On Memorial Day weekend, 2002, we noticed a strong septic odor in the yard. I traced the odor down to the septic tank. After digging up the cover and removing it I soon discovered that the tank was completely full of wastewater. I frantically called in the experts including pumpers, system installer and soil testers. I heard comments like “sorry I can’t help you”, “we can try jetting the lines”, “we can put a new system in that will be much better”, “your lucky it lasted this long”. Well, after these comments and the $15,000 bid to replace the system, not including the tree removal (another $2,500), landscape restoration (another $2,000) and staircase/deck demolition and rebuild (another $3,500) I decided that there MUST be a better solution! The quest began and the rest is history!
Understanding Your Septic System
If you are like me and the rest of the world, you probably had no idea on how your septic system works. You may have learned from your parents that the system should be pumped regularly, or maybe you learned that they never need pumping! There are many wives tales about putting a dead chicken in the tank every so often, or yeast cakes, “magic” bugs, etc. If you added any one of these remedies, “your septic system would last forever and it would have an infinite life expectancy”! If you’re reading this article you now know that these wives tales simply aren’t true!
Your septic system is a combination of a mechanical and biological system.
The mechanical portions of modern systems are very durable. Materials like concrete, PVC plastic, fired clay pipe will last a long time under ground. Materials like steel and cast iron and asphalitic pipe are not very common anymore and most of these material have failed and been replaced with newer durable materials.
The biological portion of your systems is generally robust, however it can be upset by abuse such as system overloading and dumping excess materials into the system for which it is not designed to handle such as paint materials, thinners, bleach, anti-bacterial products, and non-organic materials such as wrappers, cigarette butts, etc.
In the perfect world the biological process is 100% efficient. By this time in your life I am sure you have come to realize that we live in a less than perfect world and therefore things in our life crop up that we must deal with! This topic is no ones favorite and you have probably learned more about your septic system in the past few weeks than you wanted.
The problems in our lives usually occur at the least opportune moment. They may be financial, timing or personal grief. Unfortunately we must use the cards we are dealt. In the case of your septic system we must rely on the local “experts”. Again, unfortunately, the local “experts” may have limited knowledge on subjects beyond their respective profession. The pumpers are great at pumping, the plumbers are great at plumbing and the installers are great at installing. Most likely, none of these contractors fully understand both the mechanical and biological process. Because of this, they attempt to sell you their service or solution, none of which will ultimately solve your septic system problem. Out of frustration, you turn to the internet to begin research on your own. A quick “Google” search leads you to hundreds of web pages that make claims of solving your septic system problem forever. These companies can supply the magic “bugs” or “chemical” that you simply flush down the drain and your problems are solved! If you read on you will fully understand why the aforementioned “solutions” will not resolve your septic system problem.
How Your Septic System Works
There are many design variations of septic systems. While the systems may be somewhat different, they all perform the same basic function. That is, to process raw sewage into a cleaner effluent that can be evenly distributed beneath the ground and blended with the groundwater as not to create a health hazard. The basic components of the system are the inlet pipe, the septic tank, the outlet pipe and an absorption component. The waste stream is almost always in motion. As an example, when a toilet is flushed in a house, approximately 3 gallons of water and waste flows into the outlet pipe connected to the septic tank. The equal amount of waste (3 gallons) then flows out of the septic tank through the outlet pipe to the absorption component. The equal amount of waste (3 gallons) flows through the absorption unit into the ground.
The Treatment Process
The wastewater first enters the tank from the home. The wastewater is held in the tank for approximately 2 days. During the holding period the anaerobic bacteria breakdown the organic material in the wastewater and reduce the “strength” of the wastewater by about 40%. As explained above, when the 3 gallons of wastewater enters the tank it displaces 3 gallons of wastewater through the outlet pipe. Because of the separation distance between the inlet and outlet pipes the wastewater that is closer to the outlet pipe has been in the tank the longest period and therefore is the cleanest. This cleaner water (still containing 60% of its’ original organic material) flows out into the distribution field for further treatment. After a short period of time a layer begins to form at the bottom of the gravel bed. This layer is known as the biomat. The biomat is made of anaerobic bacteria and its by-product, a black slimy substance. The slimy substance protects the bacteria from oxygen. If the anaerobic bacteria were to come in contact with oxygen it would quickly die. Because the biomat is a living organism, it requires a food source. The food source is the organic material dissolved or suspended in the water coming from the septic tank. The biomat is not a “bad” thing. Its purpose is to further clean the wastewater to remove the additional 60% of organic material. The anaerobic bacteria (biomat) are rather slow to digest the organic material. The by-product of the anaerobic bacteria also closes some of the soil pores resulting in a reduction in flow of the water through it. This enables the anaerobic bacteria sufficient time to clean the wastewater. The result is very clean water entering the water table which eventually mixes with ground water.
The Septic System Aging Process
As discussed earlier, the mechanical portion of your septic system is very durable. A common repair after many years with some systems may be the repair or replacement of the inlet and or the outlet baffle. Other than that nothing should need service. However, your system does age biologically.
When your septic system is new it has much more water dispersion capacity than you will use. Over time, the biomat matures clogging the soil pores excessively. Eventually, the biomat seals off the bottom of the field and the wastewater begins to “pond” in the gravel bed beneath the ground. The water begins to be absorbed through the side walls of the gravel bed. The biomat continues to mature and grows up the side walls and eventually to the surface, or near the surface. This IS the reason why your system does not function as it did when it was new. At some point you will be putting more wastewater into the system than the field has the ability to disperse. This results in ponding on the surface of your yard, elevated tank levels, ponding on the surface of your yard above the septic tank, or sewage back-ups into the house. You could experience one or any combination of these situations.
