4 Things Homeowners Need To Know About Alternating Bed Septic Systems

Posted on: 8 July 2015

More than 26 million American housing units are connected to a private septic system instead of a municipal sewer system. Since your septic system is buried underground, you may only have a vague understanding of how it works, and you may not know that there is more than one type of septic system, some better than others. An alternating bed septic system may be a better choice for your household; here's what you need to know.

How does a regular septic system work?

Your septic system processes all of the wastewater that leaves your house. Anything you flush down the toilet or pour down the drains is transported by pipes to a septic tank, a large container buried under your yard. Solid waste sinks to the bottom of this tank, where it will stay until you get the tank pumped while liquid waste contains on for further processing.

Perforated pipes carry the liquid waste out of the tank and allow the liquids to slowly disperse into the surrounding soil. This soil is called either a drain field or bed, and it's the last step in the treatment process. The soil filters out any bacteria and viruses that are in the water, then the clean water sinks back into the earth and rejoins the water table.

How is an alternating bed septic system different?

Regular septic systems only have one bed, so all of your wastewater is treated by the same patch of soil. Alternating bed septic systems have two or more beds, so while one bed is treating water, the others are drying out. A drainage valve inside the tank controls which bed is used. A septic tank technician or plumber can use this valve to direct your water to your backup bed when it's necessary.

Why would you want this type of system?

The soil in your yard can only accept so much water before it becomes oversaturated and soggy. This happens when you send too much water into your septic tank by doing things like washing many loads of laundry in one day or taking very long showers. When this happens, you'll see puddles forming on top of your grass, the drains in your house will drain slowly, and you may even have backups in your house.

If the soil is oversaturated, the only fix is to wait for it to dry out. Drying out can take a few months, and during this time, you can't use your toilets, sinks, or showers. For people with a regular septic system, this is a huge inconvenience, but for people with an alternating bed system, a plumber can just adjust the valve for you and you can use your backup bed while the main one dries out.

Sometimes, the soil doesn't just become oversaturated; it fails completely. This can happen if you forget to get your septic tank pumped, and sewage spills out into the surrounding soil. This sewage clogs the soil, and your plumber may not be able to fix it. When this happens, the bed is ruined, and can no longer be used. If you have more than one bed, this isn't a plumbing emergency.

When should it be installed?

Ideally, your alternate beds should be installed before you have any problems with the main bed. This will allow you to have your backup beds ready to be used the moment your main bed becomes unsaturated or clogged. If you wait until you have problems, you will have to deal with the inconvenience of not being able to use any water until the new bed is installed.

Drain field failure is a plumbing emergency when you only have one drain field, but if you have more than one, it's less of a problem. If you only have one drain field or aren't sure what type of septic system you have, talk to a plumber or look at this site for more information on septic systems.