Septic systems are common throughout the U.P. (as in any rural area). But if you’ve lived in a city or town your whole life, the idea of a septic system can be daunting.

I’m here today to put your mind at ease. As a Marquette home inspector, I have seen the good, the bad, and the ugly when it comes to septic systems. I can tell you this: with proper maintenance, a general understanding of the components, and regular inspections – your septic system can be an asset, not a worry.

In this blog, I will be going over the basics of septic systems, explaining:

  • What a septic system is
  • The common types of septic systems I find as a Marquette home inspector
  • Proper septic system maintenance
  • Why you should schedule a septic inspection before buying a rural property in the U.P.

Let’s get started!

What is a Septic Tank?

Let’s start with the basics. If you’ve never lived in a rural area, you may be asking yourself, “what is a septic system”?

Septic systems resolve an everyday need – disposing of wastewater that drains from your home (think: toilets, showers, kitchen sink, washing machines etc.). In rural or suburban areas that aren’t serviced by the public sewer system, septic systems treat wastewater through natural and technological processes. Typically, wastewater is treated through a drain field while solids settle to the bottom.

Common Types of Septic Systems I find as a Marquette Home Inspector

There are several popular septic systems in the U.P. As a Marquette home inspector, I typically identify two main types: conventional and raised bed systems.

Factors that will determine which type of system is right for your property will include:

  • Soil composition
  • Landscape
  • Water table
  • Size of property
  • Size of home  

Now, let’s talk about the differences between conventional and raised-bed systems and their components.

Raised Bed System

These systems are often utilized in areas with heavy clay, solid rock, or high groundwater tables. They can also be called “mound systems”.

Raised bed systems are comprised of three main components:

  • The septic tank. This is where natural separation and pretreatment of wastewater takes place. A septic tank is typically made of fiberglass, concrete or polypropylene and buried underground.
  • The middle layer. The liquid effluent (the middle layer) will sporadically flow via gravity to the dosing chamber. The pump chamber collects the effluent and usually comes equipped with numerous safety features like a high water alarm float and a pump control float.
  • The mound. This is the above-ground drain field where effluent is pumped up into. The effluent gradually trickles into a bed of gravel and/or sand. Aerobic bacteria in the mound will further eliminate waste before it filters into the groundwater.

Here’s how raised bed systems work: once the pump chamber reaches a certain level, the pump will engage, bringing the effluent up to the sand mound above the ground. So, if you see a weird alarm on your basement wall – now you know its purpose!

Conventional System

With this system style, effluent is channeled from the septic tank to a shallow trench containing stone or gravel. The effluent then filters through the gravel (or stone), where microbes treat it before reaching the soil below.

The advantage of conventional systems: stone or gravel septic systems are mechanically straightforward and simpler to maintain than raised bed systems. Still, it’s important to remember they also have a larger footprint on the property and may not be ideal for all ground and soil conditions.

A photo of water rushing down a sink drain to be processed in a septic system.
Wastewater has to go somewhere. If you live in a rural area, septic systems are the go-to solution for dealing with all the water that goes down your drain.

Septic System Maintenance

Your waste disposal system plays a crucial role in keeping you and your family healthy, so proper maintenance is necessary. I typically recommend scheduling maintenance every three years to keep it in tip-top shape.  

Septic systems are not something you can D.I.Y. Working with a professional is always the best move. If you would like to learn more about the importance of septic maintenance, please visit the E.P.A.’s website here.

3 Tips from Rich

Owning a septic field doesn’t have to be hard, as long as you follow these tips:

  1. Before buying a property, get a septic inspection. The last thing you want is to move in only to realize the septic tank is failing. You can even ask for the tank to be pumped as part of your negotiation!
  2. Have your tank pumped regularly. Many septic maintenance companies are busy, so sticking with one company and scheduling ahead is usually the way to go.
  3. Learn the basic components of your system. It’s always a good idea to know what’s going on with your home, and the septic system in no exception!

As your Marquette home inspector, U.P. Home Inspection LLC does not offer septic inspection or maintenance. This is because unless the tank is pumped, it is difficult to impossible to adequately assess the condition of a septic field. Rather than charge you needlessly, if you need septic system service or stand-alone septic system inspection, we recommend contacting a septic specialist in your area to service the tank and do the inspection at the same time.