If you have a property that does not have the benefit of a connection to the mains sewage system you will need to have an alternative means of draining your foul sewage away from your property. The conventional means of achieving this is through the employment of a septic drainage system which transports the waste to a septic tank.  Although the number of properties that are served by a septic tank in the UK is relatively small, primarily involving properties that are in rural locations, in other countries, such as the USA, they are a more common feature.

How They Work

Septic tanks are usually constructed from plastic or concrete, which are both long-lasting materials. They connect to the property via an inlet pipe. There are normally two chambers in the tank, with the waste draining into one, followed by the other before the fluid element is allowed to drain from the tank into a leach field. The solid waste remains in the tank until it is emptied, whilst the cleansed fluid element seeps into the soil. As long as a septic tank is working properly and is inspected periodically and emptied when necessary it should work effectively for many years.

The Emptying Process

At some stage it is necessary to empty the septic tank to avoid the build up of solid waste causing the tank to fill up and spill out into the drainage field. The tank is generally emptied by operatives who specialise in the process of emptying tanks and disposing of waste. The procedure for emptying the septic tank involves pumping out the waste with a vacuum truck. How frequently a tank needs to be emptied will depend on its size and the amount of use that it is subjected to. A small tank that is used by a large family will require more frequent emptying than a larger one used by a single person or a couple.

South Devon builders septic tank

Potential Hazards

Although septic tanks do not require a great deal of maintenance, they cannot be neglected altogether. There are certain potential problems associated with septic tanks, the main ones of which are:

  • If oils and grease are regularly flushed into the tank the inlet pipes can become blocked
  • Blockages will also be caused by flushing non-degradable items into the tank
  • The tank may be damaged by tree roots and other shrubbery growing nearby
  • The leach field may be rendered unusable if too much salt water is flushed into the system
  • If excessive water is introduced into the system it may will overload it, causing it to fail
  • Heavy rainfall, snow or flooding can compromise the working of the leach field and possible cause back-flow

It is clearly the responsibility of the owner of a septic tank to ensure that everything possible is done to keep the tank working efficiently. Although there is no greater potential threat posed to the public by a septic tank than by the main sewage system, it is nevertheless important to bear in mind that the implications of failing to maintain and/or empty a septic tank when required may be quite serious for the local environment.


Possibly because the responsibility for maintaining a septic tank generally falls on the individual householder, unlike the maintenance of the mains system, many people shy away from buying a house with this type of sewage system. However, this reluctance is unnecessary in view of the relatively small amount of maintenance work that is required, the fact that the tank may not need to be emptied for many years and the savings that can be achieved on the quarterly water bill.

Leave a Reply