Saturday, November 13, 2010

Where Does The Poopie Go?

At Pam’s (my bride) request this is a rewrite from my March 5, 2005 Newsletter. This was another of my most popular articles. It's a little long. Not only  is this subject nasty, it is confusing, complex and not handled properly potentially deadly. Wally will attempt to simplify it for us.

Hello, Wally Raindrop here. Hope you haven't forgotten me (Don't remember? Click on "Wally Raindrop" in the upper right corner of this page).

In case you haven't figured it out yet, old man Hilton doesn't control me, I write what I feel like when I feel like it. You can be assured that poopie is not something I care to discuss with you. I am sure you have no interest in reading about such a nasty subject. Can you think of anything worse than falling from the sky and landing in a pile of dog poop? It is not a pleasant experience.

Then there are cats, horses, deer, rabbits and oh, shall I tell you about the grizzly bear? I about forgot about the Sasquatch, man was that ugly. You thought people poop was bad. Have you ever considered just how much poopie there is in this world? I prefer to be clean enough for you to consume and I don't think you want anything to do with me following those adventures.

Hilton has five children, six grandchildren. One is two years old at that age when poopie is a daily subject for everyone in hearing range including me whether I care to hear or not. Then the subject arose; Grandad, where does the poopie go?

When Hilton's son-in-law was being potty trained his parents told him when they flushed the poppie was going to grandma Goldie in New York. Sounds like a good place for poopie to me. I have been to New York, there is lots of poopie there. But, since September 11th I have tried to not be so critical about the place. We all have our problems theirs are just more populous. I understand psychologically it is very important not to upset the child about this issue. Where the poopie goes is a very upsetting issue. This is an important event concerning something they made. Where it is going is very important to your child. You may not think much of it, but if the poopie doesn't reach its intended destination you will think its important as well so pay attention.

Being the very clean technical guy that he is, do you think Hilton is going to do the research on this subject? No way man, who do you think gets this smelly little assignment? Well, since he is a grandfather six times, I thought I would be nice and agree to the assignment. Boy did I ever screw up. First he picks me up, throws me in the toilet and flushes. As if that wasn't enough, because that toilet was on a public sewer, he takes me out to the county, throws me in another toilet and flushes. Said he wants us to have a complete experience. I think I will look for another place to live. Hiltons computer is beginning to stink.

I can still see the light as I go round and round, water is everywhere. Darkness, wet, dirty, it stinks down here. Ops, going back the same way, the water is getting higher, light again as I hit the basement floor. Looking up the pipe is slopping the wrong direction and leaking. Poopie does not run up hill. If your poopie goes into a public sewer system count yourself lucky. You only must get the poopie off of your site and the public utility handles the rest. You don't need to concern yourself with it. The main concerns you have are that the pipes don't leak, run down hill and if your lowest fixture is lower than the sewer man hole nearest your home you better have a backflow valve on your poopie line or everyone else's poopie may end up in your floor. Now that can be a smelly mess. It's also a good idea to pay your water bill which usually includes the sewer bill otherwise your poopie will not leave the house and it can get really smelly. Realtors know what that's like, don't you?

Not lucky, don't have a connection to public sewer? You must be much more concerned about where your poopie goes because it probably does not leave your yard and you are now responsible for it forever. Go with me on my little adventure as we go round and round again out of the light through the pipe, its just like the slide at the water park (you had better hold your nose) except at the end we fall into a tank with all of the poopie from the past along with water and soap from the washing machine and dishwasher and last nights leftovers from the garbage disposal. Oh, there is the scuba diver and fish baby flushed down the toilet before us. At least we will not be lonely here.

On the left "Septic Tank" that is where we are now. Did you know if you don't have public water and drink water from a well on your property that the water you flush ends up coming back to the pump in your well? Isn't that a pleasant thought? Don't be upset, when you flush on a public sewer system that water goes into a river and is then pumped out by the town down stream for their water supply. Who is up river from you? Do you begin to grasp the importance of your sewer system? Improper maintenance can make you very sick and even lead to the death of your family, friends and neighbors.

A well designed, installed, and maintained septic system can provide years of reliable low-cost service. When these systems fail to operate effectively, property damage, ground and surface water pollution, and disease outbreaks can occur. Therefore, it makes good sense to understand and care for your septic tank system.

There are many different types of septic tank systems that can fit a wide range of soil and site conditions. The following information will help you to understand a simple type of septic system, and keep it operating safely at the lowest possible cost.

A "conventional" septic tank system has three working parts:
  1. The septic tank.
  2. The drainfield with its replacement area.
  3. The surrounding soil.
Note that some systems may have a sand filter as shown on this drawing but such is unusual in our area. Some systems if the drainfield is higher than the tank may have a pump as shown here.

