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    The Difference Between a Septic Tank and a Sewer

    Clogged septic tank

    Septic tanks and sewers serve the same function in a household: both are responsible for carrying wastewater away from the home. However, some key differences exist between septic tanks and sewers.

    If you're a rural homeowner, you likely have a septic tank. Knowing the differences between these two systems can help you take care of your property and avoid problems with your home's septic tank. 

    How Is a Septic Tank Different From a Sewer? 

    A sewer is an underground series of pipes and waterways that connect homes and businesses in a community. Sewers transport wastewater to a treatment plant and are a community resource that is typically paid for as a utility. The local utility company maintains the sewer. 

    In contrast, a septic tank is an underground tank that holds wastewater. A septic tank is usually owned by and paid for by the property owner and only serves one property at a time. The property owner is also responsible for maintaining the septic tank. 

    Are Septic Tanks More Vulnerable to Backups and Clogs?

    Sewers are easily clogged by solid waste like diapers, kitty litter, tampons, feminine pads, and disposable wipes. The same thing that will clog a sewer can also clog a septic tank. However, there‚Äôs also an additional household substance that can put septic tanks at risk: bacteria-killing chemicals. 

    A typical septic tank relies on bacteria in the tank to break down solid waste and turn it into a liquid. Flushing bacteria-killing chemicals (such as bleach, antibacterial soap, and antibiotics) into the tank can disrupt the bacterial ecosystem inside the tank, which can cause solid waste to build up inside the tank at a faster-than-normal rate. 

    If the tank is regularly exposed to bacteria-killing chemicals, this could cause problems down the road. Either the homeowner will have to pump the tank frequently, or the tank may back up in a short period of time. The best way to avoid this problem is to avoid flushing bacteria-killing chemicals in the tank. 

    How Is a Septic Tank Maintained?

    Septic tanks need to be pumped periodically to remove the solid waste from the bottom of the tank. If the tank isn't pumped regularly, this could cause the tank to clog. 

    Some tanks need to be pumped more often than others. The rate at which a tank fills up with solid waste depends on the size of the tank and the amount of wastewater produced.

    If the tank is relatively small for the amount of wastewater being produced, then the tank will need to be pumped frequently. If the tank is appropriately sized for the number of people using the tank, then it may be years before the septic tank needs to be pumped. Some households may go as long as 10 years without pumping their tank. 

    What Are the Signs That a Septic Tank Is Backing Up?

    There are many tell-tale signs that a septic tank is backing up. Here are a few of them:

    • Water drains slowly from the lowest drains in the house.

    • Lowest drains in the house are easily clogged.

    • Water tends to make a gurgling noise as it flows down drains. 

    • Water from one plumbing fixture will flow into another fixture instead of draining into the tank.

    • Large puddles of standing water are over the septic tank drainfield.

    • Lawn smells like sewage. 

    If you have noticed any of these problems in your home, contact a plumber to have it investigated as soon as possible. At C.S. Hines, we are happy to answer any questions you might have about septic tanks. Give us a call today for more information.


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    1828 Mount Pleasant Road, Chesapeake, VA 23322

    Hours of Operation
    Monday-Friday, 8:00 a.m.-4:30 p.m.
    Emergency Service Available

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