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Saturday, 24 March 2012

Septic Tank Saturday

No, not Cockney Rhyming Slang but the joys of rural living!

So what do you do when you discover a blockage somewhere in the outflow from your upstairs toilet? Now, normally, had we still been on mains drainage our first thought would have been to grab the Yellow Pages and look for our nearest Dynarod or equivalent and got them to come and deal with it all.

(By now I expect you are either totally grossed out or nodding and saying "yup, been there, done that". Sorry if the former in which case don't read on!)

However there's something about having a septic tank that makes you that little bit more self-reliant, as for a start you are more aware of what goes into your toilet (nothing but the obvious and toilet paper) and how it all gets, shall we say, processed by the bacteria in the tank and that hopefully, only reasonably cleanish water comes out at the other end. So you think, OK, let's see if we can sort this out ourselves.

First port of call - ask on a local forum what other people have done in similar circumstances. Hooray! It just so happened that a friend who lives 20 mins away has a drain upblocky thingywotsit that attaches to a Karcher (pressure washer) and knows how to do this. So over she comes with it. (Photo credits to her by the way - I was too mucky and having far too much fun to remember to take photos....)

So we lift off the lid and we look and we have a poke around and realise we need to deturf some more cos there's more to this tank than we thought. I also realise I'm kneeling on the underside of the tank lid which is covered in scum!

Note the big grin on my OH's face.

Right time to get down to business, note all the marigold gloves. As it turned out they weren't long enough but we didn't know anyone who has those long gloves for sticking your arm up a cow's backside which could have come in handy....

Grins gone temporarily as we umm and ahhh and decide what to do next,
now that we have two holes to look into.

Somewhere down here there's a pipe where the loo contents enter, only the entrance is under water somewhere, quite a long way down. I tried first and let me say, bin bags are NOT waterproof. So my OH who has longer arms had to have a go. He failed miserably as well as the hole was too deep down. And got a wet arm too.

By the way, because our tank is very healthy there was hardly a pong and apart from a bit of surface crust the water was really not mucky. You probably don't believe a word I'm saying, if anyone is still reading, that is.

Taping a bin liner around his arm. Serious face on.

So, plan C, or D, or wherever we had got up to. Try to stick the unblocky hose thingy round the U bend of the downstairs toilet. Now this was mucky because earlier in the day it had overflowed all over the floor of my hallway, due to my dear OH repeatedly flushing the upstairs loo to try to shift the blockage. Ooops. I couldn't get the hose in due to the strange design of our U bend which was rather tight but I had a lot of fun trying. Honest! You can see from my face I was having fun!

All in a day's work.

Eventually the problem was solved by drilling a hole into the pipe in the septic tank where the toilet outflow comes in, above the water level, and sticking the hose up that, which worked a treat. We've not had any problems since and we know what to do if it happens again. All in all, a good afternoon was had by all. Thank you for reading, if you got this far!

(Now here's the mysterious bit. This blockage happened soon after we returned from holiday and French housesitters had been here looking after the house and menagerie. The only thing we found floating in the septic tank which shouldn't have been there was a small label with a name and logo on. Upon Googling said name we discovered it was a French cheese we had never heard of before. So we are left with a mystery as to whether someone flushed a lump of cheese down the toilet causing the blockage, or ate the label.)

25 comments:

  1. Ha haaa!! Read this with freakish amount of interest as a recent acquirer of a septic tank. You are obviously really enjoying yourself here. Have to say there is something rather satisfying about banishing a blockage... I'm always the first out with the old plunger. So glad you got to them bottom of it in the end.

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  2. Read this with freakish interest as owner of a septic tank that I know nothing about. I will try to believe you that investigating these things is lots of fun.

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  3. What is not so much fun is to have the tank drained then get down inside it and jet water up the pipes to unblock it - I've watched this being done when we were in a rental house by a man with a tanker - he was being paid to do it but he didn't look very amused getting covered in ****. We thought it was brilliant though! :-)

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  4. Been there, done that! Oh I'm so glad I'm on main drainage now :)Great blog though!