The Septic Tank

We came in the "Inlet From House" above. The typical septic tank is a large buried rectangular or cylindrical container made of concrete, fiberglass, or polyethylene. Wastewater from your toilet, bath, kitchen, laundry, waste disposal, etc. flows into the tank the same way we arrived. Heavy solids settle to the bottom (thank God Wally Raindrop is not a heavy solid and stays at the top) where bacterial action partially decomposes them to digested sludge and gases. Most of the lighter solids, such as fats and grease, rise to the top and form a scum layer. That's where old Wally is now in the "Scum Layer". I would like to drag the old scum bag that flushed me here down to join us.

Septic tanks may have one or two compartments. Two compartment tanks do a better job of settling solids and are required for new systems. Tees or baffles are provided at the tank's inlet and outlet pipes. The inlet tee slows the incoming wastes and reduces disturbance of the settled sludge. The outlet tee keeps the solids or scum in the tank. All tanks should have accessible covers for checking the condition of the baffles and for pumping both compartments. If risers extend from the tank to or above the ground surface, they should be secure to prevent accidental entry into the tank.

Solids that are not decomposed remain in the septic tank where old Wally has absolutely no intention of overstaying his welcome. If not removed by periodic pumping, solids will accumulate until they eventually overflow into the drainfield. Most septic tanks need to be pumped every 3 to 5 years, depending on the tank size, and the amount and type of solids entering the tank.

Early Waring Levels Inside Your Septic Tank

The septic tank should be pumped whenever:

The bottom of the scum layer is within 3 inches of the bottom of the outlet tee or baffle, or the top of the sludge layer is within 12 inches of the bottom of the outlet fitting.

Many products on the market, such as solvents, yeast, bacteria, and enzymes claim to improve septic tank performance, or reduce the need for routine pumping. None have been found to be of benefit. Some can cause solids to carry over to the drainfield, which results in early soil clogging and the need for a new drainfield. Products containing organic solvents contribute to groundwater pollution.

The wastewater leaving the septic tank is a liquid called effluent. It has been partially treated but still contains disease-causing bacteria and other pollutants. Discharging effluent onto the ground's surface or into surface and ground water is against North Carolina State law.

The Drainfield

Finally we have made it through that nasty septic tank and into the drainfield. The drainfield receives septic tank effluent. That's what we have become. It has a network of perforated pipes laid in gravel-filled trenches (2-3 feet wide), or beds (over 3 feet wide) in the soil. Wastewater trickles out of the pipes, through the gravel layer, and into the soil. The size and type of drainfield depends on the estimated daily wastewater flow and soil conditions.

Every new drainfield is required to have a designated replacement area. It must be maintained should the existing system need an addition or repair.


Through the drain field and out into the soil. Oh what a wonderful place. There is a worm, roots, pebbles, rocks and rich dirt. This is much nicer than that nasty septic tank and the drainfield wasn't much better. The gravel and soil acts as a filter to remove any small amounts of solids that may be carried along with the liquid. The drainfield treats the wastewater by allowing it to slowly trickle from the pipes out into the gravel and down through the soil. The gravel and soil act as biological filters. The longer distance we soak through the soil the cleaner we become until finally we reach ground water. Lets swim over to the well, into the pump, through the pipe into the holding tank through another pipe and if we take the right turn out the kitchen sink faucet and freedom. Be careful now and stay out of that drain or we will take that stinky nasty journey again. Relief a glass, Oh is that lips I see, we are in for trouble if we don't get out of this glass. Have you ever visited a stomach? And you thought septic tanks were a bad place.

System Failure
Warning signs of a failure:|
  • Odors, surfacing sewage, wet spots or lush vegetation growth in the drainfield area
  • Plumbing or septic tank backups
  • Slow draining fixtures
  • Gurgling sounds in the plumbing system
If you notice any of these signs or if you suspect your septic tank system may be having problems - contact your local health department for assistance.

The Septic System Owner's ManualCaring For Your System - The Ten Essentials
    Septic Tank Inspections and Maintenace, Show Me How VideosA Builder's Guide to Wells and Septic Systems, Second EditionWater Wells and Septic Systems HandbookSeptic Tank System Effects on Ground Water QualityCountry Plumbing: Living With a Septic System
  1. Practice water conservation. The more wastewater you produce, the more the soil must treat and dispose. By reducing and balancing your use, you can extend the life of the drainfield, decrease the possibility of system failure, and avoid costly repairs.

    To reduce your water use:
    • Use water-saving devices.
    • Repair leaky faucets and plumbing fixtures.
    • Reduce toilet reservoir volume or flow.
    • Take shorter showers.
    • Take baths with a partially-filled tub.
    • Wash only full loads of dishes and laundry.
  2. Keep accurate records. Know where your septic tank system is and keep a diagram of its location. Records of its size and location may be available at your local health department. It is also wise to keep a record of maintenance on the system. These records will be helpful if problems occur, and will be valuable to the next owner of your home.

