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.)
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 cleanout.
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 complicated.
First I have to run a tape from the large (now lightning-struck and vine-covered) Cedar
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 first.
Six feet along the second tape and I’m directly over the hatch.
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 an hour. . .
(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 Guy’s tires.
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!
But somehow 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.
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. . .