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A Brief History of the Modern Septic System

For those of us who live in developed countries, it’s easy to forget about the formidable dangers and unpleasant aspects that come from exposure to raw sewage. Indeed, mankind has been struggling to cope with waste materials since ancient times and, because it’s so important, the subject has been widely studied.

Although early human civilizations had been experimenting with “flush” toilets and crude sewage systems as far back as 3000 years ago, for the greater part of history country dwellers had to make due with utilizing bushes or digging shallow holes and then burying the contents.

The very first outhouse-like “water closet” was known to have been used in China around 206 B.C., but the first “modern” outhouse wasn’t in use until around 500 years ago, when Europeans first started realizing the benefits of sheltered elimination and the luxury of not having to constantly hunt for fresh ground.

Even though the outhouse was life changing for many, it was still subject to extreme temperatures, insects and odor, as well as the fact that a new latrine had to be dug every time one was filled up. But a better solution wouldn’t be in store until the mid-19th century.

Jean-Louis Mouras and the Septic Tank Prototype

Around 1860, a Frenchman named Jean-Louis Mouras, who had been hard at work trying to design a method of waste disposal which would allow him to take care of business without having to go outside, built the first concrete “septic tank” prototype.

He ran clay pipes from his house to the tank and used it successfully for ten years, after which he decided to dismantle it and see what had become of the contents. Both Mr. Mouras and his neighbors were surprised to discover that it contained mostly liquid with a layer of scum on top.

After that, Mr. Mouras contacted a scientist and began work to perfect his design so that in 1881, over 20 years after he’d built his prototype, he was able to successfully apply for a patent and begin sharing his invention with the rest of the world.

Septic Systems Take Hold in the U.S.

Although the French are credited with developing the septic tank, Americans are known for perfecting it. The first septic tanks began appearing in the U.S. in 1883 and the idea soon proliferated. Early American septic tanks were made of concrete or steel and emptied into drainage fields, following Mr. Mouras’s original design.

By the 1940s, septic systems were relatively cheap to build and were popular nationwide, but by the 1960s, it was obvious some big changes needed to be made.

First, older concrete and steel tanks were failing due to cracking and rust. It was imperative to find new materials with which to build new tanks, especially since urban areas were growing faster than new sewage treatment plants could be built, causing an increase in the need for new systems.

Second, concerns over the leaching of drainfield sewage into ground water caused local governments to begin regulating placement of drainage pipes.

The Modern Septic System

Today’s septic tanks are typically made of fiberglass, precast concrete, polyurethane, PVC or other plastics and, with proper care, are much more durable and functional than early septic tanks.

Likewise, modern drainfields are have been improved through the use of highly durable plastic pipes, as well as the practice of ensuring that drainage pipes are never too close to ground water. In states where water tables are higher, drainfields are often required to be built in aboveground mounds in order to maintain proper distance.

When it comes to septic systems, no one has more comprehensive knowledge and skill than the team at Paradise Valley Septic. Whether you need something as simple as tank pumping all the way up to a complete system installation, we’ve got you covered.

Contact us today with questions or to set up an appointment.

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