  3. Inspect your system once each year. You may want to leave this to a professional it is a nasty job. Check the sludge and scum levels inside your septic tank to assure that the layers of solids are not within the early warning levels. The tank also should be checked to see if the baffles or tees are in good condition. Periodically inspect the drainfield and downslope areas for odors, wet spots, or surfacing sewage. If your drainfield has inspection pipes, check them to see if there is a liquid level continually over 6 inches. This may be an early indication of a problem.

  4. Pump out your septic tank when needed. Don't wait until you have a problem. Routine pumping can prevent failures, such as clogging of the drainfield and sewage back-up into the home. Using a garbage disposal will increase the amount of solids entering the septic tank and require more frequent pumping.
  5. Never flush harmful materials into the septic tank. Grease, cooking fats, newspaper, paper towels, rags, coffee grounds, sanitary napkins, and cigarettes cannot easily decompose in the tank. Chemicals such as solvents, oils, paint and pesticides are harmful to the system's proper operation and may pollute the groundwater. Septic tank additives do not improve the performance of the septic tank, nor do they reduce the need for pumping.

  6. Keep all runoff away from your system. Water from surfaces such as roofs, driveways, or patios should be diverted away from the septic tank and drainfield area. Soil over your system should be slightly mounded to help surface water runoff.
  7. Protect your system from damage. Keep traffic such as vehicles, heavy equipment, or livestock off your drainfield or replacement area. The pressure can compact the soil or damage pipes. Before you plant a garden, construct a building, or install a pool, check on the location of your system and replacement area.

  8. Landscape your system properly. Don't place impermeable materials over your drainfield or replacement area. Materials, such as concrete or plastic, reduce evaporation and the supply of oxygen to the soil for proper effluent treatment. They also can hinder getting to the system for pumping, inspection, or repair. Grass is the best cover for your system.
  9. Never enter any septic tank. Poisonous gases or the lack of oxygen can be fatal. Any work to the tank should be done from the outside preferable by an experienced professional.
  10. Check with your local health department for help with system problems. Although some malfunctions may require complete drainfield replacement, many problems can be corrected with a minimum amount of cost and effort.
How does the location of my septic system affect my water supply?

To avoid problems such as recycling untreated wastewater, location should be the first consideration when installing a septic system. A septic system usually requires a specific amount of land based on the soil characteristics and should be at least 100 feet from any wells or water supplies. There must be adequate room to install a new drainfield should the original drainfield fail. The ability of the soil surrounding the drainfield to absorb and treat the effluent is an important concern in regard to water quality. Signs of soil problems or site limitations that could affect the septic system include gullies, ravines, excessively steep slopes, or other land characteristics that would make installation difficult. The system should not be installed in land that is wet or swampy, designated wetlands, or land near streams or rivers that could flood. It has also been found that septic systems constructed where the water table is too shallow do not provide effective treatment in the drainfield.

Often the most suitable soil for a septic system is on the highest ground on the site. Under ideal conditions, however, the septic system should be located lower than your well, but good soil is most important. Also, the deeper your well, the less likely it is to draw in sewage effluent.

What are the rules and regulations governing septic systems?

North Carolina State law requires a comprehensive soil and site evaluation by your local health department to determine the suitability of your soil and land site. Before construction begins on your home or septic system, you must receive an improvement permit from the health department. Permits for septic systems are valid for no more than five years. Beginning in July 1992, state regulations require a septic system maintenance contract between homeowners and management organizations for certain types of alternative septic systems.

The size of the septic system that you install is legally determined by the number of bedrooms in your home and the type of soils at the site. Once installation is complete, the system must be approved by the health department before electrical service can be permanently connected to your home.

What are the alternative types of septic systems?

The conventional septic system is the most widely used and least expensive. Alternative types of septic systems include low-pressure pipe systems, fill systems and aerobic treatment units. These cost a great deal more to install than a conventional system, and the low-pressure system needs to be inspected every 6 months. The aerobic treatment unit must be inspected 4 times a year.

Other possible options for on-site wastewater disposal include cluster systems, sand filters, mound systems, and spray irrigation systems.

What interest do banks and mortgage companies have in my water and septic systems?

Some banks or lenders require that the prospective buyer or seller furnish proof of a bacteria-free water supply before they will issue a mortgage. Also, some will not issue a mortgage for homes with a failing septic system. Thus, it pays to be concerned about your water from well to wash to waste. Here we are back in the clean world. The next time old man Hilton or his stinky little grandchildren have poopie ideas you will find me running for the hills.

Bye, see you next time!

Some folks poppie is other folks gold
Ever paid a plumber or had your septic tank pumped?
On the side of septic tank pump trucks
Sweet Thing / Honey Bee / Liquid Gold

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