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Septic tanks, cesspools, and tight tanks are all designed to receive and hold sewage and are systems used for waste management when a connection to a centralized municipal sewer service isn’t practical or available. What happens afterward is what differentiates these three receptacles.
A septic tank allows wastewater to flow into a leach field where it undergoes a filtration process. In contrast, a cesspool is a pit lined with cement or stone which lacks the ability to filter the waste, eventually contaminating the surrounding soil. A tight tank is just an enclosed tank with no outlet.
The modern septic system has been around for well over 100 years now, ever since the invention of the septic tank, which received a patent in England around 1900. For many years, a large percentage of North America has relied on and continues to rely on septic tanks for private sewage disposal. One main reason why the septic tank/system has become so popular is because of its eco-friendliness and convenience compared to other methods of waste disposal.
The septic tank is the primary component of the septic system, part of an elaborate distribution method that sends only the effluent (water) to a distribution box that has outlets for multiple perforated pipes.
Baffles in the septic tank prevent scum from reaching the outlet, and the closed tank environment contains bacteria where it’s needed to digest the scum layer. Depending on local percolation tests (ground absorption capacity) the network of perforated pipes spread the wastewater over as wide an area as necessary for proper absorption. Sludge and scum never make it out of the septic tank, when properly maintained. The scum digested by the tank’s bacteria is converted to liquid effluent or sinks to the sludge layer as waste.
The cesspool is a much older waste disposal technique. It is antique, dating back to ancient Rome and most likely to ancient Babylonia when the first pipes were invented.
The cesspool is simply a perforated concrete or block ring, similar to a well-liner but with holes, buried underground. There is no widespread distribution of effluent. Everything dumps to the cesspool, sludge piles up at the bottom, and effluent and scum drain through the holes directly into the surrounding soil.
The cesspool sludge needs to be pumped frequently to keep lower holes open for water flow, and quite often the cesspool requires relocation when surrounding soil becomes saturated to the point that wastewater is pooling at the ground surface. Any cesspool past its prime today would most likely be replaced with a modern septic system.
Tight tanks are virtually just enclosed tanks with limited waste storage. They are similar to septic tanks but have no outlet for wastewater and therefore they must be pumped out regularly. Tight tanks are discouraged in most cases except for when all other options have been exhausted and there is no other alternative for waste storage.
All methods share the primary goal of separating the three types of organic waste found in a sewage disposal system but because cesspools and tight tanks lack the ability to filter waste and the sewage eventually contaminates the surrounding soil, they are considered outdated and are illegal or discouraged in most areas. If you live in an older home with one of these, there are likely regulations mandating it be pumped and cleaned out on a regular basis.
No matter what type of sewage system your home runs on, you need regular service.
If you are building a new home, your only likely wastewater choices are a septic system or the city sewer system. This would be based on whether your property can connect to the public sewer system, and many rural areas usually cannot.
If you currently use a cesspool or tight tank, do not be surprised if town regulations require you to replace it with a septic system.
In the meantime, make sure you are doing your part to sustain the integrity of the environment by properly maintaining your cesspool or tight tank. Since these aren’t as common, newer service providers may not know how to clean them properly. However, Wind River Environmental has been in business since 1946, and our technicians have experience with every type of wastewater receptacle.
At Wind River Environmental we pumped over 120 million septic gallons last year, so you know you can count on our professional service for all residential, municipal, and commercial septic maintenance needs.