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Septic Systems

Most homes in rural areas are serviced by a septic system rather than a sewer system.  Septic systems are small onsite waste water treatment systems.  They have a lifespan of approximately 30 years if they are properly maintained and cared for.  They do not require much in the way of maintenance.   In the next few paragraphs we will cover the fundamentals of septic systems and what we recommend you should and should not do.

 Septic Tanks

  The septic tanks can range in size from 750 gallons to 1500 gallons or larger based on the size of the home.  Most modern septic tanks are concrete.  Plastic is used in some harder to install locations because of its lighter weight and ease of installation.  Every "septic" tank has at least 2 compartments.  Some older models had 3 compartments.  NEVER ONLY ONE.  The 2 compartments are sometimes referred to as sides of the tank.  The liquid side and the solid side.  All of the drains in the house including the sinks, showers, toilets and laundry enter the septic tank.  They enter on the inlet side or solids side of the tank.  There is a baffle or center wall inside the tank that separate these two sides.  This baffle wall has a hole in the middle to allow the liquid effluent to flow across to the outlet side or liquid side of the tank.  From here the liquid effluent exits the tank and goes to the leach field or leaching area.  Septic tanks maintain an operating level about 6-8" from the top of the tank.  When waste enters the tank, some will float and form what is called a scum mat.  Paper products and lighter substances remain here until the bacteria have a chance to digest them.  The liquid effluent remains in the center portion the the tank. The material that the bacteria digest then sinks to the bottom of the tank and forms the sludge layer at the bottom of the tank.  The idea is to pump out the solids before they reach the point that they can be carried out to the leaching area with the effluent.  Unless you have a very large family or abnormal water usage, pumping every 3 years will be adequate.  

    What happens to that toy car your son flushed down the toilet?

 Everything that goes down any drain in the house ends up in the septic tank.  That is why it is so important to make sure you only flush things down the toilet that can be digested by the bacteria.  That car will end up at the bottom of the tank until the pumping service comes to empty the tank.  It won't be digested or go away, it will just sit there taking up space.  

What products should not be flushed down the toilet?

    As a general rule, Soaps, household cleaning products and toilet paper are all okay to flush down the toilet when used in moderation.  Baby wipes, paper towels, toys, feminine products, contraceptives, strong chemicals such as paint thinner, acids and  drain cleaners can clog or damage the drains and cause your system not to function properly of fail. The picture on the left shows a large white blob.  This is actually powdered laundry soap that has built up and hardened.  

Chemical / Bacteria Additives

  There are a wide variety of chemical additives and bacterial / enzyme products on the market today.  There are a lot of promises made including the most common that you will never have to pump your tank again.  This is simply not true.  

    You need to be very cautious when choosing additives for your system. The old adage "You get what you pay for" is very true when talking about chemicals for your septic system.  The products that are sold to you over the phone or available commercially at the home centers in my opinion should not be trusted.  Through our pumping business, we have seen first hand the damage they can cause to systems. They make a lot of promises but won't stand behind them or prove that they work at all.  

     Center Septic carries  a line of bacterial additives from "Pro-Pump"  These are available online here in our web-store or locally in our office.  Pro-Pump is not sold in stores or home centers. It is only distributed through qualified septic professionals.  Pro-Pump is also the only product we will carry.  We have seen through our own experience that tanks that are treated and maintained with Pro-Pump Products function better, last longer and are easier to pump out which brings to mind another old adage "Seeing is believing"    

     In instances where your tank is growing older (5 yrs or more) or you are greatly depleting the bacteria levels in your tank you should consider adding bacteria to your system.  Consulting your septic technician can determine your need to start an additive program and which program will best suit the needs of your system.  

    Some of the instances where adding bacteria would be indicated are as follows:

            1.    If you use prescription medications or vitamins on a regular basis.  

            2.    If you have a large family or more than 4 adults living in the home.

            3.    If you use excess acids, antiseptics, bleach, caustic drain openers,      

                   cleaning compounds, chlorine materials, disinfectants, lotions,

                    medical residue, polishes, sink and tub cleaners, toilet cleaners. 

