Minnesota-North Dakota-Wisconsin

Blog Page

Advantage’s of Concrete Septic Tanks


Septic tanks offer homeowners an efficient way to dispose of waste from sinks, toilets, tubs and showers as an alternative to using municipal services. They provide an on-site, private disposal system where city sewer hookup is not available. A concrete septic tank is a practical way to process household waste without harming the environment. Our experience as a leader in the field allows us to share reliable ways that help you evaluate the merits of concrete septic tanks.
Buried in the ground, septic tanks allow clear water to flow into a drain field. The expense of monthly fees to municipal sewer systems is avoided, providing an immediate financial benefit. If your home is suitable for a septic system, consider the advantages of using a concrete tank.
Weight Advantage of Concrete Septic Tanks
Some homeowners choose fiberglass without checking into other options. Concrete weighs at least 2000 pounds per yard, and a tank made of it sits solidly in the ground. There is no chance that a concrete septic tank can float, even in extremely wet conditions. Fiberglass, on the other hand, can float easily. Effluent that escapes through broken connections on a tank presents serious health hazards to your family.
Installation of Intact Tank
A concrete septic tank is placed in the ground so that it rests solidly on a flat surface, and it is leveled to make sure that it is square on every dimension. The strength of concrete assures you that nothing can puncture the walls either before or after installation, ensuring the efficient functioning of your tank. Plastic tanks are easily punctured and can develop leaks that can go unnoticed until they cause a health problem.
A plastic tank has little resistance to exterior forces after it is installed in the ground. As an empty container, it can collapse. Full or empty, a concrete tank is never in danger of collapsing. Concrete continues to age and harden every day of every year.
Sized to Fit Your Needs
The amount of waste water and solids that your family produces is the determining factor of tank size. Concrete tanks are available in any size to handle the demand with no problem. They offer you the flexibility to meet your demands now and in the future. A larger tank can hold a much larger volume of effluent than those that are limited in size.
Replacement Options
A tank that does not work properly is one that needs replacement without delay. As you find that the tank that was in the ground when you bought your house is causing problems, you can make a wise decision to replace it with a durable concrete tank.
Routine Maintenance Procedures
Septic systems rely on bacteria to make them work efficiently. Normal use by a family usually provides an adequate amount to break down solids in the tank. Commercial products that add bacteria help to ensure good operation, making it possible for you to avoid having the tank emptied professionally for longer intervals.
Staying in Touch with the Experts
Take the time to sign up for our free newsletter. We regularly feature articles that provide helpful information on tanks, maintenance and other topics.

Why Are Septic Systems Necessary?


Over 25 percent of Minnesota households use on-site sewage treatment systems, commonly referred to as septic systems, to treat their waste-water. While septic systems are designed and installed by licensed professionals to meet the needs of individual sites, homeowners are responsible for the system ‘s operation and maintenance. Often septic systems fail because owners do not maintain them after installation.
This publication provides basic information homeowners need to:
• protect human health,
• protect water resources,
• lengthen septic system life,
• reduce current and future costs, and
• protect property values.
What Do Septic Systems Do?
Septic systems protect human health and the environment by safely recycling waste-water back into the natural environment. Septic systems treat waste-water as well as, or better than, municipal treatment systems at a reasonable cost when properly designed, installed, operated, and maintained.
Federal, state, and local regulation of on-site systems focuses on proper treatment of sewage to protect citizens, communities, and the environment.
How Does a Septic System Work?
In typical on-site treatment systems, all waste-water is co-mingled, treated, and dispersed by one system. There are a few separation systems in which toilet wastes are treated separately from other waste-water.
Common septic systems all have three basic components: plumbing, septic tank, and a soil treatment area. Individual systems may have variations of each of these.
The waste-water side of household plumbing collects used water from fixtures and appliances and delivers it to the treatment system(s).
Septic Tank
The septic tank is a solid watertight tank, or series of tanks, that receives waste water. It separates the solids from the liquids and stores the solids until they are decomposed or removed. The liquid, called effluent, is delivered to the soil treatment system.
Inlet and outlet baffles trap the floating solids in the tank. Inspection pipes allow monitoring of the tank and the manhole facilitates cleaning.
The size of the septic tank is based on the home’s potential water use volume and the type of appliances used. In aerobic tank systems, pumps and other mechanisms are necessary to deliver air to the tank.
Soil Treatment Area
The soil treatment part of the typical septic system is a network of perforated pipes or tubes surrounded by small rock and soil. Some designs use large plastic tubes or chambers instead of rock to disperse effluent from the tank into the surrounding soil.
The design of the treatment area (trench, mound, etc.) is based on the soil condition. The soil in the treatment area must not be saturated with water for extended periods of time during the year. Three feet of unsaturated soil below the system is necessary to complete the treatment process.
The size of the soil treatment area needed depends on the volume of water to be treated and the type of soil on the site. For example, a much larger soil area is needed for a large home or a home on clay soil than for a small home or one on sandy soil.
Pumps and a lift station may be components of a system where gravity flow doesn’t work. For example, in mounds and drip irrigation systems a pump is required to provide pressurized flow for distribution of effluent.

