Septic vs. Sewer: What Homeowners Need to Know

Cleaning the sewer system special equipment on utility service in the town.

Whether your house has a septic tank or a sewer system, your home’s plumbing system keeps your clean water separate from your wastewater. Your wastewater comes from bathing, flushing the toilet, washing dishes, laundry, etc. It is full of various contaminants, so it is extremely important to keep it separated from the clean water entering your home. 

Having a septic vs. sewer system determines how and where your wastewater gets cleaned. We’ll go over everything you need to know about the different systems to understand how your home plumbing system works. 

How are septic and sewer systems different?

If you are a homeowner, you need to know the difference between septic and sewer systems; they work differently and require specialized maintenance.

What is a septic system?

A septic system is a self-contained wastewater treatment system that relies on natural processes to treat and dispose of wastewater. 

A septic tank is the most critical component of a septic system. It is buried underground, and all of your home’s wastewater is sent to the septic tank. The US Environmental Protection Agency explains that “the septic tank digests organic matter and separates floatable matter (e.g., oils and grease) and solids from the wastewater. Soil-based systems discharge the liquid (known as effluent) from the septic tank into a series of perforated pipes buried in a leach field, chambers, or other special units designed to slowly release the effluent into the soil.” 

This process is an environmentally safe way of releasing water back into the soil after removing contaminants that could damage the ground.

What is a sewer system?

A sewer system connects to a public sewer line. All of your home’s wastewater goes into the sewer line. The water is not treated on your property. Instead, it is sent to a municipal facility where it is thoroughly cleaned before being reused. 

With a sewer system, your home has a water meter that measures how much water enters your property. The city will charge you a fee for using their water and sewer systems. This fee is typically determined by how much water you use, and it shows up on your utility bill.

How do I know if I have a septic or sewer system?

If you aren’t sure which type of plumbing system you have, here are some ways you can find out:

  1. Determine if your clean water comes from a well or the city. If it is well water, you most likely have a septic tank. You have a sewer system if it’s city water (also called municipal water). You can check your city utility bill to see if you are being charged for city water.
  2. Check your incoming water line to see if you have a meter. If you have one, the city monitors your water usage and charges you for your water and sewage system.
  3. Ask your neighbors—you are most likely using the same type of system as them.

Why doesn’t everyone have the same plumbing system?

Rural areas make it difficult for homes to connect to a central, city sewer system. It is much more efficient and environmentally friendly for homes in these communities to have a septic system.

Urban and suburban areas have many homes concentrated in a small space, which often means there isn’t room for homes to have their own individual septic systems. It is more efficient to send the wastewater to a larger processing facility in these areas.

What should I do if I have a problem with my septic or sewer system?

Any time you have a problem with your septic or sewer system, it can pose serious health and safety risks. Don’t delay contacting a trusted plumbing specialist to take care of any problems immediately. Cornel’s Plumbing Heating & Air Conditioning will make sure your home’s system is in working order! 

Expert Plumbing & HVAC Services

Expert Plumbing & HVAC Services

Call: ‭(503) 558-2045

Servicing Portland Metro Since 1982