An Easy Guide To Understanding How Septic Systems Work

Septic systems are an important part of our homes and communities, but often go unnoticed. Many people don’t understand how they work or the importance of keeping them maintained.

This article is an easy guide to understanding septic systems- what they are, how they work, and the basics of maintaining them.

Septic vs. Sewer Systems

The main difference between septic systems and sewer systems is how they treat waste. Sewer systems carry waste to wastewater plants where it undergoes treatment before being released into waterways.

Septic systems are often much smaller- they have tanks that hold the sewage until bacteria decompose the material, which happens in about a day.

The septic systems are located underground next to houses. They are also an excellent option for an off-grid site like a cabin or church because they produce no wastewater.

If you live in an off-grid house, then that means you’re disconnected from city power lines, and water pipes, and the septic system becomes one of the only necessities to maintain this type of household.

How do Septic Systems Work?

The first step to understanding how septic systems work is knowing where they are installed and what components make up the system. The tank and distribution box sit underground next to your home or as part of an off-grid package. Waste gets trapped in the tank where bacteria decomposes it into liquid, essentially effluent.

The next step in the process is to get rid of the effluent. It typically enters into a distribution box, which looks like a big plastic container with holes in it. The holes let water flow out but keep soil and other material in so it can safely sink away from the area.

Finally, an outlet pipe carries the water down below where it can drain into a seepage field, also known as a leach field or disposal field. It is essentially a large bed that has been partially filled with gravel and decomposed granite to create perforated openings that allow treated effluent to pass through freely. The treated water can soak into the soil to be used by plants or the surrounding environment.

Related Reading: What is a Leach Field, and How Does It Work?

Septic System Setup

The effluent that carries human waste to the septic tank is one of the most dangerous things in your home because it contains harmful bacteria. To prevent anything from spilling out into your yard and harming you and your family, a holding tank needs to be installed before the line runs to the leaching area.

This prevents anything from leaving the tank and allows you to properly break up solids before they reach the leaching area.

If you need a septic system, whether it’s for your home or your business, several things need to be considered beforehand. You should always hire an expert if you don’t have experience with septic systems.

Some of the things to consider include:

What material your leaching area is made out of

Gravel and decomposed granite are both good options, as long as they match what’s already in your yard. Other materials can be used but may require more maintenance or reduce how well it absorbs wastewater.

If you have enough room in your yard to put a leaching area

This depends on the size of the septic tank and how much wastewater it needs to treat, but you should plan before making any purchase decisions.

What kind of soil do you have on your ground

In some cases, where there isn’t enough loose soil around, engineers will have to dig up the area and put in a solid base made of decomposed granite or concrete.

If you want one or two chambers in your holding tank

One chamber is smaller but easier to maintain while having two chambers allows for more wastewater at once without overloading the system. It can also help with freezing in colder areas.

Common Malfunctions

Several malfunctions can occur with these systems, including:

Tank Overflows

The tank may be overfilled because it is not designed to handle large amounts of waste. Or it could have been filled too quickly and the bacteria haven’t had time to decompose everything.

Restricted Outlets

Septic systems may have restricted outlets when the soil in the leaching area is too rock-heavy. This can be resolved by adding gravel to increase percolation.


The tank may be sluggish if it doesn’t circulate or aerate efficiently, in which case you need to call a professional for repairs.

Drainfield Failure

If the gravel becomes clogged with soil or debris, it can cause several issues including backups and drain field failure. A professional should be brought in as soon as possible to undo these issues.

Septic System Maintenance

Every system needs proper maintenance to stay functional. The best way to ensure your septic system is working correctly is to have it regularly inspected and repaired when necessary.

These malfunctions are rare if the system is maintained properly, but they can occur once in a while. By keeping an eye on things, you can avoid any serious issues that could be difficult or expensive to fix.

The most important thing is to make sure your tank isn’t overflowing and your outlets aren’t blocked or restricted. You can prevent these problems from occurring by giving your tank a regular flush-out with water. This keeps solids from building up.

It’s also important to have your tank pumped every five years to ensure proper circulation and avoid any blockages that can lead to malfunctions. You should also have a professional inspect your septic system regularly to catch issues before they become too severe.

Benefits of the Septic System

The septic system provides some benefits, having in mind that they’re:

Environmentally Safe

Septic systems provide an environmentally safe way to dispose of waste. Plants and other surrounding ecosystems can take up the effluent, acting as an alternative to wastewater plants.


The average septic system costs up to $10000 to install while a sewage system would be about $24,500-$34,500 or more depending on the home. With the right maintenance, a septic system will last for decades with no lasting effects on the environment.


The system is simple to use and doesn’t require any outside power source to get rid of wastewater. In fact, it can be used in off-the-grid locations like a cabin or a church.

Sewage trucks

Septic systems are a vital and often overlooked part of our everyday lives. They provide an environmentally safe and economical way to dispose of waste that would otherwise go into the sewage system or be left untreated. By following these easy maintenance tips, you can help your septic system stay in good health without any major issues for years to come!

When you need a plumbing company that’s reliable, friendly and has your home’s wellbeing at the top of their list, be sure to turn to the team at Phyxter Plumbing Services.

Russell Jones

Russell, a native Australian and VP of Operations at Phyxter Home Services, is also part-owner of Vernon Air Conditioning, Plumbing, and Electrical Services. When he's not busy with work projects and renovations, Russell enjoys putting his vast knowledge of home improvement to good use by sharing his tips and tricks.

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Phyxter (pronounced Fix-ter) is a national home services brand specializing in Residential HVAC, Electrical and Plumbing solutions.

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