Perceived Cause/Remedy of Problem
Roots – roots are seldom an issue regardless what you are told. For the roots to cause a problem, they would have to fill all of the perforation holes in the pipe system.
Conclusion: This scenario is not likely. Less than 0.5% (1 out of 200) system that experience problems are related to roots.
Insufficient Bacteria in System – The bacteria population in your system is self regulating. As more wastewater (“food” for bacteria) enters the septic tank the bacteria population count increases very rapidly. As the wastewater (“food” for bacteria) flow decreases the population decreases. As an example, when you go on vacation the wastewater flow to the tank stops. The bacteria will digest their food. When the food is gone, the bacteria begin to starve and die off. By the time you return from vacation, the bacteria count is low. As wastewater enters the tank the bacteria population count increases rapidly until it balances with the amount of available “food”.
Conclusion: The only way for a system to become unbalanced would be an event that killed the septic tank bacteria such as excessive use of solvent chemicals, bleach, anti-bacterial products, chemotherapy drugs, etc. A system will handle any of these substances in moderate amounts. Therefore, if you don’t abuse your system you will not need to add bacteria.
“Special” Bacteria are Required – There are hundreds of brands of septic tank additives on the market today. Many have powerful claims such as “If you use our product you’ll never have to pump your septic tank again” “Our product liquefies the waste”, “4 Billion cfu/gm” “Special enzymes that breakdown the solids”, etc. Many have claims of “money-back guarantee” and “easy to use, just flush down the commode”, “No more odors”, etc. Typically, the bigger the hype the higher the price. Generally speaking, the packaging and marketing costs are far greater than the manufacturing cost of the “active” material. These companies can afford many customer returns and still maintain a substantial profit. Some will even convince you into accepting more of their product in lieu of returning your money. Most people become frustrated and tired and give up trying to get their $200 back! These bacterial “cocktails” typically contain aerobic, anaerobic and facultative bacteria. The aerobic require oxygen to live, the anaerobic must live in an oxygen free environment (septic) and the facultative can survive in either condition by metamorphosis from anaerobic to aerobic. As mentioned earlier, your system is operating in a “septic” anaerobic condition. The aerobic bacteria in the cocktail die rapidly after entering the septic tank because there is no oxygen in the system. The facultative bacteria change to anaerobic bacteria by metamorphosis and the anaerobic survive well. As you learned in the “Septic System Aging Process” above, the CAUSE of your septic system failure is that there is a significant build-up of anaerobic bacteria in your septic field known as the bio-mat. You also learned above that you cannot add more bacteria than available food.
Conclusion: Simply adding more of the same type of bacteria that is already causing problems with your system will have no positive impact!
Frequent Pumping – Many pumpers will gladly pump your system anytime you call them. It can take weeks for the bacteria in a septic tank to re-populate and stabilize. During this period, the wastewater is not being fully treated and very strong wastewater is flowing to the field. The added “food” in this wastewater allows the accelerated growth of the bio-mat.
Conclusion: Frequent pumping can do more harm than good because the wastewater flowing to the field has more “food” in it because the system is not been given adequate time to stabilize. Short term you will get some relief until the tank fills again.
The REAL Solution to Resolving Your Septic System Problems
By now you should understand how your septic system works and why it fails. You should also be able to identify the fact from the fiction coming from the local “expert” or the savvy internet marketing web site that prey on desperate homeowners needs. You will now learn about a little known technology that is scientifically based, has over 100 years of application history, has over a 95% success rate, requires no excavation, requires no chemicals or additives and boasts a 100% money-back guarantee.
This process is called “Aerobic Bio-Remediation”. The process, application and the equipment has been developed and introduced by Aero-Stream®, LLC. Additionally, the process has been awarded a U.S. Patent!
The Technology: The aerobic treatment of wastewater has been in use for more than 100 years. Nearly every municipal wastewater treatment plant utilizes aerobic treatment as one of their primary treatment process. This process is robust, fast and efficient at cleaning the wastewater. Aero-Stream® applies this same technology to your current septic system with virtually no significant change to your components or systems. Just as the large municipal wastewater treatment plants do, the aerobic treatment of the wastewater in your septic tank is processesed to reduce the strength of the organic material leaving the tank by some 70% – 80%. Because the food source for the biomat is significantly reduced the biomat begins to starve and die. When the biomat dies, it breaks down and becomes permeable again. In addition to the starvation of the biomat, the oxygen rich laden water with aerobic bacteria flows into the field. The aerobic bacteria also have an appetite for the biomat further reducing the bio-mat.
The Success Rate: The Aero-Stream® process equipment has been installed across the U.S. in nearly every type of system configuration and soil type. The process boasts a 95% success rate! The most common reason for unsuccessful remediation is the lack of adequate time for the remediation to occur. Homeowners want or need their system repaired quickly. Even though the Aero-Stream® process shows significant results in 6 -8 weeks, sometimes that is not fast enough!
The Cost: The Aero-Stream® process and equipment is substantially less expensive than any other proven solution. When comparing the typical Aero-Stream® installation to the lowest cost absorption field replacement, the Aero-Stream® solution is 85% less expensive. When compared to the average cost absorption field, the Aero-Stream® solution is 90% less expensive, and 93% less expensive on a high cost absorption field replacement.