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Homesteading and Livestock

Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.

Septic System Installation (with Photos!)

Septic Tank Burial

The Small Home, Big Decisions series follows Jennifer and her husband, Tyler, as they build a self-reliant homestead on a piece of country property in northeastern Kansas. The series will delve into questions that arise during their building process and the decisions they make along the way. The posts are a work in progress, written as their homestead-building adventure unfolds.

Our septic system installation really began a few months ago, when we went through the process of having a perc test performed, siting our septic system based on the results of that test, and having the plans for our septic system approved by the Leavenworth County Planning and Zoning Department. Fast forward to last week, and our septic system was actually installed, and the county representative came out to inspect and, ultimately, approve the system. The whole installation and approval process took a day and a half, which is a fraction of the time it took for the upfront planning and preparation.

Both Tyler and I have always lived in homes on the municipal sewer system, so having and maintaining a septic system is new to us. Seeing the installation process, shown in the photos here, made it easier to understand all that we’ve read about how a septic system works (and how to maintain one).

The first part of the system (see the image above) is the septic tank. This tank houses an anaerobic environment, where bacteria break down the raw sewage and liquefy most of the solids. The remaining solids settle in the tank, and the liquid flows down through a pipe to a series of perforated pipes (shown below) known as the "lateral field" or "leaching bed." The nutrient-rich wastewater dribbles out of the pipes into the soil and gravel beds, where soil microbes, insects and plant roots purify the water and take up the nutrients.

Septic Pipe with Laterals 

After the septic system was approved, the lateral lines, the long pipe and the septic tank were all buried safely below the frost line. The image below shows how the line lays out underground (the red line), with the only visible part of the system – the inspection pipe extending from the tank – at the bottom right corner of the image. We will not plant trees, crops for human consumption, build structures or drive vehicles over the lateral fields or underground pipe. The only time we hope to see our septic system is every few years when we remove the dirt from on top of the tank and have it emptied as part of routine maintenance.

Septic System Installed and Drawn

I’m tempted to make a crude closing joke about what having this system in place makes possible at the homestead, but instead I’ll let you know that the next two posts will continue our homestead water series with two-part look at how our well was dug and how it will run through our home.

Photos by Jennifer Kongs and Tyler Gill.

Next in the series: Water Well Drinking: How Our Well Works, Part 1
Previously in the series:
Rethinking Our Greywater System: A New (Much Improved) Plan

­­­Jennifer Kongs is the Managing Editor at MOTHER EARTH NEWS magazine. When she’s not working at the magazine, she’s likely in her garden, on the local running trails or in her kitchen instead. You can connect directly with Jennifer and Tyler by leaving a comment below!

9/8/2015 6:00:11 PM

Is anyone awake to get the server working, or are we all supposed to sit and twiddle our thumb's waiting for someone to get off their keester and get it working ! Before you go do a septic system make sure that the contractor installs a system that is what YOU want, not what the 'State Minimum Code' provides for. 'State Minimum's' are an excuse for what's allowed to be gotten away with. Most try to use 4" PVC Schedule 40. In Northern States that's a seen-coming disaster. PVC up North has a VERY bad record of freezing, and then shattering, either thru frost heave or when you drain the sink or tub when it has HOT WATER. That sudden temperature change, in cold ground, almost begs the PVC to spontaneously shatter, creating a huge flow issue, and needing an IMMEDIATE REPLACEMENT. Do yourself a favor and tell, and do it in writing, your Contractor that you are not going to accept any system that use's PVC and put in writing that only ABS is acceptable. ABS is far more resistant to freeze heave leak's and sudden temperature change's. And have the Contractor install the ABS as 6", not the usual 4", since 4" has a bad tendency to clog and need 'snaking out'. Been there, learned the hard way, and have the bills to prove it !