How does Covid-19 plug a septic system?

Welcome to our blog on septic system care and maintenance.  Our current series discusses the impact of Coronavirus and Shelter-in-Place orders on septic systems.  Increased water use at home is creating more stress on the systems and leading to failures in many cases.  This segment explains how systems become plugged because of higher water use.

Most septic systems have two primary components, the septic tank and the disposal area.  The tank’s main job is to protect the disposal area, which is more expensive, does the most work, and is much more prone to failure.  The tank protects the disposal area by retaining solid materials, or particulates.  It works mostly by slowing down the water flow.  When water is not moving quickly, dense materials sink to form sludge, and lightweight materials float to form scum.  As separation occurs in the tank, a middle, sediment free layer of liquid forms.  An outlet device in the tanks lets only that sediment free layer pass through to the disposal area.

The most common disposal areas are drainfields, drywells, and chamber systems.  They depend on small holes in piping and porosity of the soil for final treatment and disposal of the sewage liquid (effluent).  However, sludge and scum from the tank (the material that sinks and floats) can plug the piping and soil pores.  When that happens, the disposal area loses efficiency and it can fail.

With Shelter-in-Place, people use much more water at home than normal.  That means much more water is flowing through the septic tanks.  The higher flow rates prevents settling of the sludge and scum.  Instead, they move to the disposal area and restrict the natural drainage.  An effluent filter can be installed in the septic tank to minimize the amount of particulates passing through.  However, the filter will need cleaning as it becomes plugged.  And the more water used, the faster it plugs.  Use of chemical, enzyme, and bacterial additives to the septic tank are not a viable solution, as will be discussed in a future blog.  The best all around approach to protect the system is general water conservation to reduce flow through the tank.  See our previous blog for proven methods to reduce water use and protect the septic system.

Thank you for reading, and stay healthy!

Enviro-Assist, Ltd of South Lyon, Michigan provides:

Septic System Inspections
Septic System Engineering
Septic System Troubleshooting & Consultation
Well Inspections
Drinking Water Sampling
Water Supply Consultation
Educational Seminars
Call Enviro-Assist Today: (248) 486-1753

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