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Are septic tanks still common?


When you move to the United States from a European country and buy a home, you are most likely to be confronted with the term “septic tank” for the first time in your life. Most European homes are connected to public sewer lines even in rural regions. The fees charged by the town are fairly small and the advantage is that you never have to worry about clogs outside of your home or replacing a tank.

Over the last two decades Germany e.g. has not only invested in domestic production of sewage systems, but it has also become an exporter of sewage technology. According to a recent study from the European Commission, Germany is the largest EU exporter of water technologies.

The German Engineering Federation has also reported that the nation exported nearly 800 million euros ($1.1 billion) worth of water and wastewater technology in 2011. This accounts for 33 percent of the EU export market.

Much of this technology has been tailored to Germany’s climate, water quality and water management policies. Adapting the technology to different climates and making it compatible with local systems, however, can be difficult.

How common are septic tanks in the US?

Cape Cod is one of the areas in the United States where households use septic systems — not a public sewer — to trap and filter their toilet waste. The underground tanks are most common in rural areas, especially in New England and the Deep South. Many homes are still being built with septic systems. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, more than 60 million people in the nation are served by septic systems. That means about 26 million homes (one-fourth of all homes) in America. The U.S. Bureau of the Census also reports that the distribution and density of septic systems vary widely by region and state, from a high of about 55 percent in Vermont to a low of about 10 percent in California. New England states have the highest proportion of homes served by septic systems.

Septic tanks can last for many decades, but they will eventually fail. The tank itself tends to break down due to soil and environmental conditions rather than use, which means that even abandoned tanks may suddenly develop issues. What is the average life expectancy of a septic system?
It’s pretty common for a septic system to last 40 years or longer, which means if you buy a new home, you might never need to replace it. However, you might have an older home whose septic system has been in place for nearly half a century

What is the alternative to a septic tank?

Mound systems work well as alternatives to septic tanks when the soil around your home or building is too dense or too shallow or when the water table is too high. Although they are more expensive and require more maintenance than conventional systems, mound systems are a common alternative.

Basics of septic system for homes:

A septic system has a simple design. It is an underground watertight container (mostly rectangular or round) made of fiberglass, plastic or concrete.

The tank is connected with two pipes (for inlet and outlet). The inlet pipe collects the water waste in the septic tank, long enough that the solid and liquid waste is separated from each other. The outlet pipe also called the drain field, moves out the preprocessed wastewater from the septic tank and spreads it evenly in the soil and watercourses.

After a while, the wastewater separates in 3 layers.
The top layer is oils and grease and floats above all the waste. This is called scum.

The middle layer is the wastewater along with waste particles. The bottom layer consists of heavier particles that are heavier than water and form a layer of sludge. Inside the tank bacteria from the wastewater breaks down the solid waste. These bacteria decompose the solid waste rapidly allowing the liquids to separate and drain away more easily.

Cleaning of the Septic tank: A requirement every few years

If a septic tank is not cleaned regularly (within 1 year for smaller tanks), toxins and antibacterial substances build up killing the vital bacteria that break down the waste. Many household cleaners build up sludge and solid waste in the septic tank and drainfield lines. This leads to the septic system failure, by failure we mean that the solid waste blocks the system and overflows into the watercourse or out of the access grating.

If you are planning to buy a home on the Cape, the Pipe Doctor is happy to assist you with any questions you might have regarding your plumbing and gas needs. 

Phone: 508-775-6670  


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