The things that are most obvious are the things seen every day – the sinks, toilets, and pipes in a normal house. What are not visible are the things that are underground; the things that are underground, and the ground itself, greatly impact how a septic system works.
The individual parts of the system are the septic tank, a distribution box, and a leach field. Bacterial action takes place in the septic tank where the end products are mainly water, gases, and undigested material, called sludge that sinks to the bottom of the tank and scum that floats to the top of the tank. The septic tank contains baffles that prevent any scum that floats to the surface and sludge that settles to the bottom from passing out of the tank. The gases that are generated vent to the atmosphere via the plumbing vent system. From the septic tank, the segregated and relatively clear liquid flows into a small distribution box where it is then metered out to several perforated pipes. These perforated pipes then deliver the liquid to a large soil surface area, called a leach field, or absorption field, for absorption. The soil also acts as a filter to remove any small amounts of solids that may be carried along with the liquid. The sludge in the bottom of the tank must be periodically pumped out and properly disposed of.
There are other kinds of systems for special situations, but the septic tank and leach field is the most widely used system in our area. The following discussion concentrates on this type of system.