If you live in a rural area, or are not connected to your local water grid, chances are you have a septic tank. While millions of homes across the country use septic systems, many families may be unaware that they have them, or even exactly how they work.

However, understanding the role of septic tanks is important, because — though they are safe and reliable with proper maintenance — they can become a major hassle if they are not taken care of.

Read on to learn a little more about septic tanks, and how to make sure yours is protected.

How Does a Septic Tank Work?

Septic tanks essentially serve as repositories for gray water and black water from the home — human waste, water from showers and machines, etc. Solid materials collect in the tank while lighter materials float above.

While liquid material will slowly drain through the leach field, septic tanks do ultimately need to be pumped. If they are not, sewage materials can back up, potentially damaging a home’s plumbing and creating problems around the septic tank.

Carrying proper insurance to cover septic problems is important, but it’s also vital to stay on top of your tank and have it regularly inspected and emptied as necessary.