About Well and Septic Systems
by R. Lee Wootten
THE WELL SYSTEM
The Lower Eastern Shore has many homes that depend on well, water
conditioner and septic systems. It is important that you, the home
buyer, have a basic understanding of these systems.
First, I will address the well. The well consists of a pipe, metal or
more commonly for newer wells, plastic which is driven or power washed
vertically into the ground. The depth can vary depending on the area..
The lower few feet of the pipe has opening to permit water to enter.
The well pipe, typically two inch or four inch, will be located in
your yard. It most commonly will be protruding approximately one foot
above the ground. It is extremely important that this pipe is protected
from damage. Should this pipe on a two inch system be damaged, i.e.,
fractured, thus allowing air to enter the pipe, ALL water to the system
will be stopped since this type of water system must be air free to
An important part of the water supply system is the pump. One type is
the submersible pump. This pump is located at the bottom of typically a
four inch well pipe. This unit pushes water to the house holding tank
and pipes within the house when required. The holding tank will commonly
be located in the crawl space or attached garage.
The other type of pump used is the suction pump. This pump is
typically located within or under the house i.e. the crawl space or
attached garage. The pump in fact draws the water from the well by
creating a vacuum. The vacuum created by the pump allows the water to
flow to the pump and to the holding tank and house hold system.
The power, electricity, to the pump in both systems is controlled by
a pressure switch. This switch is preset to a value by the plumber based
on the house requirements. Typically a range of 25 to 55 psi, pound per
square inch. The pressure switch has a small water line which senses
the available water pressure in the system. When the pressure drops to
low, say 25 psi, the switch will turn the pump on. When the system
pressure comes up to the preset value, say 55 psi, the switch turns the
Many times I am asked, How deep is my well?. The only person that
knows the depth of your well in the installer. The only sure way to
determine the accurate depth of a well would be to remove the top, lower
a weight on a string to the bottom and measure the length of the string.
Yes, the installer must register the well with the Health Department
following the installation, but has he given the accurate depth?
All wells, at least those within the last twenty years, are
registered with the county Health Department. When the well is installed
the county requires the well to be tested for nitrates and bacteria.
This is done for your safety. Many minerals may be present in your well
water that can affect taste, smell, cooking and clothes washing. Some
minerals can stain toilets, tubs and sinks.. A water conditioner may be
required to remove many of the unwanted minerals and smells, thus
improving the water quality.
THE SEPTIC SYSTEM
The septic system
consists of the sewer line, septic tank, distribution tank and drain
field. The system works on gravity. First let me describe these
components. The main sewer line running to the tank is generally a
three or four inch line that slopes, allowing flow by gravity of the
waste from the house to the septic tank. Smaller lines, typically one
and one half inch for sinks, two inch for showers and three inch for
toilets would feed into the main line. The pipe, on systems installed
within the past thirty years, is Polyvinyl Chloride, commonly called
PVC. This pipe typically requires little or no maintenance.
Modern septic tanks are
made of concrete. There are two hatches, square opening, in the top of
the tank used for clean out. The size of the tank required is
determined by the number of bedrooms in the house. The local Health
Department dictates the requirements, size, location and depth. Older
systems, thirty years or older, may have steel tanks which will
require replacement when they rust out.
breaks down to mostly liquid and slugs in the septic tank. CAUTION:
DISPOSING OF ANY NON BIO-DEGRADABLE MATERIALS, I.E. CIGARETTE BUTTS
AND FAMINE HYGIENE PRODUCTS WILL ADVERSELY AFFECT THE SYSTEM BY
DAMAGING THE DRAIN FIELD.
The liquid rises to the
top and overflows through a pipe near the top of the septic tank and
flows to the distribution tank. The distribution tank has several
ports which the drain field pipes are connected. The liquid waste
water then flows, again by gravity, out into the drain field pipes.
The drain field consists
of a number, generally two to four, pipes three inches in diameter.
These pipes have holes in the side along their length to allow the
waste liquid to escape. A stated earlier, the requirements, i.e. the
size, location, length and depth of the system is determined by the
local Health Department. The Health Department conducts a perk test
on the property. This determines the soils ability to absorb the waste
water. The waste water must be absorbed and go down into the ground.
Being allowed to come to the surface of the ground would result in a
Let me to a moment to
describe the installation of the field drain. A trench is dug, perhaps
three feet deep, two feet wide and thirty feet long. The trench will
be partially filled with coarse gravel. The field drain pipe is
installed and the trench and pipe are covered with additional coarse
gravel to a level approximately eight inches below grade. The gravel
is covered with a material to prevent dirt from leaching into the
gravel from rain water. The remaining eight inches is filled with
dirt. As the waste water enters the drain field runs out through the
holes, into the gravel and down into the ground. This a simplified
description of the septic system.
Some homes require one
additional component in the septic system. As stated earlier, the
Health Department dictates the location of the septic system including
the drain field. In some cases the location of the drain field will be
higher then the pipe from the septic tank. The septic system described
above stated that the system relies on gravity.
Many people advocate using
liquid laundry detergents when connected to a septic system.
Theoricallyl the liquid detergent is more environmentally friendly then
many powder detergents. I personally cannot confirm this as fact. Both
have been using on my system for years with no apparent problems.
COMMON QUESTIONS ABOUT WELL AND SEPTIC SYSTEMS.
How far in the well
from the septic system?
The distance is dictated
by the Health Department, usually one hundred feet is the minimum.
Is my well water
The Health Department requires ALL new
wells to be tested for nitrates and bacteria. The levels must be below
the level specified by the Health Department. The well depth can vary
from around seventy feet to hundreds of feet.
Why does my water
smell and taste different then water on public water systems?
Depending on your location and the depth of your well the minerals in
the ground could effect the smell and taste of your water. There are many
companies in this area that can test for these minerals and recommend a
water treatment system to improve these condition.
Can waste water get
into my well water?
There should be no problem
with waste water entering your well in a system properly installed and
approved by the local Health Department.
The Health Department tests the soil conditions for
each building lot and determines the location and type of septic system
Do I need to have
any service performed on the septic system?
Occasionally the septic system will require
pumping. Some people advocate pumping the system every three to four
years. However, many systems if properly maintained will not require
pumping for years.
How often should my
septic system be pumped out?
A properly used and operating system should in
theory operate for years without requiring pumping. Most companies that
pump septic systems recommend servicing the system every three years. I
have had a septic system for over twenty five years. It has been my
experience that the system can function properly for several years
without requiring pumping.