What is a well?
A water well is an excavation in the ground, created by digging, driving, boring, or drilling to access groundwater in underground aquifers. The well water is drawn mechanically by a pump. Wells can vary greatly in depth, water volume, and water quality. Well water typically contains more minerals in solution than surface water and may require treatment to soften the water.
What is a septic tank?
A septic tank is simply a big concrete or steel tank that is buried in the yard. The tank might hold 1,000 gallons (4,000 liters) of water. Waste water flows into the tank at one end and leaves the tank at the other. It basically consists of three layers. Anything that floats, rises to the top and forms a layer known as the scum layer. Anything heavier than water sinks to form the sludge layer. In the middle is a fairly clear water layer. This body of water contains bacteria and chemicals like nitrogen and phosphorous that act as fertilizers, but it is largely free of solids.
Waste water comes into the septic tank from the sewer pipes in the house – from sinks and toilets. A septic tank naturally produces gases (caused by bacteria breaking down the organic material in the waste water), and these gases don’t smell good. Sinks therefore have loops of pipe called P-traps that hold water in the lower loop and block the gases from flowing back into the house. The gases flow up a vent pipe instead – if you look at the roof of any house, you will see one or more vent pipes poking through.
As new water enters the tank, it displaces the water that’s already there. This water flows out of the septic tank and into a drain field. A drain field is made of perforated pipes buried in trenches filled with gravel. A typical drain field pipe is 4 inches (10 centimeters) in diameter and is buried in a trench that is 4 to 6 feet (about 1.5 m) deep and 2 feet (0.6 m) wide. The gravel fills the bottom 2 to 3 feet of the trench and dirt covers the gravel. The water is slowly absorbed and filtered by the ground in the drain field. The size of the drain field is determined by how well the ground absorbs water. In places where the ground is hard clay that absorbs water very slowly, the drain field has to be much bigger.
A septic system is normally powered by nothing but gravity. Water flows down from the house to the tank, and down from the tank to the drain field. It is a completely passive system.
Maintenance of your Well and Septic System
Living in or owning a cottage in North Muskoka means you must become your own water supplier and sewage system, and you are your own well system operator. Wells should be checked and tested ANNUALLY for mechanical problems, cleanliness, and the presence of certain contaminants, such as coliform bacteria, nitrates/nitrites, and any other contaminants of local concern, and should be tested more than once a year if there are recurrent incidents of gastrointestinal illness among household members or visitors and/or a change in taste, odor, or appearance of the well water. All hazardous materials, such as paint, fertilizer, pesticides, and motor oil, should be kept far away from your well. Always check the well cover or well cap to ensure it is intact. The top of the well should be at least one foot above the ground.
Unlike those who live in areas served by regional sewerage systems, septic system owners are unique because they are solely responsible for the daily operation and maintenance of their wastewater treatment and disposal system. By adhering to simple and straightforward guidelines, septic system owners can ensure years of trouble-free operation with minimal maintenance.
Do: Check with the local regulatory agency or inspector/pumper before installing a garbage disposal unit to make sure your septic system can handle additional waste.
Do: Use water efficiently to avoid overloading the septic system. Be sure to repair leaky faucets or toilets. Use high-efficiency fixtures.
Do: Plant only grass over and near your septic system. Roots from nearby trees or shrubs might clog and damage the drainfield.
Do: Use commercial bathroom cleaner and laundry detergents in moderation. Many people prefer to clean their toilets, sinks, showers and tubs with a mild detergent or baking soda.
Do: Learn the location of your septic system. Keep a sketch of it with your maintenance record for service visits.
Do: Have your septic system inspected at least every three years and pumped periodically (generally every three to five years) by a licensed inspector/contractor.
Don’t: Put dental floss, feminine hygiene products, condoms, diapers, cotton swabs, cigarette butts, coffee grounds, cat litter, paper towels, latex paint, pesticides or other hazardous chemicals into your system.
Don’t: Use caustic drain openers for a clogged drain. Instead, use boiling water or a drain snake to open clogs.
Don’t: Drive or park vehicles on any part of your septic system. Doing so can compact the soil in your drainfield or damage the pipes, tank or other septic system components.
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