How a Septic System Works

How a Septic System Works

What Makes Up a Sewage (Septic) System?

A septic system is made up of three basic components which provide primary treatment to your household wastewater:

  1. A septic tank
  2. A tile field or bed
  3. Soil cover

How large should my septic tank be?

In the province of Ontario, the capacity of a household septic system is intended to accommodate twice the daily design flow of your home. This allows your wastewater to be retained long enough to allow the settling out of solids and liquids, encouraging treatment and microbiological activity. 

Your septic system designer will help you determine the right size for your property.

What is an effluent filter?

Since 2006, the Ontario Building Code requires that an effluent filter is located at the outlet of every septic tank. This prevents suspended solids from reaching and damaging your tile bed or leaching field. Your effluent filter requires cleaning and maintenance annually, at a minimum. Find some tips for proper effluent screen cleaning on page 24 of our newsletter.

What is the purpose of the tile bed or leaching field?

The tile bed or leaching field protects our groundwater by distributing your treated effluent into the soil where it is polished before returning to the natural environment. Soil, along with microbiological organisms, oxygen, and mineral buffers remove potentially harmful bacteria, unwanted elements, and viruses from the treated effluent as it moves through the soil.

How often should I pump my septic system?

To keep your system functional and operating in its intended manner, your septic tank will require intermittent pumping (depending on your usage) in order to remove excessive accumulated sludge and solids. As per the Ontario Building Code, this is identified when your sludge measurements reach one-third of the working capacity (or liquid depth) of your receiving chamber. In most cases, it is recommended that this occurs every 3-5 years, depending on use, size and condition of your septic tank.

Find a list of local installers, designers and pumpers by visiting our ‘Find A Professional” page. 

How can I protect my septic system?

  1. Redirecting Surface Drainage

Redirecting surface drainage and downspouts from your roof, away from your septic system, is a key element to prolonging the lifespan of your system’s components, namely your tile bed or leaching field. Flooding the surface of your area bed allows too much water infiltration and this saturates the soil, where a vital part of effluent treatment occurs.

  1. Prevent Compaction

The compaction of soil covering your septic system’s components may occur with the use of heavy equipment, vehicular traffic or storage and placement of large and heavy items such as swimming pools and skating rinks. When the soil covering your system’s components is compacted, the oxygen supply is cut off to the micro-organisms native to the soil, which is detrimental as they are essential to the treatment of discharged effluent and soil integrity. 

Even excessive snow loads from driveways or backyard skating rinks can cause compaction and drive frost into the system taking away from optimal or even functional capacity.

  1. Advanced Treatment Systems Require Scheduled Maintenance

Treatment systems that use advanced technologies are proudly found across Ontario. A key element to ensuring environmental protection and optimization of the system’s lifespan (and oftentimes warranty) is the regular maintenance of your system by a manufacturer-authorized service provider.

This is of course validated with a written service agreement or contract. As the homeowner or operator of a treatment system, a regular maintenance schedule along with proactive care is your best strategy to lifelong system function and primary responsibility in optimizing your system’s operation.

Learn More About how Sewage (Septic) Systems Work