Sometimes enhancements, known as pretreatments, are added to septic systems. Some of the options are aerobic tanks, single pass or recirculating sand or peat filters, and constructed (lined) wetlands. These are located between the septic tank and the soil treatment system to improve the performance of the system or provide treatment in difficult soil conditions (for example, shallow bedrock or high water tables). These may require additional pumps and control devices.
Separation technology systems may require containers in the home that collect and compost solid organic wastes. Other devices may collect and store waste-water for delivery to a soil treatment or dispersal unit.

How Is Sewage Treated?
In the typical system, raw sewage is collected by the plumbing in the home and delivered to the septic tank. There the light solids float to the top, forming a scum layer, and the heavy solids sink to the bottom, forming sludge.
In the tank, organic solids such as food particles and human waste are decomposed by millions of naturally occurring bacteria.
The septic tank delivers the partially treated liquids, or effluent, to the soil treatment area. Effluent contains pathogens (disease-causing organisms), nutrients, and some fine solids. A thin layer of fine solids, dead bacteria, and soil bacteria, called a biomat, forms naturally where the effluent enters the soil. The biomat restricts the flow sufficiently to keep the soil beneath unsaturated.
The unsaturated soil contains oxygen which allows aerobic bacteria to live and destroy pathogens. These air spaces also force nutrients such as phosphorus and sodium to come in direct contact with soil particles to which they become attached. A portion of the nitrogen passes through into the groundwater. After passing through the unsaturated soil, the now harmless water evaporates into the air or returns to the soil and groundwater system. In regular septic tanks, the bacteria are anaerobic, that is, they live without air in the liquid. In aerobic tanks, the bacteria are aerobic and require air to live.

Why Do Septic Systems Fail?
Failure of your or a neighbor’s septic system means that waste-water may come in contact with people or enter the natural environment without complete treatment of all harmful contents. Indicators of problems or a failing system include the following:
• Sewage backup into the house
• Frozen pipes or soil treatment areas
• System alarms sounding
• Algal blooms and excessive plant growth in nearby ponds or lakes
• Sewage odors indoors or outdoors
• Water or sewage surfacing in the yard or a ditch
• High levels of nitrates or coliform bacteria in well water tests
System failure is most commonly the result of improper design or installation of the system, overuse of water in the home, or lack of proper maintenance.
Improper Design or Installation
This may be the result of mistakes made by the professionals when the system was installed. It is also possible that the wrong system was chosen for the site and soil conditions (for example, high water table, shallow bedrock) or that the residence has been modified to house more people or to use fixtures or appliances that the system was not designed for or sized to handle.
Overuse of Water
The typical Minnesota resident (man, woman, or child) uses about 100 gallons of water per day. Systems are sized for typical water use, but abnormally high usage or accidental overuse (such as from leaky fixtures) can quickly overload the system. A system partially damaged from improper maintenance may not be able to treat even typical volumes of water. This situation often occurs when a home of one or two people is sold to a family of five or six causing water use to increase dramatically.

Improper Maintenance
The solids that accumulate in the septic tank must be removed regularly. If excessive scum or sludge builds up, it will begin to enter the soil treatment area and over time will plug it. It is recommended that a septic tank be cleaned (pumped) through the manhole, removing all solids, every one to three years. Cleaning frequency depends on several factors, including the number of people in the home, the size of the tank, and the use of a garbage disposal. The complete removal of solids from the tank requires flushing and back-flushing between the tank and the truck several times.

