the tile field or sand filter to fail. Just because you haven’t gotten an angry call from your neighbor does not mean your septic system is running properly. Think of it like changing the filters on your furnace – put a tickler note on the fridge for the next time you will need it and then put it on the calendar when that year comes around. It’s worth it.
(photo courtesy of pigdump)



Snarky housewife from Upstate New York. Into gardening, fiber arts, smallholder farming.