How are aerobic septic systems different from traditional septic systems?

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While they both treat and purify household wastewater for individual homes, there are a number of significant differences between conventional (traditional) septic systems and aerobic (alternative) septic systems; these consist of:

  • An aerobic septic system uses air – oxygen to process wastewater. Conventional septic systems use an anaerobic process – it relies on the absence of oxygen to promote a bacterial process to treat wastewater.
  • Because aerobic systems need oxygen to work, they require electrical mechanisms to continuously pump oxygen through the effluent. Conventional septic systems can be completely non-mechanical, relying on gravity to process water, or use minimal machinery to move the effluent through the tanks and into the drainfield.
  • Aerobic systems more advanced technologically, and require more machinery, electricity, and a great deal more maintenance and oversight than conventional septic systems. Because of this, they are significantly more expensive; usually between twice to three times the cost of a conventional septic system.
  • Because aerobic septic systems are so much more complex, they are more likely to break down and/or need repair.
  • Aerobic systems produce a better quality of filtered effluent, there are far fewer pollutants; the water processed by an aerobic septic system can be used to water gardens, etc.
  • Aerobic systems recycle wastewater far more quickly; they don’t need to go through the slow, extensive filtering processes that require the effluent to percolate down through layers of soil, gravel, rock, etc.
  • While the design and materials used to build conventional septic systems are all very similar, anaerobic septic systems have a huge variety of designs and sizes, are made out of a number of different materials, and have been created to address a number of different environmental challenges. Many anaerobic septic systems are proprietary, and designed and produced by a single company.
  • Aerobic septic systems are more dependent on temperature; they work better in warm to moderate climates. When an aerobic system becomes too cold, it slows the treatment process down and affects their performance negatively.
  • Aerobic systems generally require professional maintenance; they have many mechanical components that require constant monitoring, and there is a certain level of expertise required; it can be difficult to maintain an aerobic system yourself.
  • An aerobic system needs to be serviced anywhere from twice a year to once every two or three months, whereas a conventional septic system only needs to be inspected every year, and often only needs to be pumped every 2 or 3 years.
  • Aerobic septic systems require the addition of chlorine and/or other chemicals to purify the water on a regular basis.
  • Conventional septic systems require a certain amount of space for an effective drainfield; aerobic systems can be put into much smaller areas, and require very little space to operate effectively.
  • An aerobic septic system can usually be used where it is impossible or impractical to put in a conventional system.
  • When a conventional septic system fails, often the only way to replace it is with an aerobic septic system.

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