DIY Aerobic Septic System

By Stephen methew

Aerobic septic systems provide advanced wastewater treatment using oxygen-rich environments. While DIY installation is theoretically possible, aerobic systems have complex components requiring expertise for proper function. DIY risks expensive issues down the road.

DIY Aerobic Septic System

How Aerobic Systems Work

Aerobic systems inject air to accelerate the breakdown of sewage by aerobic bacteria. Key components include:

Aeration Chamber

This chamber mixes air and effluent to foster bacterial decomposition.

Air Compressor and Diffuser System

The compressor supplies air to the diffusers, which release fine bubbles into the chamber, promoting bacterial activity.

Clarifier

The clarifier separates solids from effluent before treatment.

Disinfection System

Before discharge, the effluent is disinfected using chlorine or UV light to remove harmful pathogens.

Alarms and Pumps

These components maintain proper operation, including pumping clarified effluent to the drain field.

The complex biological process requires balanced conditions for optimal function.

Aerobic System Critical Requirements

For the system to work properly, several critical requirements must be met:

  • Air Infusion Rates: Specific rates based on system size must be maintained.
  • Oxygen Levels: Oxygen levels around 2 ppm must be consistent.
  • Hydraulic Retention Times: Proper times must be regulated.
  • Clarifier Maintenance: Separation and sludge return must be preserved.
  • Control Systems: Pumps, alarms, timers, and cycles must be controlled.
  • Disinfection Regulation: Chlorine or UV disinfection must be tested and adjusted.

Failure to meet these requirements can disrupt the system and lead to failure.

Key Reasons DIY Installation Is Challenging

Aerobic systems are intricate biological machines, making DIY installation extremely difficult due to:

  • Precise Excavation and Placement: Tanks and diffusers require accurate placement.
  • Sizing and Plumbing: Air compressors and lines must be sized and plumbed correctly.
  • Electrical Setup: Specialized troubleshooting skills are needed for electrical setup.
  • Adjustments and Programming: Critical adjustments and programming require training.
  • Winter Preparation: Winterization requires professional expertise.
  • Local Codes: Local codes often govern aerobic installs, adding complexity.

Mistakes in installation can lead to costly corrections and unreliable treatment.

High Risk of DIY Mistakes

Without extensive training and experience, DIY installations risk several issues:

  • Improper Air Infusion: Incorrect air infusion can prevent effective treatment.
  • Inadequate Compressor Capacity: Incorrect compressor sizing can kill beneficial biology.
  • Leaks and Electrical Issues: Poorly executed plumbing and electrical work can damage components.
  • Overloaded Circuits: Inadequate electrical capacity can trip breakers.
  • Frost Heave: Tanks and piping can be damaged by frost heave.
  • Clogged Diffusers or Lines: Blockages can undermine aeration and treatment.
  • Poor Disinfection: Incorrect settings can allow harmful bacteria to remain.

Any of these failures can compromise treatment effectiveness and system function.

Ongoing Maintenance Challenges

Reliable operation over time requires ongoing maintenance, including:

  • Annual Servicing: Certified technicians should service the system annually.
  • Filter Replacements: Air filter replacements are needed periodically.
  • Monitoring Microbial Balance: Monitoring oxygen levels and microbial balance is crucial.
  • Seasonal Adjustments: Blowers and cycles need adjustment based on the season.
  • Disinfection Check: Checking chlorine residual or UV intensity is necessary.
  • Winterization Procedures: Proper winterization procedures must be followed.

These ongoing tasks are rarely mastered by DIYers.

Local Code Restrictions

Most jurisdictions prohibit DIY aerobic installations and require:

  • Licensed Installers: Only licensed installers are allowed to perform installations.
  • Certified Designs: Certified designs and plans must be submitted.
  • Inspections: Local authorities conduct inspections.
  • Annual Maintenance: Annual maintenance contracts are often required.
  • Effluent Testing: Effluent testing programs may be mandated.

Ignoring local codes can lead to substantial fines or even system teardowns.

Professional Installation Strongly Advised

Aerobic systems function optimally only when designed, installed, adjusted, and maintained by factory-certified contractors. DIY installations risk:

  • Wasted Investment: Investing in equipment that doesn’t work as intended.
  • Unreliable Treatment: Treatment performance that is inconsistent or inadequate.
  • Groundwater Contamination: Contaminating groundwater due to poor system performance.
  • Failed Inspections: Failing local inspections due to subpar installation.
  • System Replacement: Needing to tear out and replace the system.

Alternatives to Consider

For advanced treatment without the complexity of aerobic systems, alternative options include:

  • Textile Filters
  • Peat Biofilters
  • Fixed-Film Reactors

These alternatives can often be managed by motivated DIYers, if local codes allow.

Frequently Asked Questions about DIY Aerobic Septic System

Can I install just the tanks and plumbing myself, then have a technician set up the aerobic components later?

No, the entire system must be designed and integrated together for success. Piecemeal DIY installs rarely turn out well.

Is DIY installation of aerobic systems ever allowed?

A few jurisdictions may permit DIY installs, but require passing inspections by certifiers, or prohibit DIY for new construction. Check local codes carefully.

Can I take a weekend class on aerobic system installation?

While short classes provide an overview, they cannot offer the comprehensive hands-on training over hundreds of hours needed for competency.

Is it really that hard for a skilled do-it-yourselfer to install an aerobic system?

Yes, aerobic systems are similar in complexity to installing an HVAC system or commercial pool. The biological, mechanical, and electrical integration requires developed professional expertise.

What are the most likely DIY failures I can expect trying to install an aerobic system myself?

Leaky plumbing work, severely inadequate air supply, electrical control issues, and alarms not configured properly are among the top problems DIYers face.

Conclusion

Aerobic septic systems require expert design, installation, and ongoing maintenance to ensure biological balance and reliability. DIY installation risks critical failures that undermine treatment effectiveness and waste your investment. When considering wastewater treatment options, work within your capabilities and follow local regulations.

Sources

  1. EPA Onsite Wastewater Treatment Systems Manual https://www.epa.gov/septic/onsite-wastewater-treatment-systems-manual
  2. National Environmental Services Center – Aerobic Treatment Units https://www.nesc.wvu.edu/pdf/ww/publications/pipline/PL_SU04.pdf
  3. Texas A&M AgriLife Extension – Aerobic Treatment Units https://agrilifeextension.tamu.edu/library/water/aerobic-treatment-units/
  4. National Onsite Wastewater Recycling Association https://www.nowra.org/

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