What It’s About

An Unheralded Wonder

The gravity-powered septic system is a wonder of technology — past and present. Its operation is so quiet, natural, and energy-free that we tend to forget the vital function it serves.

Sewage is carried from the house to the tank via gravity — no motors, no fossil-fuel energy consumption, no noise. Wastewater goes from the tank to the drainfield — also via gravity — where microorganisms in the soil digest and purify bacteria and viruses. When the soil is suitable and the system healthy, it is an example of efficient design and natural forces, returning clean water to the water table (or to plants or the air) — all functioning silently under the surface of the earth

What Is This Book?

There are currently more than 25 million septic systems in the United States. Moreover, each year, some 400,000 new systems are built. Yet in spite of such widespread usage, the average homeowner seems to know little about the basic operation and appropriate maintenance of a septic system.

This book describes the conventional gravity-fed septic system, how it works, how it should be treated (what should and should not go down the drain), how it should be maintained, and what to do if things go wrong. There is also basic information on the recent evolution in composting toilet systems, designs for simple graywater systems, and some of the typical alternatives to the standard, gravity-fed septic system.

There is a chapter with advice to any community faced with town-wide septic upgrades, and last, an illustrated chapter on the history of waterborne waste disposal.

As you will see, this is not an engineering treatise. Nor do we cover any of the many non-conventional systems in use in various parts of the country by a variety of wastewater engineers and soil scientists. This is a basic manual for the average homeowner, based on conventional systems, providing practical advice on how to keep these systems up (or should we say down?) and running.

Who Is This Book For?

Primarily homeowners (or home dwellers), but also for builders, architects, plumbers, septic contractors, pumpers, and realtors, as well as health departments, wastewater districts, and small towns — anyone who wants to understand these very important, but often misunderstood, working principles.

If you are buying a house with a septic system, it is very important that you understand septic basics, so that you know what you are getting.

Why the Need for This Book?

Homeowners will find this book useful in terms of:

  • The
    Septic System
    Owner's Manual
    The Septic system Owner's manual
    Working systems: By understanding septic system principles, you will know how to treat your system intelligently and maximize its useful life.
  • Partially failing systems: By changing daily household practices, and perhaps making minor repairs, you may be able to nurse along an ailing system or even bring it back to life.
  • Failing systems: You will be given a discovery process to search for the problem in a given order. You will discover if the problem is relatively easy to fix (as with pipe blockage), or major (drainfield failure). You will understand what went wrong and be given a variety of options for repair.
  • Alternative systems: By this we mean alternatives to the gravity-powered system — typically, mounds, pressure-dosed drainfields, sand filters, etc. — often required by health officials these days. You will be given the basics of these designs so you will understand how they work and what purpose they serve.

Some Caveats

The local angle: Although the principles described here are more or less the same all over the world, there are local factors of soil and climate, as well as practical experience, that will differ from region to region. Once you understand the basics, we suggest you talk to local builders, septic tank pumpers, and homeowners. There is no substitute for local experience.

The comprehensive angle: We do not cover everything on the subject. We do not describe all possible systems in all parts of the world. Our intent here is to give you the basics, so you can make informed judgments on maintenance, repairs, and upgrades.

The appropriate technology angle: Unfortunately, regulatory agencies have tended to require higher-tech, more expensive systems in recent years. In some cases, this approach is necessary, but many times it’s overkill. Granted that there will be situations where soil and/or climate require other options, yet the gravity-fed system remains the simplest and most ecological design; it is the “stick shift” of septic systems, and therefore, the heart of this book.

The varying opinions angle: Experts in the field all have different opinions. We have consulted a number of professionals and have attempted to strike a balance as to sensible and useful information for homeowners.

Ongoing Septic Info

We will update, supplement, and correct this book in future editions and on the web.
Contact us at:

Shelter Publications
P.O. Box 279
Bolinas, CA 94924
fax at 415-868-9053
email teamseptic@shelterpub.com

We welcome corrections, additions, and insights, and and will post useful information you wish to share on our website.