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What is a Septic System?

A septic system is a home’s waste disposal method, when the home is not connected to a municipal sewage system (sewers). The waste from sinks, dishwashers, washing machines, tubs and toilets is sent to the cesspool or septic tank. Depending on the age of your home, septic systems on Long Island usually consist of a primary receiver (septic tank) and an overflow cesspool, or a main cesspool and an overflow cesspool. A cesspool is self draining, and drains 98% through the bottom and 2% through the sides. When heavy waste compiles at the bottom, it prevents the system from draining. A septic tank, is exactly that a tank that does not drain, which is the reason for the necessary overflow cesspool. According to an environmental group, the Woodstock Conservation Commission, homeowners should have their septic system or cesspool cleaned every two years.

How Do Cesspools and Septic Systems Work?

All plumbing in the home is connected to one pipe called the main line which carries the waste water to your septic system. The septic tank holds the waste for primary treatment where solids and liquids are separated by gravity. The heavy solids (ex: hair from the shower, food particles in the sink, anything that gets flushed, lint from the washing machine...etc.) form a layer called “sludge” that accumulates at the bottom of the tank.

Why do Septic Systems Fail?

Solids and sludge should be pumped from the septic system every 2 years by a licensed septic contractor. This service frequency will prevent solid material overloading the septic tank (or main cesspool) and more importantly from entering and clogging the overflow cesspool. Homeowners who routinely maintain the cesspool / septic tank will avoid unseemly back ups either inside or outside of the home. The signs of a septic back up are odor, especially green grass in one particular area of the lawn, gurgling drains or drains that are draining slowly. A septic system will back up due to many factors, such as high water table, infrequent maintenance, number of persons living in the home and even excessive snow or rain can effect how absorbant the ground is, thus how quickly your system can drain its waste water into the ground.

It is important to understand how your system works in order to properly diagnose problems. Generally, systems fail due to lack of maintenance. When a septic tank or cesspool is not pumped regularly, it will become overloaded with solid waste. This solid waste can prevent proper flow through the tank and allow solid waste to enter the cesspool, or if you have a main cesspool and an overflow cesspool system, the goal is to prevent the waste from reaching the overflow cesspool. Solid waste entering the cesspool or overflow cesspool will clog the surrounding soil, preventing proper drainage. This will cause the system to overfill leading to the possibility of waste backing up into the household.