Operation and Maintenance Tips
Proper operation and maintenance will prevent costly repairs and replacement in the future.

Control water use
• Repair all leaky faucets, fixtures, and appliances immediately.
• Install low water use fixtures and appliances (especially toilets and shower heads).
• Do not empty roof drains and sump pump water into the septic system.
• Wash only full loads of clothing and dishes.
• Reduce length of showers and number of toilet flushing.
• Reroute water softener discharge water out of the septic system.
• Spread water use, such as laundry, evenly throughout the day and week.

Eliminate harmful products from the system
• Reduce or eliminate use of harsh cleaners, disinfectants, detergents, and bleach.
• Dispose of solvents, paints, and unwanted medications through other means.
• Keep grease, lint, food particles, cigarette butts, paper towels, disposable diapers, coffee grounds, feminine hygiene products, plastics, and other solid products out of the system.
• Use only necessary amounts of liquid non-phosphorus detergents and cleaners.

Do not use additives
It is not necessary to use additives to enhance the performance of a properly operating system. If the level of bacterial activity is low, it is because disinfectants and other products are killing them. Reduce or eliminate the use or disposal of these products in the system to allow the bacteria to re-establish. Some additives cause solids to become suspended in the liquids. These solids will end up in the drain field, causing significant damage.
Regularly clean/pump and inspect the septic tank
The septic tank must be cleaned or pumped regularly to remove all solids. Never go into the septic tank. It lacks oxygen and contains dangerous gases.
• Always clean the tank through the manhole (20- to 24-inch opening).
• Always use a licensed professional.
• Be sure all solids are removed (flush and back-flush).
• Inspect the baffles to be sure they are in place and functioning properly.

Maintain pumps and filters properly
• All pumps and motors should be routinely checked for proper operation.
• Replace weak or faulty pumps and motors.
• Install and clean lint filters on laundry equipment.
• Clean or replace effluent filters regularly.
• Attend to alarms on pumps and filters immediately.

Protect the soil treatment area
• Mow but do not fertilize or water turf grasses.
• Keep heavy vehicles (cars, tractors, snowmobiles, etc.) off soil treatment area.
• Do not place gardens, swing sets, or sand boxes over this area.
• Do not plant trees and shrubs on or close to this area.
• Maintain stands of appropriate plants on constructed wetland sites.

By Ken Olson

Solving Sewage Problems on Small Lots and Poor Soils


Septic systems are a safe and effective soil based system to treat household waste-water provided there’s enough soil area and soil conditions are conducive to treatment. Septic systems treat sewage as well as or better than municipal treatment facilities when they are properly designed, installed and maintained.
There are many situations in wet soils or on small lots where traditional septic system designs must be modified or they won’t work. Space problems are common in small rural towns, around lakes, and in existing or new small-lot suburban developments. Poor or wet soil conditions may occur in any of these same areas, as well as in wide-open spaces.

The soil treatment portion of a septic system, often referred to as a “drain-field”, is the most important part of the treatment. It kills the disease-causing pathogens and filters out most of the nutrients in the sewage. All of this depends on having two to three feet of unsaturated soil and separation from bedrock. Treatment will not occur if untreated waste-water is allowed to leak into bedrock or enter soil that is filled with water at any time during the year. This separation determination is made at the time the system is designed by doing a soil boring.

If you don’t have the two to three feet of separation necessary for a traditional trench drain-field, the treatment area must be raised (mound), relocated on the property, or the raw sewage stored and hauled off of the property (holding tank). If the individual property is not large enough or does not have the right soil conditions, additional property may be needed. Two or more property owners may join together to locate an appropriate treatment site nearby.

Several treatment alternatives are available. Individual or multiple-household septic systems may utilize an in-ground trench, an at-grade trench, a mound, a constructed (lined) wetland, or drip or spray irrigation system to disperse and treat septic tank effluent. Special enhancement devises may be added to improve the performance or allow for the modification of the system. These include peat or sand filters, aerobic septic tanks, or the separation of solid wastes into a composting system. Current research and trial systems are evaluating the effectiveness of these units. Some of them may result in reduced size requirements and/or smaller soil separation distances.

