The pros and cons of septic fields
When you are looking for a restroom solution for your park, you will need to secure a way to deal with waste. There are three primary options: sewer, vault, and septic field. While a septic field might still make sense for some homes, it’s our belief that newer technology renders the septic option as sub-optimal for most parks and public places. In this article we’ll review the three options and make the case for flush vaults over septic fields.
To start, the obvious best and most common choice is to simply connect to sewer and water lines. There’s relatively little to think about after the connection is made, and your users will get to enjoy a typical restroom experience.
However, there may be cases where one isn’t available, or the trenching cost of reaching the nearest sewer line is prohibitively expensive. In many cases the trenching alone could exceed the price of the restroom building itself. For projects with geographical or budgetary limitations, an alternative solution is necessary. In such a scenario, the next option to consider is either a vault or septic field as they can operate without a sewer connection.
A vault-based restroom is simply one that stores waste in a vault for it to be pumped later. The most common version of this concept is the porta-potty, which can be found at just about every construction site, public event, or rock concert. While definitely not the most pleasant restroom experience, they are unbeatable in terms of being a quick, flexible, short-term solution. Sometimes these will be used as permanent restrooms, but only in situations where there are extreme budget constraints.
For most remote restrooms, a full-scale vault restroom building will be constructed. These restrooms are basically covered holes in the ground and smell awful, though they are at least less claustrophobic and require less frequent pumping than a porta-potty. These restrooms are chosen because they are cheap and uncomplicated, but they are generally not popular with the public.
The most common- though as we’ll argue later, not the best- flush restroom option for a location without sewer connection is installing a septic system. Broadly speaking, a septic system sends the waste to an underground wastewater disposal area used to remove contaminants via anaerobic digestion in a septic tank. Organic materials in the liquid waste are broken down over time, then distributed through a drain field area so that the purified remains can safely percolate down into the natural ground water system.
And if that explanation feels convoluted, it’s because septic is quite easily the most complicated waste disposal option, and while it can be an almost miraculous solution in ideal circumstances, it also has the most things that can go wrong with it, and the worst-case scenarios can be the stuff of nightmares. If your motto is “set it and forget it,” then you should consider something else.
What are the advantages of a Septic System?
Before we critique septic systems, it is only fair that we discuss their advantages.
Septic tanks do have to be pumped from time to time, but usually not at the frequency of a vault restroom since the septic process eats away most of the waste. If the location is very far away from a pumping service, this could be a significant consideration.
Liquid waste, such as sink or shower water, will pass through the system fairly quickly as opposed to taking up valuable storage space in a vault. Since homes produce a lot of liquid waste, septic is typically the best option for them when a sewer isn’t available.
Other advantages include low cost of use after install, and environmentally friendliness (when properly maintained).
What are the disadvantages of a Septic System?
With a septic system the user needs to be very considerate about what they flush. Items such as napkins, tissues, diaper wipes, cigarettes, grease, etc, can easily lead to clogged pipes and will require pumping. For a home with two residents, this might be easy enough to manage, but for a public park with a huge number of users, it’s all but guaranteed someone will flush bad stuff down the toilet at some point that will cause big problems.
Flushing chemicals into a septic system will often kill or endanger the bacteria which are vital to breaking down the solid waste. System failure will cause clogs and/or sewer odor to emit from the septic field area. With larger groups of people it will be more difficult or unrealistic to control what gets flushed or put down the sink.
The septic system itself is a delicate environment that can easily be ruined by tree roots, an earthquake, or even driving a vehicle on the ground above it. If someone does some digging in the wrong place, it could damage the septic lines. If these things happen you can expect a steep repair cost and potentially might even have to rebuild the septic system from scratch for thousands of dollars.
A septic system can only handle so much waste over so much time and exceeding that rationed amount will cause the system to become overwhelmed and lead to backups. Public places like parks will often have huge spikes in usage on certain days or certain times, which makes septic a poor fit unless you expect usage to be low and steady.
Typically, the limiting factor of a septic system is how quickly the drain field can process liquids into the ground. Unfortunately, this system also has to process all the liquids that permeate the ground from above, such as rainfall, snowmelt, sprinklers, and flooding. This makes septic a less optimal choice in areas that have more moisture to contend with. Additionally, septic systems may sink into the ground over time because of underlying soil being washed away. Septic systems also aren’t allowed in areas with high water tables, which is a common problem in places like Florida.
Lastly, when something does go wrong with septic, it gets ugly.
One horror story online was about users who had the wastewater backup so bad that it came back up through their toilets, sinks, showers and even their floor vents, forcing them to completely to abandon their house for several days while experts were called in to fix it.
Sometimes though, a backed up system won’t go into the house, but into grassy drain field area. A woman recounted a time when a lake of green and black liquid was forming in her yard over the septic field area. Making the discovery worse was the presence of boats and toys in the water, her kids had been playing in it.
There was also this horrifying story of a drunk partygoer partly falling through the roof of the septic tank when it wasn’t buried deep enough.
Overall, septic systems can be great under ideal conditions but can quickly become a liability when agents of chaos are introduced.
Flush vaults will often be your best option in parks and public places
If you are looking to install a restroom at a public place- particularly one with high user volume- a flush vault has several key advantages to consider:
- Significantly less downside when things go wrong. Far less to worry about when things are flushed down the toilet or sinks.
- Saves the cost and frees up the land required for a septic field, which can cost in excess of $10,000, as well as further costs if the septic system fails.
- Flush vaults are fully modular and can be installed an turnkey ready in a much shorter amount of time.
- No nightmare scenarios to worry about. No scary sewage backups or sewer smells.
- Flush Vaults can be placed just about anywhere, including places where environmental factors (high water table) might rule out a septic system.
- Flush vaults suffer nothing from periods of heavy usage, unlike septic which can overflow, flood, or fail.
- Flush vaults have a water tank and therefore do not require a direct water connection in the event that a waterline isn’t readily available.
If you are looking to provide a real flush restroom experience to your visitors and don’t have access to sewer or water, flush vaults are the best and least stressful option.