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Get Your $H&T Straight: What You Need to Know About Septic Systems

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Learn about septic tanks are and how they work, the pros and cons of ownership, the maintenance requirements, and replacement costs.

Getting Your $H&T Straight: What You Need to Know About Septic Systems

If you’re in the market to buy a home, you may come across properties that have a septic tank system for waste management. This certainly could be the case in more rural or under-developed areas. For those who have never owned or operated a septic system, it can be overwhelming to think of the maintenance requirements. This article aims to provide insight to all things relating to septic tanks and their operation. This, in turn, will hopefully put you at ease as you narrow in on sending an offer toward a home that has one. We’ll cover everything from what septic tanks are and how they work, the pros and cons of ownership, the maintenance requirements, and replacement costs. So if you’re considering a home with a septic system, or need help being put to sleep, keep reading to learn more about what you need to know.

What is a Septic Tank?

A septic tank is a large underground tank made of concrete, fiberglass, or plastic that is used to treat and dispose of household wastewater. Yes, you flush it down the toilet, and it gets dumped into this tank (and you thought YOUR job was terrible!). The tank is buried in the ground and is connected to the home’s plumbing system through a series of pipes. The wastewater flows from the house into the septic tank, where it is stored and treated. The tank is not alone, however. The tank has a series of drain pipes connected to it called a “drain field” or “leach field” or “absorption field”. This is where the wastewater from the septic tank is dispersed into the soil for further treatment and filtration.

The drain field consists of a series of perforated pipes or chambers buried in gravel trenches, which are placed in a shallow layer of soil. The wastewater flows from the septic tank into the drain field, where it is slowly released into the soil. The soil acts as a natural filter, removing harmful bacteria, viruses, and other contaminants.

The size and design of the drain field will depend on various onsite factors such as: the soil type, the size of the septic tank, and the amount of wastewater produced by the house.

When are septic tanks typically used?

Septic tanks are typically used in areas where there is no access to a municipal sewage system. This includes rural areas, remote locations, and properties that are far away from the city’s main sewage lines. In such areas, septic tanks are the most common method of disposing of wastewater. Use of these devices means that there does not need to be a piping infrastructure leading back to the municipality, and there are not in-depth processes or treatments required on the water you use. It does not get more environmentally friendly, for those who are looking to reduce their carbon footprint.

The size of the septic tank should be appropriate for the size of the home and the number of occupants. An undersized tank can lead to problems with the system, such as frequent backups and overflows.

The Florida Department of Health, suggests the following tank sizes for residential homes based on daily capacity requirements:

  • 1 bedroom home, less than 750 sq. ft. – minimum of 900 Gallons Tank
  • 2 bedroom homes, less than 1,200 sq. ft. – minimum of 900 Gallons Tank
  • 3 bedroom homes, less than 2,250 sq. ft. – minimum of 1,050 Gallons Tank
  • 4 bedroom homes, less than 3,300 sq. ft. – minimum of 1,200 Gallons Tank

Pros and Cons of owning a septic tank


  1. Cost-effectiveness: Installing and maintaining a septic tank can be more cost-effective than connecting to a municipal sewage system. This is especially true for homeowners who live in rural areas where the cost of running a sewer line to the property can be prohibitively expensive. Flat out, access to potable water supply and drainage will not be possible until the areas around you develop with more houses.
  2. Eco-friendly: Septic tanks are eco-friendly because they treat and dispose of wastewater in a way that is less harmful to the environment. The water that is discharged from the septic tank is filtered and purified before it re-enters the groundwater table.
  3. Independence: Septic tanks offer homeowners more independence and control over their waste management systems. Homeowners are not dependent on the city’s sewage system and can customize their system according to their needs.
  4. Fertilization: Your yard may not always look the best, but the areas nearby to the septic tank typically will! Natural fertilization is quite a cool concept.


  1. Maintenance: Septic tanks require regular maintenance to keep them functioning correctly. Homeowners must periodically pump out the tank and have it inspected to prevent damage and ensure it is working correctly.
  2. Health Risks: Septic tanks can pose health risks if they are not adequately maintained or if they malfunction. Exposure to wastewater can lead to various diseases and infections, including E.coli and hepatitis A.
  3. Failure: Septic tanks can fail and require expensive repairs or replacement. The cost of repairing or replacing a septic tank can be high, and homeowners may need to dig up their yard to access the tank.
  4. Content Restrictions: You cannot flush things with a disregard like a conventional plumbing system. You must avoid disposing of non-biodegradable materials, such as plastics and chemicals, into the septic system. These materials do not readily break down, and can inhibit flow and cause blockages.

Maintenance Requirements

As indicated, septic tanks require regular maintenance to keep them functioning correctly. Here are some maintenance requirements for septic tanks:

  1. Pumping: The tank should be pumped out every three to five years, depending on the tank’s size and the number of people in the household. This will prevent solids from building up in the tank and clogging the system. Signs or malfunction at any point between these spans should be investigated as well.
  2. Inspection: The septic tank should be inspected every three years to ensure it is functioning correctly. The inspection will identify any damage or potential problems with the system. Fortunately, most septic pumping outfits provide the inspections at the time of pumping out of standard course.
  3. Water Conservation: Homeowners should practice water conservation to prevent overloading the septic system. This includes using low-flow toilets and showerheads and fixing leaks promptly. Overloading the drain field with excessive water can cause the soils to become saturated and fail.

Replacement Costs

Septic tanks can last for many years with proper maintenance, but eventually, they will need to be replaced. The cost of replacing a septic tank can vary depending on the tank’s size and the location of the property. On average, the cost of replacing a septic tank can range from $3,000 to $7,000.


In conclusion, purchasing a home with a septic tank can seem daunting for those unfamiliar with how they work. However, by understanding the basic concepts and requirements of septic tanks, home buyers can make informed decisions when it comes to purchasing and maintaining their property. We hope this article has provided valuable insights into this critical component of a home’s waste management system. By following proper maintenance procedures and seeking professional guidance when needed, homeowners can enjoy the benefits of a functional and eco-friendly septic system for many years to come.

Hello!  I’m Mike Powell, P.E., the founder of Red Flag Home Inspection, LLC and the creator of this website.  I am also a Professional Engineer and Forensic (failure) Scientist.  Thank you for taking the time to read this blog post.  We appreciate your time spent on this site and are always open to suggestions and ideas from our readers.  You can connect with us through our social media channels (FacebookInstagram, Youtube, Twitter, or Email me anytime. We would love to hear from you. 🙂

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