Problems with the septic tank this week. Coming as they did on the heels of Our Wretched Little (Not) Hot Water Adventure, they have my bride and me feeling a little snakebit right now.
We began living at Longleaf Breeze more or less full time in mid-November. Around the New Year, we began to notice a whiff here and there of sewage. When I called Dale Mask, the man
who installed our septic tank, he quickly deduced that because we didn’t begin using the tank until the weather had already turned cool, we may not have put enough organic matter in it to get the bacteria in it started working. Yes, everyone did their part but Lee and Amanda, who failed miserably in the shit production function.
Dale’s suggestion was that I buy the cheapest 20-pound bag of dog food I could find and dump it into the clean-out port of the septic tank. He said that would work fine as long as I washed it down with the hose. Amanda bought a bag of Ol’ Roy at Wal-Mart, and I dumped it into the clean-out port a little bit at a time. It stacked up as I poured in the dog food, but each time it did, I ran enough water into the port that the dog food settled down and ran on into the septic tank. Or so I thought.
The next morning at 3:45 when I flushed the toilet, I noticed that the water didn’t go all the way down in the bowl the way it usually does. Hmmm. Then I tried running the water in the bathroom lavatory. It seemed to go down fine until I noticed that the water was backing up into the base of the shower. Uh-oh. That’s when I knew we had a problem.
You haven’t lived ’til you’ve laid on your belly at 4:00 in the morning in the middle of a hard freeze, pulling organic matter out of your septic tank with your bare hands by the light of a flashlight and a halogen work light. Here’s what we now know happened. When I poured the dog food into the clean-out port, the water from my hose washed it into the pipe between the port and the septic tank, but it didn’t push it all the way to the septic tank. Instead, that dog food sat there and gradually became sticky, gummy, and gelatinous, eventually sealing up the pipe and preventing the passage of any solid or liquid into the septic tank.
Dale’s advice was good, to a point. It’s probable that he correctly diagnosed the initial problem with our septic tank and that the bag of dog food was the right solution. What I should have done, however, was not to try to pour it into the clean-out port but to open the lid of the septic tank and pour it directly into the tank itself.
My pre-dawn efforts were unsuccessful, by the way. It was not until later in the day that three of Dale’s folks stopped by and cheerfully removed the clog, getting us back in business. While they were there, they showed me a filter I didn’t know about, one required on all modern septic tanks. They suggested that we pull it and check it every 6-12 months. If you own a septic tank installed within the last 5-10 years, you probably have such a filter on it, and if you haven’t checked it in a while you should do so. If you keep that filter in place and cleaned out, the chances are good you’ll never have an issue with your field lines.
For what it’s worth, ours was nice and clean after two months of use. But you already know we’re not doing our share, so you can’t judge by our experience.