The importance of proper operation and maintenance is increased as multiple-household systems and special enhancements are introduced. Private interests such as homeowner associations, private joint ventures, or water quality cooperatives can do this management. Public management options include municipal utilities, sanitary sewer districts or Environmental Subordinate Service Districts.

In solving sewage treatment problems on small lots or in difficult soil conditions, it is very important to remember that the ultimate goal is to “achieve proper sewage treatment for the protection of human health and the environment”. The most cost- effective solution to the problem may not be “one system for everyone” but rather a combination of treatment and management options.

More details about treatment and management options are available from your local planning and zoning or environmental services office. The Residential Cluster Development: Fact Sheet Series available from all University of Minnesota Extension County Offices and the Extension Distribution Center 1(800)876-8636 also has more details of these management options.

By Ken Olson

Maintaining a Home Septic System


Cleaning septic systems removes the sludge and other materials that accumulate in the septic tank. The septic tank is the first stage in a home waste-water treatment system. Waste-water flows from the home into the septic tank where bacterial action breaks down solid waste into liquid which then flows to the drain field and soaks into the ground.

Some of the solid waste does not break down. This forms a sludge that accumulates in the tank. If the tank fills with sludge it may overflow into the drain field through the outlet openings at the top of the septic tank. This can clog the field causing the septic system to fail. Homeowners commonly first notice the failure of a septic system when raw sewage backs up into the home through the lowest drain.

For these reasons, cleaning septic tanks helps keep the home waste-water system healthy and operating efficiently. A septic tank cleaning service, employed on a regular basis, is vital to preventing sewer system failure.
Utilizing the same septic tank service every year can help alleviate problems. The service can notify you when the cleaning is due. The services will commonly maintain record of the location of the septic tank access cover and know the system.

Septic tank cleaning services use a vacuum system to pump the sludge and liquids found in the tank into a truck to be disposed usually at a municipal waste-water treatment plant. Cleaning equipment includes specially shaped “spoons” to clear sludge from the corners of the tank. The process of cleaning a septic tank is commonly rather smelly process but, when completed, helps improve the health of the home septic system.

Proper routine maintenance of home septic systems helps extend the life of the system and reduces potential future problems. Replacing a septic system is expensive, messy and disrupts the entire yard with excavations. The cost of the routine cleaning is small compared to replacing the system. Working with a professional septic service helps the homeowner stay on the best maintenance schedule and can reduce the long-term expenses by reducing the likelihood of having to replace the entire system.

New Homeowners: Beware of Older Septic Systems


Not all states require full disclosure of every detail about a property being purchased. Many homes still use septic systems for disposal of waste water and solids. Older septic systems can be rife with problems that a new homeowner does not become aware of until living at their new home for several months. It is important to get a full inspection and report by a qualified inspector not hired by the realty company or seller.

With a new system potentially costing over 20 thousand dollars, it is vital to know the condition of the older septic system.Consider the existing occupants. Will the new homeowner put an additional strain on the system? How many people are living in the house now? Do they have children? An older couple selling a home to a new family of four is likely to have vastly different water usage levels. An additional load put on a strained system can cause it to fail.
Current occupants may have adapted to problems with the system that the new homeowner cannot do. Some have stopped using clothes washers, opting for the laundromat so as to not overload a septic tank. The new homeowner is oblivious to the adaptation tactics used by the prior occupants until trouble arises.
Another potential problem exists for homes that have septic tanks that have not been used in some time. Some homes sit unoccupied for a period of time before a new family moves in. A septic tank is a bio-active system that requires an active bacterial colony to digest solid wastes. If it is disrupted by too many chemicals or even not enough of a flow of sewage waste, a system can fail. This is especially true for older sewage waste systems.
The average home buyer does not know how to fully inspect the complete sewage system, nor do they have the proper tools to do so. Even a qualified technician would have to calculate how much a system is being used now versus how much it will be used by the new family. This is a critical thing to consider. Another consideration for the technician is if an older system that has not been used for some time is still viable.
Consider the fact that replacement often costs as much as or more than buying a brand new automobile, and this makes it quite apparent to get some assurances in writing about older sewer systems that are not connected to a public sewer line. Also, be sure to investigate if a public system is available as well as the tap-in costs.