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    1. Thanks Colly. Of course mains is no guarantee that you won't still get a blockage though! ;-)

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  5. It seems we both have things going wrong with our dwellings. Though, yours seems to be solved..I have to wait on my landloard, ahh the joys of renting..not. haha I've never had to deal with a septic tank but I like knowing how things work so I can understand why it was a little fun for you despite the knowledge of what you're dealing with =P

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    1. This was about April last year Polly! I've rented most of my adult life so know the fun (not!) of waiting on landlords when things go wrong.... I hope your leak gets fixed asap.

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  6. I always dream of living a farm a life in the countryside hence I have always wondered how septic tanks work and what the maintenance involves. To me this always seemed like the biggest problem.
    What type of regular maintenance does it need? Does using cleaning material such washing up liquid etc... affect the tank's performance in decomposing waste?

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    1. Jenson I'll reply properly to this later - needs a longer comment than just a few lines!

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    2. Right - septic tanks! We actually have an old one where only the sewage goes into the tank, then the liquid comes out and goes into a soakaway. Our grey water goes through a grease trap then into the same soakaway. The modern tanks have both sewage and grey water going into them, grey water first through a grease trap, then the water goes out through a sand or reed filter bed before what is left being released into the environment.

      The worst thing is the grease trap - I do think everyone on mains drainage should experience having a look - and smell - of one of these to realise just how disgusting what goes down the drain looks like when it has been stewing for a while - soap and grease residue are thick white lardy looking and the smell is putrid. Cleaning the grease trap is not a fun job! Even though we wipe all greasy pans before washing them so as little as possible goes down the sink.

      Re. cleaning materials - the only thing to really not use much of is bleach, because it kills the bacteria in the tank which is what is needed for decomposing the solids and keeping the tank healthy. Also if anyone has been on antibiotics it can have the same effect. For this reason it is advised to add bacterial activators to the tank regularly - here we can buy powder to flush down the loo either monthly or 6 monthly and that can withstand a bit of bleach usage.

      Some people recommend emptying the tank every 4 or 5 years; others say it's not necessary if your tank is functioning properly and only the correct things have been flushed down the toilet (loo paper only). We had ours emptied soon after we moved here about 7 years ago but it all seems to be fine - the way to check is to open up one of the manhole covers and have a poke with a stick - there should be lots of liquid and little solids settled at the bottom.

      Hope this helps!

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    3. Many thanks for the explanation. That doesn't sound too bad in terms of maintenance and dirty work. I'm assuming the grease trap doesn't need regular cleaning... that often.

      Blogger doesn't notify me of replies to my comments so I had bookmarked this page and came back to check it today.

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    4. Jenson I heard on a recent discussion about this subject that it should be cleaned about twice a year, maybe more. I think we do ours about once every two years!

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  7. I thought my rhyming slang was quite good, but I didn't know that one. I do hope poor Polly didn't look it up...

    Wonderful enthusiasm...

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    1. I may have enthusiasm, but I wonder why this posting got more page views than any other of the 7 posts for the challenge? Hmmmmm :-)

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    2. lol... everyone loves septic tanks

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  8. I agree with MC. Been there, done it and got the scars to prove it......... :-)

    Our biggest prob. when we had one for the Gites was the fact we had to have a pump fitted as the exit pipe from the house was lower than the fosse tank.......... The first time it blocked and "blew back" it was a case of someone having flushed a J-cloth down the loo which had gift-wrapped the pump and stopped it working. The 2nd time, was the case of some female personage having done the same with a couple of things that only ladies know about........... ;-)
    Nightmare.............. as we had to de-clog the pump by digging out the gunge that was in its housing box......... :-(

    A Nonny Mouse

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    1. Lovely!!! But we've had a pump for a loo in a basement whilst on mains drainage, can't blame those kind of blockages on septic tanks! We also suffered serious smell problems for several years until we discovered the stupid plumber hadn't fitted the lid of the holding tank, which was in the laundry room, properly. *rolls eyes*

