Will My Septic System Work During a Power Outage?

Let’s answer a question that might keep you up at night – what happens to your septic system during a power outage?

If you’ve been wondering about this, you’re in the right place. We’ll break down the basics, explain different types of systems, and tell you what you can expect when the lights go out.

Ready? Let’s jump right in!

Basics of Septic Systems

You probably know that not all septic systems are the same. They come in different types, each designed to tackle waste in its own unique way.

Let’s meet the three most common players: conventional, chamber, and advanced treatment systems.

Good Old Conventional Septic Systems

First up, conventional septic systems – they’re the most common kids on the block. These systems boast a septic tank, a distribution box, and a drainfield.

Here’s how it goes: wastewater from your house flows into the septic tank where solids get a time-out from liquids.

Then the liquid wastewater travels to a distribution box and gets evenly sent to the drainfield for a good old clean-up by the soil.

The best part? These systems usually get by just fine without electricity because they let gravity do all the heavy lifting.

But if your home is uphill from the tank or drainfield, and your system needs a pump to move waste, you’ll need electricity.

If you don’t know what a conventional septic system looks like, here is an outstanding video by Marshall Remodel | MR Post Frame.

It goes over the installation of a conventional fully gravity-fed septic system with time lapse.

Chamber Septic Systems – A Twist on the Classic

Next up, chamber septic systems. They’re a lot like their conventional cousins, but with a twist in the drainfield design.

Instead of perforated pipes in a gravel-filled trench, these systems use large plastic chambers with open bottoms. Wastewater is filtered through these chambers, then treated and absorbed by the soil.

Like conventional systems, these guys usually don’t need electricity either – gravity’s their best friend, too.

Advanced Treatment Septic Systems – The Tech Savvy Ones

Last but not least, advanced treatment septic systems, also known as aerobic treatment units or ATUs. They’re a bit more high-tech and use a range of clever strategies to treat waste.

Many ATUs actually pump air into the tank to boost aerobic bacteria, which are great at breaking down waste.

Since these systems rely on mechanical processes, they need electricity to run pumps, blowers, and sometimes even computer controls.

So, when the power goes out, these systems might feel the pinch.

Knowing your septic system’s basics and if it relies on electricity is crucial for power outage prep. Every system has its perks and quirks, so they all react differently to power loss.

In the sections that follow, we’ll explore what happens to these systems during a power outage and give you some handy tips to avoid potential headaches.

In this video, home improvement expert Jim Dutton discusses and illustrates the difference between the conventional and aerobic septic systems.

Power Outages: What About Conventional and Chamber Systems?

Now, what happens to conventional and chamber septic systems when the power goes out? The good news? Usually, not much.

Gravity Saves the Day

These systems have gravity as their secret weapon. Gravity moves wastewater from your home, through the septic tank, and into the drainfield.

So, even when the power’s out, they keep going, doing their thing.

When Things Get Pumped Up

But wait, not so fast. There are a couple of “what ifs” you need to know about. Here’s the first: if your septic system needs a pump to move wastewater, you’ll need power.

If you have a basement bathroom or laundry, or if your house is downhill from the septic field, you might need a pump to push the wastewater uphill.

In these cases, a power outage could hit pause on your septic system. The wastewater just won’t make it to the septic tank.

When the Tank’s Full

Here’s the second “what if”: if your system uses a pump to send effluent to the drainfield, no power means no pumping.

This isn’t an immediate problem – the septic tank can hang onto the wastewater for a while. But if the power outage drags on and you keep using water as usual, your tank might get too full.

If this happens, try to cut back on water use until the power’s back.

So, while conventional and chamber septic systems are usually power outage champs, knowing your system’s unique features is essential.

By understanding how your system works and if it relies on electricity, you’ll be ready to tackle any power outage hiccups.

What Happens to Advanced Systems in a Power Outage?

Let’s talk about the “big guys” of the septic world: Advanced Treatment Systems, or ATUs. These guys pack a serious punch when it comes to wastewater management.

But with that power comes a greater dependence on electricity.

Advanced Systems 101

Here’s a quick breakdown of how an ATU works: It’s a three-stage process involving pretreatment, aeration, and clarification.

Just like a conventional septic tank, the pretreatment stage separates solids from liquid effluent.

Next, during aeration, air is added into the mix, helping bacteria break down organic material more efficiently.

Finally, clarification further separates the effluent, with leftover solids going back to the aeration stage and treated water released into the environment.

Electricity: The ATU Lifeline

Because of their more complex processes, ATUs lean heavily on electricity to work their magic. They need power to run pumps, blowers, and sometimes even high-tech computer controls.

That means when a power outage rolls in, ATUs can take a hit, possibly malfunctioning or, in the worst case, failing altogether.

Power Outages: The Immediate Aftermath

As soon as the power’s out, the ATU’s mechanical parts stop working. Without fresh oxygen being pumped into the tank, the aerobic bacteria start to die off.

If the power comes back quickly, the system usually bounces back and those aerobic bacteria start to multiply again.

Extended Outages: When Things Get Tricky

But, if the power outage is a long one, things can get tricky. With no aerobic bacteria, untreated or partially treated wastewater might make its way into the dispersal field.

This could potentially clog the system or contaminate the groundwater.

Worse still, if the outage is extended and you keep using water as usual, the ATU could get overwhelmed with incoming wastewater.

The result? A possible backup into your home or even flooding in your yard.

So, if you’re an ATU owner and the power’s out, try to keep water use to a minimum until the power comes back.

And once it does, give your ATU a thorough check to make sure it’s back to working at its best, avoiding any long-term damage.


And there you have it! We’ve dug into the nuts and bolts of how septic systems behave during power outages. Remember, your system’s response largely depends on its type and its reliance on electricity.

For conventional and chamber systems, things usually carry on pretty smoothly – unless you have pumps in the mix.

Advanced Treatment Systems, on the other hand, can face a tougher time when the power’s out due to their reliance on electric components.

The takeaway? Know your system and how it operates. In the event of a power outage, this knowledge could be a real game-changer, helping you avoid septic system mishaps.

Until next time, stay switched on about your septic system, and you’ll be ready for whatever life (or a power outage) throws your way!

Leave a Comment

Share to...