Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Country Life -- Septic system failures

We had 10 people staying here last weekend.  That's 10 people taking showers, using the toilets, doing laundry and eating (think washing dishes and dumping water). Add to that 3 loads of towels and a load of sheets through the washer and Monday morning the septic system failed.  It can't handle anymore water going down the drain.  There is a puddle in the drainage field.

People who live in the city may not realize that when you live in the country you are responsible for your own waste.  No one is going to take it away for you.  And when you visit someone in the country they become responsible for your waste, too.

A septic system is a finely balanced eco-system with just the right amount of bacterial action to handle the usual waste products of a household.  Double or triple the number of people on a septic system in a short time -- say a weekend -- and the whole system will fail.  As ours did on Monday.

The solution is to have it pumped and then try to restart the bacterial action.  And hope that the drainage field was not compromised.  If it was, its several thousand dollars to have it excavated and retiled.

But being in the country it takes several days to get someone to come out and check it out -- and you pay mileage from when they leave home. It much easier to ensure that it doesn't fail by limiting water useage.  There's a laundry mat in town, afterall.

Well, now that it has failed we need to trouble shoot what went wrong.  I found a great website with a chapter from The Septic System Owner's Manual  online.  It tells me that the problem is with the drainage from the septic tank. 

So 4 guys spent a whole day removing weeds and grass and some small trees from around the septic drainage field so that they could dig out the drainage pipes and have a closer look.  We found the distribution box, where the water was seeping up to the ground level.  It is not compromised, so the problem is with the pipes going out of the box.  Or just plain, too much water through the system.

Next we will check for roots and debris in the pipelines.  And clean up the drainage field of roots, take down the trees that surround the drainage field and maybe replace some pipes.  It will be several work days to get it fixed up.  And hopefully that will solve the problem. 

The alternative is hiring a septic engineer and designing a brand new septic field that can handle the higher levels of water that guests create.

Maybe we should just build an outhouse.


  1. I understand, I lived in the city 37 years before moving to a rural area with my husband and six children... we have experienced several times what you are describing. Thanks for the book reference... This too shall pass!
    I realluy like our out houses, you should invest time and energy into some good ones... make them stylish in some way, and incorporate some decor that is appropriate for you and your personality. Maybe I will do a post someday, or my son on his Up In the Valley Post (see my "Blogs I Follow to see what he posts about our farm and farm skills etc). I really like reading about your farm.

  2. Hi, Christine
    Yes, a couple of outhouses are on our todo list for this summer. I'll check out your son's blog. Thanks for reading the post.

  3. Where we live we don't have any freezing and now I am really grateful for that. We have just redone our septic drain and put it further out in the field. The old one had failed and needed filling in. In our climate it's a great place to plant citrus so we have a new orange, two lemons and a lime getting their roots down into the old muck. Another 8 years until the septic needs pumping. I feel your pain.