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  9. Every year we seem to have problems with the septic tank, every year Paul has spent time on his birthday doing something to the system, our first year here was the worst, (we have two tanks, one is for the toilet and the other is for "grey" water ) in 2005 our toilet Fosse was blocked, many hours spent with a plunger or plumbers rods trying to clear the toilet out, we hadn't got a clue about septic tanks, our neighbour told us it must be there somewhere and to search for it, our garden looked like we had a plague of moles, then we hit on a clever idea, why not dig along the pipe coming out of the house, within a half an hour we had found it, and did it stink, obviously we being law abiding upstanding citizens we did not get the local farmer out to empty it for us, and after he didn't empty it, Paul did not go to see if he could see a blockage, and the farmer who wasn't there did not blast everything back in to see if he could clear the problem; Paul was not covered from head to foot in the contents and the house did not stink for days after. Fortunately what didnt happen worked.

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    1. ha ha Roz! When we had ours emptied the one and only time we really were good upstanding citizens so looked in the Yellow Pages for someone to come out and empty it (mostly because we didn't fancy a local farmer spreading the contents on nearby field). Guess what they turned up in - yes a tractor pulling a tanker....I'm quite sure I know where it ended up only thankfully not near us as he'd come from about 15kms away!

      Glad you got your blockage sorted and that Paul did not get covered in the contents lol (did you get pics?). Actually when we were househunting the vast majority of people hadn't a clue where their tanks were!

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  10. Hahahahaha just read this one again MM. Oh how it was such a pleasure to stick my hand in your septics :) xx

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    1. Feel free my dear any time you are passing ;-) Shame you just missed the grease trap clean out!

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  11. I also enjoyed the humour that you managed to retain during the exercise. I was particularly interested because I am in the process of putting together a website for a client who sells a range of preventative maintenance and un-blocker products for septic tanks. You can see where I am with this as of 6th. February 14 at muck-munchers dot co dot uk. I don't know whether it would have helped prevent your problem but they do have a lot of happy customers in the UK.

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    1. Why hello Diggybob! I'm glad I looked up your Blogger profile because I see you have an allotment blog - wasn't sure if this was a very slightly spammy post at first! I looked at your link anyway and yes that's the kind of thing we do put down the loo every 6 months. In any event unfortunately our set up does not conform with the current 'norms' here in France and we have until 2016 to get a new all singing, all dancing septic tank and sand filter bed or equivalent put in, at vast expense and complete destruction of my garden! :-(

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    2. Hello MMM
      Can you name and give me the price for the 'muck muncher' stuff. We could get it here (in the UK) - not sure if it's the same as in France.
      Also had some initial problems with our fosse in the Vienne and had it emptied - tree roots the culprit, but what a job - took 4 men to lift the concrete lid. Now replaced with a galvinised metal one.
      Also I assumed and was told no urgency to replace the fosse (unless we sell, when we are supposed to pay for the change). Fosse working well - I think, but the breather pipe does pong sometimes- but not in Wilts - not sure why!
      Love your blog and pics
      PR

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    3. Hi PR - there are two products in France easily available in the supermarkets near the toilet cleaning stuff. We use Tarax which you only have to put down the loo every six months, and there's another product called Eparcyl which you put down every month. I have no idea how much they cost but you might find out by googling them.

      I guess every department is different but many are doing regular inspections now and if you don't pass, you get given 5 years to do something about it. We didn't pass the latest check so had to cough up a fortune to have a new septic tank and sand filter bed put in this summer. :-( If you are interested in reading the posts with loads of photos of what is involved here's the link to Part 1:
      http://chateaumoorhen.blogspot.fr/2014/06/new-septic-tank-installation-part-1.html
      and at the end of that post is a link to Part 2.

      Good luck and I hope you don't have to have yours replaced in a hurry. :-)

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