How many people owning a septic tank know that it has a service life that can be extended indefinitely? How many of these people know how their septic tank is designed to function?

It is amazing how many septic system owners do not understand how their septic tank and septic system functions. Yet, census data documents between 20 to 30 million homes in the United States that use septic systems.

Until problems arise, most people do not think about their septic tank. From one point of view, this is not a surprising finding; septic tanks can challenge the senses, especially when people encounter the wall of rotten egg like smell and graphic visuals when looking into a septic tank. It definitely is not a recreational activity and most people, understandably, prefer to engage in other activities.

On the other hand, the septic tank and septic system are expensive. Depending on the system, the installation costs are (go here for an explanation of the system types):

  • Septic tank and gravity fed drainfields of all types: $5,000 to $10,000, or an average of $7,500.
  • Septic tank and mound: $10,000 to $50,000, or an average of $30,000.
  • ATU’s: $10,000 to $15,000, or an average of $12,500.

These costs put the system near the top of the list for most expensive home asset. From this point of view, some research and education would be prudent by the homeowner. First, the homeowner has to implement septic system best practices. Second, understanding how the septic tank functions is a must.

Briefly, the septic tank serves as:

  • A holding or settling tank for organic material in the wastewater
  • An environment for bacteria to breakdown organic material

Layers or zones within a septic tank

There are two main types of bacteria available to break down the waste: aerobic and anaerobic. By far, the most common bacteria found in septic systems are anaerobic.

The long term consequences of anaerobic bacteria functioning in the septic tank are well documented on this website. In short, anaerobic bacteria can prematurely age a septic tank and cause the system to fail.

The septic service community, made up of government regulators, septic pumpers and contractors, will almost always recommend or demand a costly system replacement.

This, however, is completely unnecessary! If a septic tank’s bacterial environment is carefully converted into an aerobic environment, the system failure can be reversed. The life of the system, including the septic tank, can be extended indefinitely for a fraction of the cost of system replacement.