Demystifying Septic Systems: A Guide to On-Site Waste Water Treatment


Septic systems play a vital role in managing wastewater in areas not connected to public sewer systems. In this blog post, we’ll explore what septic systems are, where you can find them, and why understanding their importance is crucial for both property owners and the environment.

What Exactly is a Septic System?

A septic system, also known as an on-site wastewater treatment system, is designed to handle and manage wastewater from homes and other properties that lack access to public sewer systems. Unlike public sanitary wastewater systems, which transport wastewater to treatment plants, septic systems operate right on the property they serve.

Where Are Septic Systems Typically Found?

Most septic systems can be found in rural areas without public sewer services. About one in five homes in the United States—approximately 26 million buildings—rely on septic systems. Vermont leads the pack with the highest number of septic systems, and California has the fewest. The rest are primarily scattered throughout New England, the southern states, and various pockets across the country. About a quarter of the homes In Pennsylvania utilize septic systems, and New Jersey has its fair share of them in more rural parts of the state.

Understanding the Lifespan and Regulations

The average lifespan of a septic system ranges from 20 to 30 years, depending on installation quality, materials, and maintenance practices. Despite their importance, there aren’t many strict federal regulations governing septic systems. Instead, guidelines are typically set by state, county, or township authorities. New installations usually involve stringent permitting rules, multiple inspections, and final commissioning. Most jurisdictions require testing by a licensed professional when properties change hands, and many require that septic systems serving rental properties be professionally inspected every five years or so.

Maintenance: A Property Owner’s Responsibility

Proper maintenance and regular inspections of septic systems are primarily the owner’s responsibility. Although most local jurisdictions don’t explicitly mandate regular checks, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) strongly recommends pumping out and inspecting septic systems every 3 to 5 years depending on the number of bedrooms, bathrooms, and dwelling occupancy. Neglecting maintenance can lead to severe issues such as backups and leaks from the tank or in the leach field, potentially contaminating water sources and harming the environment.


While septic systems might be out of sight for most people, their impact on homes, businesses, and the environment is undeniable. By understanding how they work and taking proactive measures to maintain them, property owners can ensure their septic systems function efficiently for years, safeguarding both their property and the surrounding ecosystem. For more information on septic system selection, design, inspection, and troubleshooting, please contact Finelli Consulting Engineers, a Division of UTRS, at 908-835-9000.


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