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Understanding Septic Systems for Residential Homeowners

In areas that aren’t connected to municipal water systems, homes, and businesses treat domestic wastewater with various types of septic systems. Whether you currently live in a home on septic or are purchasing a home that requires a new septic system, you may have questions about residential septic systems. By understanding how their septic system operates, home and property owners can conduct the proper maintenance to help avoid backups and septic repair. There are several common types of septic systems. The design and size of a septic system can vary widely, from within your neighborhood to across the country, due to a combination of factors. These factors include household size, soil type, site slope, lot size, proximity to sensitive water bodies, weather conditions, or even local regulations.

What Are Different Types of Residential Septic Systems?

Conventional Septic Systems

A conventional septic system is typically installed at a single-family home or small business. A conventional treatment system consists of a septic tank, the distribution box, and the leech field, also known as the absorption area or drain field. Systems installed after 2012 will include an effluent filter as well. Older systems may or may not contain this component.

As the wastewater enters the tank through the inlet line, the sludge will sink to the bottom, while a layer of grease/scum will remain on top. When the water reaches the baffle line, it will slowly start to exit the tank through the outlet line into the distribution box. Should the system contain an effluent filter, it will inhibit the amount of solids that can enter the absorption area. From this point, wastewater is distributed into the absorption area via perforated lateral pipes. The wastewater is then filtered through a gravel or stone trench and subsequently discharged through the sand and soil layers below. Soil microbes further break down light solids or harmful elements in the wastewater before it rejoins groundwater.

Chamber Septic Systems

The chamber system serves as an alternative design to the stone trench system. The primary advantage of the chamber system is increased ease of delivery and construction. They are also well suited to areas with high groundwater tables, where the volume of influent to the septic system is variable (e.g., at a vacation home or seasonal inn), in an area where gravel is scarce, or in areas where other technologies such as plastic chambers are readily available.

This type of system consists of a series of connected chambers and acts in the same fashion as a conventional septic system.

When a septic tank is pumped, what happens to the wastewater? Our technicians dispose of septic waste at a Water Treatment Facility, where the waste and the water are separated. The waste is dried and utilized as fertilizer and the water is filtered until it can be re-used in an environmental setting.

Aerobic Treatment Unit

Aerobic Treatment Units (ATUs) use many of the same processes as a sewage treatment plant, but on a smaller scale. An aerobic system injects oxygen into the treatment tank. The additional oxygen increases natural bacterial activity within the system that then provides additional treatment for nutrients in the effluent. Some aerobic systems may also have a pretreatment tank and a final treatment tank including disinfection to further reduce pathogen levels. Once filtered through the treatment tank, it will enter the absorption area, which is typically designed to drain in the same fashion as a conventional septic system.

The benefits of this system are that it can be used in homes with smaller lots, inadequate soil conditions, in areas where the water table is too high, or for homes close to a surface water body sensitive to contamination by nutrients contained in wastewater effluent. Regular life-time maintenance should be expected for ATUs.

Alternative Absorption Areas

Cesspools and seepage pits are the predecessors of the modern-day septic system. Older houses may still be utilizing these systems especially if they have not been sold in the last 100 years. So, what is a cesspool and seepage pit?


The cesspool is the forerunner to the modern-day septic system. The cesspool is simply a vertical pit dug into the earth. This pit is lined with porous cement, block, or stone. Gravel fills the area outside of the liner. Wastewater from the home is channeled to the cesspool. The solids fall to the bottom where they are partially digested by bacteria and microorganisms that occur there naturally. The effluent leaches out into the gravel and soil surrounding the pit.

Today, cesspools are not the best method of dealing with household wastewater. These types of septic systems are no longer up to code and have not been constructed in the state of New Jersey since 2012. If you currently have a cesspool system or are purchasing a home with one, it is highly recommended that the system be reengineered and replaced.

Seepage Pits

Seepage Pits Many people confuse cesspools with seepage pits. They serve different purposes in treating wastewater. A seepage pit is like a cesspool in construction. It consists of a large pit lined with concrete rings, or porous masonry block to support the walls of the pit, and a surrounding bed of gravel.

The difference is that only effluent that has come from a septic tank enters a seepage pit. The effluent has already been through the first stage of processing in the tank. Once it enters the seepage pit it is temporarily stored there until it gradually seeps through the walls and into the surrounding soil. A bio mat forms at the bottom of the pit and as the pit ages the bio mat grows thick clogging the pores of the pit walls. Seepage pits are not as efficient at processing effluent as drain fields or soil absorption beds.

Seepage pits are still considered to be up to code and are utilized, albeit less frequently than conventional or treatment systems. They are most used for single family homes, where there is insufficient space for an alternate system.

Reliable Services From Experienced Septic System Specialists

For more information about septic systems, consult our frequently asked questions (FAQ). Atlantic Sitton Services provides repair, cleaning, and inspection for existing septic systems, as well as the installation of new residential septic systems throughout NJ. Contact us today.

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