The Septic Tank

It’s the fall and the living is easy…or at least it was….I am going to change all of that for you. The fall is a great time of year to dig up your cottage septic tank and have it pumped out.

It’s especially a good time to do it if the weather has been cool and dry, making digging easy. It’s worth noting that depending on the size and usage, a septic tank doesn’t need to be pumped out each year, although depending on how difficult it is to get at yours, it’s not a bad idea.

As you probably know by now, septic tanks work like this…

You flush your toilet, effluent, (that’s a nice word for crap and stuff) goes down the drain and into the septic tank. There it floats around on top of the water for a little while while bugs and bateria and other yucky stuff go to work on it breaking it down. Then, over time, the solids in the effulent that don’t break down, sink to the bottom of the tank where they build up over time.

If you can picture this, your septic tank looks like a cup with three layers, the bottom layer is solid or mushy solid stuff, the middle layer is mostly water and the top layer is water with stuff floating in it, kind of like a rootbeer float with a cherry in the bottom of the glass…..ahem….anyway….

What happens is that over time the solids in the bottom of the tank become quite thick, and build up, leaving less room for the addition of more water and effluents etc.

That’s when you need to get it pumped out. Sometimes you need to do it before that happens because the tank for one reason or another stop works properly and the solids don’t settle to the bottom as they should, resulting in a back up, which is not a good thing folks…trust me…

For those of you new to cottage living, here is what you need to do. First of all, find your septic tank. Hopefully you know where it is….Look for a pipe between 3 and 6 inches in diameter coming from the bathroom area of your cottage. Follow the direction of the pipe looking for a depression in the ground, or a spot with thick lucious grass. Those can be clues to the septic tank location. Quite often the septic is located about 8 to ten feet from the cottage and several feet below the ground.

I cannot impress this on you enough. Septic tanks are dangerous. The vapors alone can kill you or make you very sick. Falling in the tank, depending on the size of it would be deadly. Don’t work around a septic tank alone. The cover on older steel tanks can collapse, resulting in tradgedy if someone falls in.

Assuming you have found it, get a shovel and start digging….fast forward to the digging is over, you have found the cover and removed it. Look in, but don’t stare…try not to fall in either….and of course, don’t inhale the vapors any more than necessary….OK…now…back to the program.

Contact your local septic tank pumper guy. He has a big truck, euphemistically called the “honey truck” He will come and pump out your tank. It only takes a few minutes or so, depending on the size of the tank. His truck has a big septic vacumm on it and he will stick his hose in the tank and presto, one empty septic tank.

While the cover is up, and it’s dug up, inspect the outlet pipes. These are the source of most septic tank woes…they clog up over time. These are pipes coming off the side of the tank near the top, when the tank fills to a certain level, the watery effluent drains off through these pipes into what is called the disposal field. If those pipes are plugged, your system will not work properly. They are often plugged. If so, you have to dig them up and replace them. Don’t bother trying to clean them out, it is almost impossible, trust me…buy the new pipe.

Once all that is done, you are almost finished. Cover the tank, make sure the cover is on properly, and fill in the hole. Go inside. Have a shower. You need it….

Oh and by the way, that septic smell the permeates your nostrils for days after you embark on your septic tank adventure, even when you are home, 100 miles away from your septic tank, will eventually go away…sort of…maybe…although occasionally for no good reason you will get a slight whiff of it for weeks, maybe months later.

One final note about septic systems. Don’t start any work on yours until you check with the local authorities. Septic systems can have a huge detrimental effect on the environment and there are lots of laws and rules about what you can and cannot do.

In some locations, a permit is needed just to have a septic tank dug up and pumped out.

Ahh the fall at the cottage…the living is…um….easy….but just think how happy you will be not to have to spend the spring and summer digging up your septic tank. You can use that time to relax and shingle the cottage roof or something….

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