Finally! We can use our water again!
When it was almost 4pm and the septic guy hadn’t showed up yet, I called and left a message, asking if he was still going to be able to make it. I got a call over an hour later. He’d had a breakdown, but everything was up and running again, so he was on his way over. It was almost 6pm when he got here!
Then he had the “fun” job of turning his truck so he could back through the gate in the chain link fence and down the newly cleared lane in the snow. He did get a bit stuck a couple of times. Not because he was sinking in soft ground – that was still well frozen. Because he was driving so slowly and carefully, he ended up spinning his tires on ice!
One of the spruce trees at the edge of the grove, closest to the house, died last summer. I’d been thinking that, when we have it cut down, we could leave the stump to use to support one of the tables and benches we want to put in the area, eventually. Or maybe a platform feeder for critters.
I’ve changed my mind.
We’ll get that tree, and the other dead one next to it, cut down as flat to the ground as possible, so the septic truck has more room to maneuver! It’s pretty tight in there for such a large truck!
Then, as he was setting up the hose to the tank, he had to take a blow torch to the lever to turn on the suction.
A blow torch wielding septic guy. I love it.
Meanwhile, I made sure to uncover the tank, and take out the screw that holds the lid in place.
Unfortunately, I had to switch tips on the screwdriver, and the tips were frozen into their holder, so it took a while to get the one I needed out!
I got it done, though, and he was finally able to empty our tank for us.
Shortly after he started, he suggested I check the drain in the basement, which I did. I was happy to see that yes, the water level did start to drop.
The tank did not seem unusually full, but there really isn’t much that can be seen in this type of tank. Still, he made sure to empty both sides as much as he could. For the new folks following this blog (welcome!), our system is not the typical gravity based septic tank, where all the effluent drains into a single tank. The solids sink to the bottom and the liquid, when it reaches high enough, begins to drain through a one way valve to a septic field some distance from the tank. Under such a system, we would have had to put an insulating cover over the tank itself, then along where the buried line is, and finally a wide area where the field is. That’s the system most people have. Our system is a double tank system. The effluent goes into the first, smaller, tank. The solids sink to the bottom while the liquid eventually drains into the larger overflow tank. That tank has a float that triggers a pump in our basement. The pump then suctions the fluid through a pipe to a septic field that is way out by the barn. That outflow pipe is not buried, but sticks out of the ground, and the fluid is ejected from several feet up.
For the septic guy, that means he has to run his hose into both tanks. Several feet down from the surface, deep enough to hopefully not freeze in winter, there’s a top to the two tanks, with different sized holes for each tank that he has to fit the hose through. There just isn’t much that can be seen
In theory, we shouldn’t have to cover this type of tank for the winter at all, but it would be remarkably unwise to take that chance!
It’s not a common system, and plumbers really don’t like them. 😀 However, it does ensure that the septic fluids are nowhere near the house and well.
It also seems to be having all sorts of problems, though some of them would be problems whichever type of system is used.
Like what happened this time, it seems.
After the septic guy was done and the tank was all covered with the insulated tarp again, I quite happily flushed the toilet before heading into the basement.
Only to find the liquid in the drain had increased again. The pipe to the tank was still mostly blocked.
Honestly, I was expecting that to a certain extent, but it would have been nice if it had actually drained properly again.
It was definitely rubber boots and latex gloves time.
The first thing I did was loosen and remove the cap to the access pipe. It, too, had disintegrating toilet paper visible in it.
I’d had previously used the old hose we kept hooked up from the last time we fought with the system and pushed it through the floor drain for quite some distance, though not all the way to the tank. I tried it through the access pipe this time, and still couldn’t get it all the way through.
The other thing we’ve kept handy from before is an old wire chimney sweep. The wire is just the right combination of sturdy and flexible, and we could shove the handle end through the pipes, forcing it through any blockages, even when the pipe was full of roots. So I got the old chimney sweep out and tried to push it through. It was definitely hitting something that didn’t belong! I was able to force it through, and reach all the way to the tank. After I ran that back and forth a few times, I was able to get the hose through the blockage, too. Once I managed that, I finally turned the water on. It didn’t take long, and when whatever was blocking the pipe gave way, I could really tell the difference. Even the sound of the water was completely different. I was able to push the hose all the length of the pipe, until I could hear water splashing into the newly emptied tank.
What a beautiful sound!
After clearing the access pipe out, I moved the hose over to the drain in the floor. I’d already cleared as much of the muck into a garbage can that I could, but it was still pretty… thick. Thankfully, I wasn’t seeing any brown in there! Still, the pipe between the floor drain and the access pipe was pretty stuffed. It made me wonder just how long this had been building up! Especially after I changed directions and ran the hose towards the weeping tile under the new part basement. Yes, things had backed up all the way to there, too!
My main concern with the pipe in that direction was tree roots. Yes, I did find more small tree roots as I was working on it, but not enough to be blocking anything. The blockage was all from the plumbing backing up into it.
So… that took a while, but I finally got water free flowing through the whole thing.
One good thing about having an unfinished basement with a concrete floor is that I can just take a hose to it to clean things up! With the drain clear, the floor got a cleaning before I could finally close everything up again and put things away. The very last thing to do was set up and plug in the blower fan, to help everything dry out faster.
How wonderful it felt to be able to wash up when I was done! Yay, freeflowing water!
For all the work that was involved, it really was just a one person job. Before I’d headed down to start, my older daughter had a proposition for me as their contribution.
Which I gratefully accepted!
So after getting all cleaned up and changed, we got Chinese food for supper. The handy thing is that it takes the same amount of time for them to prepare an order as it does for us to drive over to pick it up. 🙂
We can tackle dishes tomorrow. For today, we’re far more interested in being able to take showers and do laundry!
Meanwhile, there is still the sump pump to deal with. I checked the hose while I was outside. Though cold, the sun on black plastic did seem to make a difference. At least as far as I could tell with the flexible hose. No way to know about the pipe through the wall. When things warm up again, I want to see if I can take the hose off and check the pipe to make sure it really was just ice that was blocking it, and not something else! I don’t want to open it up while things are still cold, and the plastic might crack. Until then, I’m leaving the sump pump unplugged.
What we still don’t really know is, why this happened at all. While clearing the access pipe, which is cast iron, I felt what seemed to be a bottleneck of some sort. Or maybe just a really rough area. There could be damage to the pipe that toilet paper catches on – and once that catches, anything else, whether it’s from the bathroom or the kitchen sink, could start getting hung up on it. We’re forever pulling cat hair out of the drains, so even that could be getting caught, though to be honest, I saw no signs of that.
The only way to know for sure would be to find a plumber that has one of those fibre optic cameras, so we could actually see the problem. And that’s not going to happen, any time soon!
However, it does mean it would probably be a good idea to regularly run that hose through the floor drain and run water through the pipe to clear anything that might be building up, as a regular maintenance thing.
This makes the third time since we’ve moved here that we’ve had septic issues leaving us unable to use our plumbing.