We are, every one of us, biological creatures.
Most of us would like to just ignore that part of life, you know, the ichy part, and
modern conveniences have gone a long ways towards assisting us with that
ignorance, but that doesn't change the fact that we take stuff in one end and it comes out the
other, and eventually someone has to deal with that.
If your abode, and commode, is connected to a municipal waste-water system
then that someone is most likely not you and unless you are in the habit of inviting Ralph Kramden over for dinner you are unlikely to ever run into that someone. But for those of us that live on septic systems are, at some
point, going to have to deal with the crap that came out the other end. Well, unless we sell and move on every 3 to 5 years which doesn't seem very practical.
Somehow The Wife and I managed to avoid having to deal
with our crap for 8 years of full-time living here on the property, with an additional 3 years
of part-time occupation before that. (Hey, we built the place ourselves, working only on weekends, so it took a while to finish. . .)
The key to going such a long time without pumping our septic tanks and not ending up with a mess in the meantime, besides using only about half the average per-capita water per day, (the combined usage for the two of us is an average of 82 gallons per day) avoiding those hideously miss-marketed "disposable" personal wipes, and throwing all food-scraps into the compost, is that we avoided, but didn’t forget.
One of the
items on my monthly to-do list, along with checking tire pressures, running the
generator, and lubing the gate, is to twist the cap off all three cleanouts in the system, look down the pipe, and make sure
everything is flowing properly.
As you’ve probably surmised by now; those of you that
haven’t already bailed out of this post in disgust anyway; recently one of the checks of the first cleanout in the system, the one situated between the barn and the first tank, showed that things
weren’t flowing properly. It was more than a subtle thing, but still, one I probably wouldn't have noticed
if I hadn’t been watching things flow properly for years.
OK, no need to panic, we've been putting money aside every month for just this (inevitable) eventually, so just call The Guy.
About this time, while I still had the cleanout opened up, The Wife decided to clean the bathroom and
flushed the toilet 3 times in quick succession which I have to admit, raised
just a little bit of panic . . . So call The Guy right now!
I’ve lived with septic tanks before, but it was a long time
ago so I don’t know if things have changed, or if I just forgot, or maybe it
was wishful thinking on my part, but when I got The Guy on the phone the first
thing he asked was if I had the hatches exposed. Well – no. OK call me back
when you have them dug out. . .
Fortunately, back in 2006, while the system was still open and waiting for the inspector to sign off on it, I took a series of photos and measurements and tucked them away in both an electronic as well as paper folder.
(This was the only permit and
inspection we needed, no structural, plumbing or electrical needed out here since the county doesn't care and there was no bank involved because we build the place with cash.)
|From here on out the photos were all taken after the fact because of scheduling issues which will become clear in a moment.|
The black plastic which acts as a sort of gasket, but more importantly prevents the tapered concrete lid from getting jammed tight into the tapered hole in the tank, is a trick I picked up from Another Guy back when I lived on a previous septic system
So because of those previous photos and measurements I knew that the center of the upper tank hatch (We have
two 500 gallon tanks plumbed in series, one right next to the barn and another down the hill a-ways.) is 57 inches from the center of the
Even better, that hatch is so close to the surface I can
practically sweep the dirt off with a broom.
Finding the hatch of the lower tank is a little more
First I have to run a tape from the large (now lightning-struck and vine-covered)
across to the large Water Oak 79 feet away. If the distance isn't 79 feet then I know I picked the wrong tree(s) and need to start over.
Once I get the proper two trees then I measure out from the Cedar 13’8”,
and run another tape towards the pond at right angles to the
Six feet along the second tape and I’m directly over the
That was the easy part. The hard part is that the hatch is a solid 16 inches below the surface, down through silty clay - heavy silty clay - that has been undisturbed
for 12 years, and, since The Wife is hell-bent on doing her daily laundry come
hell or high-water (Probably both at this rate!) I’ve cheated and already
called The Guy back, giving him the impression that both tank hatches are
cleared and ready for him.
The Guy is 38 miles away, which on our roads gives me about
(Since I own 12 pairs of socks I do my laundry once every 11 days whether its needed or not. The Wife, on the other hand, takes a different approach with her stuff and does a minimum of one load per day. . .)
Armed with tarp, (for loose dirt) two kinds of shovel,
(pointed and flat nosed) and a pickaxe, (more specifically a railroad pick with
a point on one end and chisel on the other) I headed down the hill at a trot, spurred on
by my self-created deadline which was getting closer with every turn of The
Unlike on TV where the gardener-guy easily steps it deep into the ground every time, the pointy shovel was no damn good at all until I broke
things up with the pickaxe, and once I did, every single shovelful of that heavy clay loam was farther
and farther below my feet which was just great on my back!
I studiously avoided checking my phone (my only timepiece)
but I had left the gate open and there was no way in hell I could miss the
sound of a 20,000 lb. truck coming down the drive, so I worked out there in the
summer sun like a madman (OK, it’s been suggested that a more accurate
description would be ‘like an idiot’, but I’m sticking with madman)
in the hope that I would get to the hatch
before The Guy got to me.
And somehow I made it. By the time I used the flat
nosed shovel to scrape the last of the dirt off the hatch, still no Guy.
Yeah for me!
I did manage to screw up a couple fingers in the process and it was days before
I could bend them without dropping to my knees and whimpering.
The Guys (there was actually two of them in the truck) soon showed up, which cut my whimpering short because - well - whimpering in front of a couple of strangers is just plain embarrassing!
From here on out everything went smoothly. I avoided taking photos of the process and I won't subject you to any written details, but the upper tank definitely needed to be pumped (The fact that the washing machine emptied itself just as the hatch was lifted didn't help . . .) but the lower tank was in great shape. In fact, strictly speaking, it didn't really need pumping at all, but since it only cost $50 for the second tank - and I had already gone to all the effort required to dig it out - we did it anyway.
|Because there is such a vertical drop between the two septic tanks, and septic lines should slant down no more than one-quarter inch per foot, partway between the two tanks we have a near vertical drop in the line with a cleanout installed at the bottom of it.|
The line then runs through a culvert just beyon the drop so that if we need to drive heavy vehicles over the pipe in the future we won't risk crushing it, which I'm pretty sure would be a bad thing . . .
With both tanks pumped nearly as dry as the day they were installed, it's going to take just short of a week to fill the first tank and get water-flow down there at the cleanout situated between the two tanks again, than another short week to fill the lower tank and get water-flow at the cleanout just ahead of the leach-field.
In the meantime, water is flowing past that first cleanout up by the barn just beautifully again!
In theory we should have at least another 8 years before we need to do this all over again, but we will continue to keep an eye on it every month, just in case. . .