Last week we had another reminder that we no longer live in a major metropolitan area when we had our septic system pumped. Whether or not you’ve ever lived off of a major sewer system, I’m sure you’re heard of a septic system. What you might not realize is that there are different types of septic systems. If you’ve never dealt with them, you may think (as I used to) that it’s basically just a big tank under the ground that your home’s wastewater runs into. And you may even realize that eventually, whatever goes into it, must somehow come back out.
My first exposure to this fact of life came when I was eighteen or nineteen years old. I was at an old girlfriend’s house and asked to use the restroom. Her father pointed the way, and informed me that their septic system was full, and asked that I refrain from flushing “if possible”. Bottom line, if I just needed to pee, don’t flush. The rest went unsaid. I later found out that they had let the system go too long without having it pumped, and it was overflowing into the yard.
Now, it’s more than thirty years later. MBH and I have lived in our current home for a bit over two years, and it has a septic system too. Ours is something called an aerobic system, though, and at first we were under the impression that it never had to be pumped. We were told by a contractor that an aerobic system was like a miniature water treatment plant for our home… that wastewater went in, and a combination of chemicals and bacteria broke everything down into harmless gray water that was then used to irrigate part of the property. For more than a year, that was what we believed.
Then one of our neighbors had their system pumped. That prompted me to ask them about it, and I found out that there is no such thing as a maintenance-free septic. The helpful neighbor informed me that they had their system pumped about every two years.
Pop quiz… how long did I say we’ve lived in our home? Yep. A bit over two years.
So I called a local septic pumping company to get a quote. That’s when the questions started.
What kind of system do you have? An aerobic system. (I was proud that I knew this.)
What size? Er….
Concrete? Steel? Fiberglass? Er….
How long since it has been pumped? Well, we’ve lived in the house more than two years, and we’ve never had it done.
What about the previous owners? When did they last have it pumped? Er….
An aerobic system usually consists of a tank that is partitioned into four different chambers, like the picture here. Waste goes into one end, through the aerobic and clarifier chambers, and the resulting gray water is pumped out through a sprinkler system. For our size home, with two people living in it, the entire system should be sized at about 500 to 600 gallons, divided up among the various chambers.
So the guy I called pulled up in his big pump truck… complete with the clever tagline “WHEN DOODIE CALLS.” And when he began his inspection, he found a much larger tank than he was expecting. Not only that, but it wasn’t a typical aerobic, multi-chambered system. No, this was a single tank, and it wasn’t where he expected it to be. It wasn’t part of the actual pump system. It was several feet to the side of the main system, and had a much larger cap on it than he expected. Yet the system had a pump, sprinklers, and all the other external equipment of an aerobic system. This prompted him to pull records from the county to see what the builder had installed.
We’ve been told that the original owner of our home was one of the builders in the neighborhood, and I have no trouble believing this. There are doors that don’t quite fit right in the frame, valances over the windows that are made from baseboard (and held in place by velcro), and other items that give the impression that someone got a really good deal on some parts… as if they were rejects from a build site. It’s nothing really bad. But it’s enough to make you wonder.
So when the septic inspector came back with a record of issues from the county during the installation of the septic system, it didn’t come as too much of a surprise. It seems that initially, the builder wanted to put in a standard septic system, and for whatever reason, installed a massive 1000 gallon tank. Unfortunately, he neglected to inform the county before he put it in. He was fined for doing so, and the county sent their inspectors out to see if it had been done properly.
Did you know that a property has to have its soil inspected before installation of a septic system? Evidently, neither did the builder. It’s to determine what kind of system is best for the land it’s placed on. And guess what? The builder put the wrong kind of system in.
But rather than digging up that giant tank, he simply built an aerobic system out of other tanks, in essence creating the same function that the compact little multi-chambered tank, by making each chamber an actual tank, and piping them all together. When the septic guy was showing me the records, he was shaking his head. There were records of two other fines related to the installation and inspections of the system before they finally passed inspection. Our guy said he’d never seen anything quite like this, but he said it seemed to work, so yay for us. The up side is that we should only have to have our tank pumped about every six years or more, rather than every two to two and a half. The down side is that when we do have it pumped, it costs quite a bit more than the normal maintenance call.
And that’s our adventure in rural living for the week. LOL Stay safe, everyone. I’ll talk to you next time.
RPoTW – We found this little item in the local liquor store. It’s a mix of horchata and rum. For those who don’t know, horchata is a “rice milk” pretty popular in Mexico and South America. I first had it by accident in Ciudad del Carmen several years ago when the company I was working for sent me to one of our offices there to help out with some network issues they were having. On the second day there, they were ordering takeout for lunch, and asked me what I wanted to drink. They told me that the place they were ordering from had two drinks for which they were well-known. One was a kind of hibiscus tea, and the other was horchata. They explained what horchata was, and I politely declined, asking for the hibiscus tea.
See, many years before, I had worked with a bunch of guys from Vietnam, and they had a rice dessert that they liked to share. It was a mixture of rice, rice milk, and some spices. It was also MUCH too sweet for my taste. So when they mentioned rice milk, that was what came to mind. Besides, I’d had hibiscus tea before, and liked it.
Unfortunately, (or maybe it was fortunately), they mixed up my drink order and I ended up with the horchata anyway. After that, I couldn’t get enough of it. But I had never thought of mixing it with rum! So when we saw the little single shot sample bottles in the liquor store, I had to try it. Yes, I liked it. No, I probably won’t buy it again. After all, I already have rum. I just need to find some good horchata somewhere in the area, and I’m set.