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Learn More About Your Septic System

At Blackwater Environtmental Services, we believe in sharing industry knowledge so your septic system runs cleanly. Keep your underground infrastructures healthy and clean by learning more about how they work. 

Click on the following to learn more about each function of your underground infrastructure:

Septic tanks explained

Your tank operates at a full capacity. The tank fills as you add effluent to the system; the effluent leaves your tank to leach into the ground. Unless you own an older home, or a larger estate style home, you probably have a septic tank that is between 1200 and 1500 gallons. There are two lids to your tank. One lid is for access to chamber number 1 and the inlet pipe from your home. Here in chamber 1, the solids and paper collect, with the water flowing into chamber number 2. Chamber number 2 is separated from chamber 1 by some sort of a wall with holes in it to allow water to continue on towards your leaching field. Chamber number 2 is designed so the finer particles of your dirty effluent collect and settle, so only dirty water is allowed to leach out to your leaching bed. The second lid also allows access to your outlet pipe. The most important thing you, as a home owner, can do is to ensure both sides of the tank are cleaned when you have regular maintenance done. Doing one chamber or the other is only asking for trouble at a later date. There are two reasons leaching beds fail over time, one is from the lack of cleaning your tank at regular intervals, and the other is not cleaning both sides of your tank. Just remember, you have two lids and both should be opened and cleaned when you do your regular tank cleaning. Some older systems only have a short wall inside to separate the chambers, but it is better to be safe now than sorry later. Open both lids and clean both sides of the tank, every time you have the tank cleaned.

Cleaning my tank

How often should I clean my tank?

This is the most common question with the most varying answer. How often you clean your tank depends on the size of the tank, the number of people living in your home and the age of your family members. Large families with school age children use more of everything – water, paper, laundry soap, household cleaners and bleach (just to name a few). Also think about how often you have large family gatherings. All of these are factors to consider. Also having a bearing on how often to clean your tank is a water softener.

What's the big deal about a water softener you ask? A water softener naturally removes iron from your water, and iron is high in natural good bacteria. A natural good bacterium helps your tank digest what you put in it. As the softener removes the iron, it also eliminates the bacterium that is digesting paper properly. This paper can build up as a floating sludge that can block your inlet pipe.

In the Province of Ontario, the provincial government recommends septic tank cleaning every 3 to 5 years. In the Province of Quebec, it is mandatory to clean septic tanks every 2 years.

Blackwater Environmental Services says: If you have an average country home with an average growing family with a water softener - clean your tank every 2 years, every 3 years if you don't have a water softener. Longer periods between cleaning are OK as your family matures, but never more than every 5 years. The most important to remember: clean it according to your household lifestyle AND clean it regularly.

Tile beds explained

Depending on the type of soil in your community, your local municipal building codes may require that you have a raised tile bed or leaching field. These can be an entire yard that is raised or might have a mound at the back of your property. If your soil conditions are just right, you will have an old fashioned gravity fed leaching bed. Years ago all tile beds were gravity fed, but the times and science of a bed has changed.

If you have a raised leaching bed, you have a third chamber after your septic tank that contains an effluent pump (this pump is not the same as a sump pump) to lift the dirty water out to the leaching bed. This chamber will either have an electrical junction box above ground or a waterproof junction box inside that chamber just under the lid. Also attached to this pump will be an alarm that is wired in your home to let you know when the pump is not operating. These effluent pumps do not last forever and their life cycle is dependent on the amount of use, your ground water level during times of dampness and the overall quality of pump that is installed. The usual lifespan of an effluent pump is around ten years. Some pumps last much longer, some pumps last a shorter period. Just remember your alarm will tell you when the pump is not working.

Sump pumps explained

Country homes usually have a sump pit and pump that collects ground water from around the foundations of your home. The pump moves the water up and outside, away from your home. In some homes this pump runs all year, other homes you only hear it running during the spring thaw and after heavy rains. If you have a bathroom or laundry in your basement, you could have another sump pit that collects your sewage water and, again, pumps it up to the level of the drain pipes leaving your home. The sealed sump pit is self-maintaining as long as the pump is working. When a pump fails, the first sign will be a bathtub drain working backwards and filling up your tub or a toilet not flushing. But, there are exceptions to every rule and every home is different. You may have a walkout basement and the septic system is below the lowest point of your home. If this is the case, you might not have basement sump pits. With the design of most homes today, you probably do have a basement pit(s): 1 for ground water and 1 for sewage. Pumps are turned on and off by a floating switch. As the water rises in the pit, the switch activates to pump the water out. Once the water is pumped out, the float switch falls and turns the pump off. Some float switches are part of the pump while others are a separate component. You will notice a plug for electricity is plugged into another plug. Your float switch plugs into the wall and the pump plugs into the float switch as designed.

Germ warfare

Trying to keep your septic tank active with natural micro bugs eating away at your sewage and breaking it down so the ground will better filter it, is a struggle for today's average household. Anti-bacterial soaps, laundry bleach, household cleaners and water softeners all affect how your tank digests what you put in it. Chemical additives flushed down your toilet to activate your septic system really only remove the oxygen in paper so it sinks to the bottom and mixes with the sludge in your tank. Does it prolong or extend the need for cleaning your tank? A short answer: No.


Do not use a garburator with a septic system. First, your septic system cannot digest vegetation waste properly. Secondly, biodegrading decaying vegetable waste gives off a gas known as H2S or Hydrogen Sulfide. When this gas is mixed with water, it is known as hydro-sulfuric acid - a weak acid but an acid none the less. It will kill any micro-organisms working to digest your sewage waste. It is also harmful to your tank lining, pipes, leaching bed and any pumps that you have. We recommend that you do not use a garburator.

Disposal requirements

Every region, county, municipality have different requirements and different pricing structures to dispose of your sewage waste. Most, but not all, municipalities will only accept sewage waste at their treatment plant generated from within their boundaries. That is why you have a friend that paid more than you or paid less than you for the same service. As a sewage hauler, our cleaning and disposal pricing is dependent on the municipality in which you live. Most sewage waste haulers pricing structures are around the same. Feel confident on who you choose and make sure they do what you are paying them to do. That is clean your entire tank(s), clean, and refill your pump chamber (if you have one) with water immediately after cleaning.

For the most part, the day of sewage waste haulers dumping in a farmer's field are long over. It can still be done, but (in most cases) the requirements and regulations on the land owner and the sewage hauler make it unfeasible. The Ministry of the Environment (MOE) feasibility studies, ground percolation tests, seasonal availability (only the dry months of the year), swale of the land, proximity to neighbours, roadways, livestock and agricultural food growers and permits are all considerations that our MOE require to be taken into account before a permit to dump sewage in a field is issued. The most important fact is the chance of disease being transferred to humans, livestock and our food source growers.

If done properly with the property meeting all of the MOE's requirements and an MOE Provisional Certificate of Approval being given, it is an accepted practice to dump/spread the sewage waste in a field. Only certain properties, in certain areas, will pass our MOE's permit requirements. These approvals are few and far between in the high density large population zone of Southern Ontario.

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