Cesspool vs. Septic Tank: What’s the Difference?

Cesspool vs. Septic Tank: What’s the Difference?
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Cesspool vs. Septic Tank: What’s the Difference?

Knowing the Differences

Septic tanks and cesspools are both types of sewage systems, but they have some major differences. A cesspool is simply a hole in the ground that collects wastewater. A septic tank, on the other hand, is a more complex system that uses bacteria to break down the waste. If you are looking for a sewage system for your home, you should consider both options, but always contact a professional before making a final decision.

What is a Cesspool and What Does it Do?

A cesspool is a system for disposing of human waste used since ancient times. It is defined as a shallow subterranean facility for the disposal of sanitary waste. A cesspool's structure generally comprises concrete walls with an open bottom and pierced sides. Wastewater enters the cesspool via a drain pipe and percolates through it. It's important to remember that while cesspools collect sanitary sewage, they do not treat it.

What is a Cesspool and What Does it Do?

Concerning its construction, it is a circular hole in the ground lined with perforated concrete or block, similar to a well-liner, but with holes. There is no specific distribution of waste. Household liquid waste is dumped into the cesspool, sludge builds at the bottom, and effluent and scum drain through the openings directly into the surrounding soil.

Septic Tank vs Cesspool

Cesspool sludge must be pumped regularly to keep the holes open for water flow, and they must be relocated frequently as surrounding soil gets saturated which causes wastewater to begin pooling on the surface of the ground. A modern septic system would likely be installed to replace any cesspool that has outlived its use.

What is a Septic Tank and What Does it Do?

The septic tank is the heart of the sewage system; part of a sophisticated distribution mechanism that sends only the effluent (water) to a distribution box with numerous perforated pipes.

Septic Tank Typical Arrangement

The scum layer is prevented from reaching the outlet by baffles in the septic tank, and the closed tank environment traps germs where they can digest the scum layer. The network of perforated pipes distributes wastewater as widely as needed for absorption based on local percolation tests (ground absorption capacity). 

Sludge and scum never leave the septic tank if it's properly maintained. Scum digested by tank bacteria is transformed into liquid effluent or sinks to the sludge layer as waste. Organic waste within the septic tank is broken down and separated into clean wastewater and solids. The effluent, or liquid, is collected in a series of perforated pipes outside the tank. The effluent is slowly dispersed into the earth as it leaves.

The Differences Between Cesspools and Septic Tanks

The primary distinction between a septic tank and a cesspool is that a septic tank is designed to contain wastewater until it can be pumped, while a cesspool drains slowly. Septic tanks need less upkeep than cesspools because they are intended to keep the water in place. On the other hand, a cesspool has continual drainage.

Apart from the fact that cesspools are smaller, there are several key distinctions between them and septic tanks.

  • Septic tanks can process a lot more wastewater than cesspools, making them a superior choice for larger homes.
  • Septic tanks require less maintenance than cesspools.
  • However, cesspools are cheaper to build than septic tanks - but have a limited lifespan.

Which One Should You Choose for Your Home?

Cesspool - Pros and Cons

Cesspools—if allowed in your region—are cheaper to install than septic systems, but there are major disadvantages.

  • Cesspools are deemed to be inadequate systems. They merely discharge wastewater rather than treating it.
  • Cesspools concentrate the wastewater in one area, often deep within the ground and in direct contact with groundwater, resulting in groundwater pollution.
  • This groundwater eventually enters drinking water wells and surface waters, posing public health and environmental risks.
  • Cesspools have a lifespan of about 15 to 20 years vs. a septic tank which will last 50 years or more. 
  • Cesspools require regular maintenance (pumping out solid waste every few years).
  • Cesspools should not be used in areas with high water tables or expansive soils.

Septic Systems - Pros and Cons

The major disadvantage of a septic system in comparison to a cesspool is cost. Septic systems, on the other hand, have several benefits over cesspools:

  • They are ecologically beneficial since they spread the effluent far and wide, reducing pathogens and other pollutants by 90%.
  • When properly maintained, a septic tank seldom needs to be replaced.
  • Septic systems are much easier to care for than cesspools.

Tank Depot is Your Best Option for Septic Tanks

If you are building a new home, your only likely wastewater choices are a septic system or the city sewer system. If you are considering a new septic tank, make your first call to Tank Depot. We offer a huge selection of septic tanks, as well as other water storage options, and guarantee the best price.

Contact us today for more information and the location of a retail store near you.

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