This evening, I got a call from my brother, saying he would be coming over tomorrow to install the new well pump he found for us. Yay! He would need to pick something up along the way, though, and could I get measurements of the pipes for him?
So I went into the basement to see if I could get that for him and…
There was water, all over half the basement.
The side of the basement where the laundry used to be has a drain in the floor, but it was covered over with plastic, so I took that out and water started to slowly drain into there. Unfortunately, there was also mostly dissolved toilet paper in the water (no solids, thankfully), and I didn’t want that getting in there. So we had to be careful.
Where, however, did the water come from?
This is our septic pump. Do you see that large pipe with the wider open top and duct tape dangling off? The top had been stuffed with fiberglass insulation, which was held in place with the tape, instead of a cap. There is a P trap below it, and water is kept in there so sewer gasses don’t get inside.
You can see the saturated lump of insulation on top of the pump.
Aside from what was on the floor, I also found the old laundry sink was quite full of grey water that had backed up the drain.
Now, most of this water would have been from the washing machine, as my daughters had been using it earlier in the day, so thankfully, there was no nasty mess.
But why did this happen?
For some reason, the pump is not turning on.
I called my brother back and talked to him about the possibilities. There is an on/off switch for the pump; it was in the “on” position, but I flicked it anyway. The pump has its own breaker, which was not tripped, but I flicked that on and off, too. Nothing.
The next thing to do was check the outflow.
The meant tromping through the snow to the barn side of the outer yard fence, then through more snow to the septic field.
From the looks of this, there was outflow fairly recently, so whenever things went wrong, it was not long ago. Possibly even just today. Maybe yesterday. Not much more than that; I don’t go into the basement often, but I had gone down a couple of days ago, and there was no water.
The next thing to check was the septic tank itself.
Which is covered with a layer of straw and snow.
Not a lot of snow, thankfully.
I got that uncovered and open and took a look.
For the type of tank we have, there are two reservoirs. Everything drains first into one side, and the solids sink to the bottom. As it fills, the grey water eventually starts draining into the other side. When that fills to a certain point, a float triggers the pump, which sends the water to the septic field, out by the barn.
When looking down into the tank, there is a sort of metal plate with openings to each side of the tank. When the tank is being emptied, the hose fits through these openings. Normally, even when the tank is quite full, I can’t really see anything through the openings.
Shining my flashlight in tonight, I could see grey water was reaching to just below these openings.
This is a problem. If any solids, even if it’s just toilet paper, gets into the wrong side, it could start clogging up the works.
So even though the water on the basement floor did slowly drain through the drain in the floor to the septic tank, we will have to avoid using water, as we don’t want that tank filling any more than it is.
I’ve called the septic company – at this time of night, no one would be answering their phones, but the first number I called did give an alternate number for urgent calls, so that’s where I left the message. This company has been great for coming out very quickly. Still, I will probably call again in the morning!
Meanwhile, after cleaning up as much as they could while I was tromping through the snow, the girls found a 5 gallon bucket in the basement. I went to the side of the garage where we store the lawn mowers, where I knew there was a toilet seat cover designed to fit on a 5 gallon bucket. That got cleaned up, too. After lining the bucket with a garbage bag, they got the seat on, and it’s now set up in the bathroom.
For any washing we need to do, we’ll have to rely on buckets and basins, then toss the water outside.
Once the septic tank is emptied, we’ll be able to use the water again – in fact, it’s important to have at least some water in the septic tank, as they can “float” upwards if there isn’t enough weight in them. Since the ground around the tank is covered by straw, it’s not frozen and this might still happen. The pump itself wouldn’t be needed for some time once that tank is emptied.
We then have to figure out why the pump stopped working.
One thing we all thought of at some point was that maybe it was blocked, but as my brother added, if that’s what it was, the pump would likely have just kept running and running until it burned itself out. We would have noticed a pump running constantly. Wouldn’t we?
We really didn’t need this right now!
At least it didn’t happen when it was in the -30C range. I’m certainly thankful for that!
Well, we’ll see how things go, tomorrow!