Thursday, 14 August 2008

Septic Tanks, Cesspools and Reed Beds - Whats the Difference?

There are three main ways for a self-builder to get rid of his foul drainage when they don't have access to a main line drainage system.

The first and most common is the Septic tank. This is probably the most economic method of foul waste disposal. A soil porosity test will determine if you have adequate land area and if your soil has enough porosity to allow for a soak away. If this turns out to be the case then you are on to a flyer.

Septic tanks operate by means of baffles that reduce agitation of the waste product thus allowing treatment to take place. This partially treated product is then removed to a soak away where it is then released into the soil where it is further treated by natural process. Alternatively if you have a "consent to discharge" from the dept of the environment then you can discharge your effluent to a land drain or waterway.

An older version of the Septic tank is the Cesspool. As its name implies a cesspool is simple a collection tank where all the waste is gathered into one "pool" of material. A cesspool can be found in older rural homes. They require emptying on a regular basis, unlike a septic tank, which needs to be cleaned only once a year.

A third option is the use of reed beds. It is a more environmentally friendly way of dealing with your effluent. The rule of thumb is that you require 1m2 of reed bed for each person living in the house. The reed beds are a living soak away that clean the effluent by means of an aerobic bacterial process that produces a water clean enough to be used in toilets, and for watering of plants, garden areas etc.

The cost for all these systems is comparable, but the real cost lies in the long-term management of your waste. In this the only real long-term solution is the use of reed beds or Septic tanks.

Septic tanks do not require any real hands on maintenance except of course unless they break down. Which they can and often do. Reed beds do not break down as often as septic tanks do but they do require maintenance, which can put some people off using them.

Cesspools while a cheaper alternative in the beginning, incur running costs by way of having to hire a company to take away the effluent on a regular basis.

The choice of which system to use can only be decided by you the client.

Ed Gordon is a Timber Frame specialist with a keen interest in Energy Efficiency and reducing the construction Carbon Footprint. For more information go to

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1 comment:

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