            4.    Strong or offensive odors 

    Aging systems that have slowed will also benefit from the right additive program,   Pro-Pump is 100% safe to use, it is both non toxic and safe for the environment.  Pro-Pump offers  a variety of products specifically designed to treat septic system field absorption, septic odor and Grease Trap problems.  Pro-Pump is a facultative bacteria designed to function in aerobic and anaerobic environments.  For more product specific information please go to or place your order through us and have Pro-Pump delivered to your door to see for yourself. Pro-Pump Products

Adding bacteria to your septic system and starting a maintenance program with additives which are designed to enhance system performance such as Pro-Pump, does not eliminate the need for pumping your tank every 3 years as recommended, nor will it fully restore a "Failed" system. Pumping your tank in conjunction with Pro-Pump gives your system the best chance at the longest possible lifespan.

Leach Fields/Areas

There are many combinations and configurations with regards to leach fields and seepage pits.  This section will only cover the standard pipe and gravel leach field.  It is the most common in our area.

The most common leach field consists of a series of trenches containing perforated pipe surrounded by septic rock and covered with straw or mesh and dirt.  The purpose of these trenches is to allow the effluent leaving the tank, a place to go.  The effluent entering the leach field  is partially absorbed into the soil and partially evaporated.  This leaching area should not be driven on or covered with a solid object such as a driveway or patio.  You also have to maintain certain setbacks from pools, streams, water lines etc.  All of this including the septic tank has to be county approved and permitted before it can be installed on the property.  The most common is the gravity feed system.  There are also versions of the leach field that involve pump systems and modified trenches based on the property and restrictions.  


By access we mean the effort involved in getting to and removing the tank lids.  Some homes have the tanks located in a open area in the back of the house, others are located right outside the front door.  Being able to easily open the tank is a benefit both for the company and the homeowner.  It promotes more regular service and can save a lot of back breaking work.  

As you can see in the above pictures.  A little pre planning goes along way when it comes time to pump your tank.  The photo on the top left shows a well planned patio area with access ports built right in.  The picture in the top center  shows, yes, the lid opening inside the bedroom on one side of the wall and the picture on the top right shows the other lid inside the next room.  The next two rows of pictures are landscaping ideas that make access very easy or very difficult.  Walkways, irrigation, sidewalks etc need to be planned out in advance to avoid costly reconstruction down the road.   

Common signs of system trouble or failure

    Effluent surfacing on the ground or soft spots in the leaching area

    Backup problems in the house or slow flushing toilets

    Green lush growth over the leach lines commonly referred to as stripes

    Effluent showing up in the shower or bathtub when other drains are used

    Bubbling sounds coming from the toilet 

One thing to remember, some of these warning signs are also signs of a blockage in the line.  If you should notice any of these, proper diagnoses of the system will reveal the actual cause and in a lot of situations, a smaller,  less expensive repair can be made to restore the system before complete replacement is needed.  

 Drain Field Saturation

    How much is too much?  Unlike sewer systems, Septic systems can only take so much water before they will back up due to over saturation.  Leaky toilets, ground water, too many people living in the house, broken sprinkler systems all play a part in the amount of water you are expecting the drain field to absorb.  When you have a very rainy season you may hear your neighbors talking about the water table or ground water.  Basically what that means is that the underground water levels rise and cause interference with the leaching systems.  During the summer time, most leach fields will function normal and you may never notice a problem.  Come winter however, they may not function at all and your only option is to install a  shut off valve and the tank pumped every week or so.  The pictures below show visible green stripes over each leach line.  This is not a good sign as some people think.  It shows over saturation and is the beginning of some  much larger problems.  

    Even a new system can fail due to over saturation.  When you utilize a septic system, be sure to fix all leaks right away and exercise caution with your water usage.  A little common sense goes a long way when it comes to septic systems.  If you think you are having trouble with your system because of over saturation, collect your water usage figures and pencil it out.  Your system should be designed to handle 140 gallons (20 cubic feet) of water per day per bedroom. A 3 bedroom house for example should have a water usage of no more than 420 gallons (60 cubic feet) per day. In most of the cases we have investigated, we have found that the household was generating 4-600 gallons over what it was designed to take and the homeowner did not even realize it.  (Sprinklers do not count for this example)  

For specific information regarding setbacks and restrictions it is always a good idea to contact the San Diego County Dept of Environmental Health with your questions or concerns.


Septic Systems

Septic Tanks

Chemical Additives

Leach Fields

Drain Field Saturation Saturation

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