Blog    |    Wastewater Management Systems


A septic system is a holding unit and filtering system that purifies wastewater, which is the water that leaves your household from sinks, showers, bathtubs, and toilets, along with anything else that goes down with it. There are several different types of septic systems, but each has the same goal of cleansing water so it can safely re-enter the groundwater system for future use.

In North America, at the beginning of the 21st century, approximately 25% of the population relied on septic tanks.  That divides out to nearly 145 million people who use septic systems. These areas included some suburbs and small towns, not just rural areas, though rural areas certainly make up the bulk of septic users. One example of an urban area that relies on septic tanks is Indianapolis. Many of their neighborhoods still rely on separate septic systems.

There are three layers of material in septic systems:

  • Scum– Floating on the top layer which is less dense than water, Scum is biodegradable.

  • Effluent– This is the wastewater itself. It is the only layer sent back to the surrounding ground soil for future use.

  • Sludge– The solid or organic waste that is denser than water sinks to the bottom in a septic tank or cesspool. Sludge is not biodegradable and needs to be pumped out regularly.

Septic Tanks vs. Cesspools

What are the key differences in a septic tank vs cesspool?

The main difference between these two forms of wastewater management is the word “system”. The cesspool is similar to a well-liner but with holes in its concrete or block ring. There is no broad distribution of effluent. It all goes into the cesspool, with the resulting sludge piling up at the bottom, and effluent and scum escaping through the holes directly into the immediate surrounding soil. That makes for really messy soil surrounding the cesspool.

The cesspool has to be pumped frequently to keep lower holes open for water flow. Also, the cesspool needs to be dug up and moved when the surrounding area’s soil begins pooling wastewater at the ground surface. Older cesspools should be replaced with a modern septic system.

Septic tanks, on the other hand, distribute the scum and effluent into a tile field. This provides a broader area of distribution than a cesspool, which means it is unlikely that the septic tank would need to be relocated.

When choosing septic tank vs cesspool, septic tanks are a cleaner and easier to maintain option for you.

Septic Tanks vs. Sewer

What is the difference in septic tank vs sewer? The biggest differences are size, availability, and frequency of cost.

Sewer systems are large, complex systems of wastewater treatment that serve entire neighborhoods. They require daily professional maintenance and are usually contracted out by cities.

Most homes within city limits are connected to a sewer system. However, most homes outside of city limits do not have access to sewer and it can be very expensive to connect them in.

The large sewer systems typically charge a monthly fee for use, but the homeowner does not have to handle any maintenance costs for the service. Septic tanks, on the other hand require a one-time installation cost, without monthly fees. There are additional costs for maintenance and regular pumping that the homeowner must pay for septic tanks. These costs tend to be more frequent with less expensive tank models. Generally the question of whether to use septic tank vs sewer is based upon which one is available for your property.

Septic Tanks vs. Holding Tanks

What is the difference in a septic tank vs holding tank? Don’t they both just hold wastewater?

Holding tanks are used by homeowners who do not have a suitable tile field to install a septic tank.  When you install a septic tank, you have to prepare a nearby area of land to pump out the effuse and scum, distributing it through soil, which then purifies the water from it. If your land is too steep or not large enough, you may be limited to the option of a holding tank.

A holding tank, just as it sounds, is simply a tank that holds waste. It does not distribute out anything, which means it must be pumped out more often. It must be monitored carefully so that toilets and sinks do not get backed up if the tank gets too full. If you have a large family, this may mean getting your holding tank pumped every week, which could cost you $100 a month. Furthermore, some communities do not allow them, due to the risk of leaks or the chance that the homeowners would not be able to pay to pump them out.

In the decision between septic tank vs holding tank, it is far better to go with a septic tank unless that option is unavailable to you.

Septic Tanks vs. Leach Fields

Septic tank vs Leach field may be a misnomer. In reality, these two methods work best when they are working together.

When wastewater leaves a household, it contains a mixture of scum, effluent, and sludge. The main purpose of a septic tank is to divide out the scum and effluence from the sludge so that it can be safely redistributed into the ground. The sludge stays at the bottom of the septic tank, which occasionally needs to be pumped out. The one problem with a septic tank alone is that the water that drains out of it may still contain harmful bacteria and viruses that could contaminate your water supply. With sufficient time and enough soil, the ground itself will clean those out, but it may not get enough time if it is simply draining down out of the septic tank. (The same would especially be true of a cesspool.) The purpose of a leach field (or drain field) is to take the path of that water, from the septic tank, to the groundwater return, and spread it out horizontally, releasing it slower. That gives it more time and good soil to work through before re entering groundwater, making it safer. The problem of trying to just have a leach field without a septic tank is that the sludge would clog the pipes going through the leach field, leading to backed up sewage and ineffective draining through the field. You really need both the septic tank, to divide out the sludge and the leach field to provide a safer purification process for your wastewater. It is not a question of septic tank vs leach field, it is the combination of the two that works best for you.

Not all wastewater treatment systems are available to everyone. Some are not allowed due to community regulations. Some are simply not viable in the property you live on. If you live within city limits and sewer systems are available, that probably is going to be your best option. In some cases, it may be your only option.

If you live outside the range of a sewer system, you probably have multiple options before you. It is wise to consider long term costs before choosing the least expensive method. Cesspools may be cheaper to install but they are difficult to maintain, and over time may end up causing problems on your property as you move them from place to place. They are also one of the least safe methods of dealing with wastewater. What you save in installation you may end up paying out in doctor bills!

Holding tanks are potentially safer, but they have a high maintenance cost since you have to pump them out a lot more often. Furthermore, if they leak you will have a very expensive mess to clean up. Depending on where it is located, you may have the EPA to deal with as well. This is perhaps why holding tanks are often banned in certain communities.

Your best method of dealing with wastewater if a sewer system is not an option is a septic tank with a leach field. There are some property types that are not big enough or suitable for this kind of method, but there are many types and sizes of septic tank systems that accommodate most property types. It may be a little more costly upfront, but you will save money in the long run and you will be spared the headache of having wastewater seeping up through the ground in your backyard, inciting the wrath of your neighbors who are offended by the odor. That is even more important if you have a business on that property because no one wants to visit a business that smells like clogged toilets.

The good news for you is that you do not need to make this decision alone. Your local septic tank experts are available to consult with you and help you get the best possible wastewater treatment for you money. Be advised, you will need to contact the county for permitting and specific requirements from the Health Department. Let’s face it, of all the many things you want to flush down the drain, your hard-earned money is not one of them… so why wait? Contact your local septic experts today so you can get on to cleaner living.



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