Septic & Well System Basics

I grew up on 139th Street in the Briarwood neighborhood of Queens, NY—right behind Bishop Malloy high school. We lived on the on the 2nd floor and the parking garage had a roof I climbed to get into our apartment because I always lost the key to the front door.

Septic SystemThe apartment building still remains and I imagine a super still maintains the building and the little laundry area with coin operated machines. But these personal details only highlight the fact that most city dwellers don’t concern themselves with building maintenance and infrastructure.

Almost all properties located on back country roads, small enclaves and villages, and even moderately developed areas in Sullivan County, NY require a private well and septic system.

The septic system is a basic fluid and solid diversion system that allows your waste to dissolve naturally and disperse into the environment in a responsible and approved manner. The main waste line, usually 4 inches wide, runs through your basement wall (other structures run the sewer pipe between the ground and slab or other format.) The outgoing line flows into a holding tank where the solids decay and the fluids run into a leach field that naturally disperses the effluent.

A septic system needs basic maintenance and care so that it works properly. Septic failure causes anguish and a mess so make sure to hire a firm to pump your holding tank out as specified by the installer or follow the routine practice suggested by the environmental firm you will be using. It is recommended your home inspector perform a dye test which can indicate a failed septic system.

Your water source will most likely be provided by a deep well system. Drilling or pounding a well are the two most common methods for finding water. Pipe and casing, deep well pump, water holding tank, and electric supply are a few essential items already installed in a working well system.

Your home inspector will suggest a water test be performed. A certified testing lab will either confirm or rule out the presence of E. Coli and Coliform bacteria. If either substance is indicated, specific measures must be taken to correct the prevailing conditions. Coliform presence is mitigated without a lot of trouble. E. Coli presents substantial issues—usually sewage seepage, and requires substantial intervention.

When pollutants were not common, shallow wells were installed. A pipe was pounded 10 to 30 or so feet—usually in the basement. A shallow well pump was installed to bring the ground water source into your holding tank. Few homes still have shallow wells, but they are still in use in some homes. Careful scrutiny of a shallow well system is suggested.


Please consult expert professional advice for a more thorough explanation of septic and well systems. A number of regulations guide both processes. This article is meant to be a very brief primer and not a definitive guide. Your local health department, home inspector, septic installer, environmental service firm, well driller are all reliable sources for more information. I strongly urge the use of these resources to gain more information.