09 May 2008

What the Septic Guy told us

Like you really want to know.

The last time the septic tank guy came to pump out our tank was four years ago. It is recommended that we have our tank pumped out every three years, but the last time he did it, it was late in the season, and last summer, we just didn’t get around to it. Plus, the last time he came, we paid him to do an inspection of our entire system, and it failed – with flying colors, of course.

$10,000 later, we had a whole new leach field, etc.

So when he came back here earlier this week, he told me the tank was pretty full (yuck, like I really want to visualize that) and that we’d been using too much toilet paper.

How, exactly, does one respond to such a charge? “Oh, sorry, but cleanliness is a virtue?”

He told me that we need to scale down the toilet paper use and that we really ought to stick to the three-year pump-out schedule. I assured him that we’d do both (what else was I going to say?) and then he went on to tell me that a lot of people say that, but then they go on using the same amount of toilet paper.

I have to say, it felt very odd, standing there in my yard with the stench of sewage all around, discussing our personal toilet paper use with a man I only meet for a couple of hours every three (or four) years.

He then said that if we DO continue to use the exorbitant amounts of toilet paper (that we are very clearly using), we might want to consider having the tank pumped every two years – at least until the kids are grown and gone.

Sheesh. I nodded, agreed with everything he said, and ushered him back down our driveway as quickly as I could.

I ran back inside to escape the stench and told everyone (in great detail) to cut down on the toilet paper usage. The kids nodded in wide-eyed agreement, wanting to change the subject. Hey, I told them, if I can listen to it from a man I hardly know, you can hear it from me.

They nodded again and found reasons to leave the room.

I ask you, how exactly does one monitor the toilet paper usage of teenagers? As if one would even WANT to do that.

Ok, that’s it, I’m finished talking about it… for at least another three (or four) years.

Copyright © 2008 - Paulla Estes


Huskerbabe said...

Ah come on! You mean you don't dole out two squares at a time and tell them they have to make do with that? I saw a gal on tv once who did that....
How to ration? Hmm, quit feeding them then they won't need tp? Give them each one roll, tell them it's their personal roll, and that's all they get for the month?

Seriously, maybe it's the brand you use. Our septic guy recommended Northern, said it disintegrates faster. Told us that Charmin is the worst. Worked for me, I'd always used Northern.

Anonymous said...

you totally exaggerated
and changed the story
'double you tee eff mate!'

SAMANTHA might have had 'wide eyed agreement'

but sheesh, i was making t/p jokes

not like it matters, i never use toilet paper anyways

- your oober cool daughter

Paulla said...

Away, thou EEE-vil child.

Your life IS a toilet paper joke. And you only joke about the TP if we aren't talking about YOUR TP - so you're the exaggerater here... with the WHOLE internet watching.

Love you, Molly-beast (who's only MOSTLY oober-cool).

KathyLikesPink said...

Yeah that is way more information than I would be comfortable discussing with a stranger. Or a strange. Er.

I need to call and have ours pumped also and it has been longer than we should have - Lord I hope I don't get the same lecture!

Robynmama said...

See, I think MOLLY is the problem. She wasn't using toilet paper... she was using paper towels.

But only two squares at a time, Kris.


PerryOne said...

I read your story with some sympathy.

These guys are in the business to find fault and to boost their income.

Can you beleive all they say?

I've put some notes together that you may find interesting, these may help you to avoid future problems.

Like, is my tank full? A tank is always full! Of water, with a crust on top and usually a very small amount of solids.

The main thing to note is that a septic tank used as intended, will probably never need to be emptied. Nor require any maintenance.

The septic tank was invented by a Frenchman John Louis Mauras who in the 1860's built the first septic tank/ brick pond.

On opening it after 12 years he was surprised to find it almost empty. John patented his invention on the 2/9/1881.

The first real septic tank was designed by Donald Cameron and built in Exeter, England in 1895 it was 64 feet long 18 feet wide and between 7 and 10 feet deep. It had a surface area of 3600 square feet and served 30 houses and a large reformatory. It could process 90,000 gallons a day.

After 13 months it was opened and found to be almost clean, apart from some gravel washed in by the rain.

Septic tanks work by anaerobic process of de -composition turning our toilet into mainly methane, hydrogen sulphides, ammonia and carbon dioxide in an oxygen free process.

Our toilet is 70% water so the solids are very little and after process they more or less disappear.(see below)

The system works by separation, the oils and buoyant things like grease float to the top, under this is a layer of water based liquids with a suspension of tiny solids that gradually fall to the bottom, to de-compose. At the bottom the compact sludge.

The key thing is the quantity of oil and grease/lard that you put down the kitchen sink.

Over time the build up of oil and grease/lard in the top of the tank will result in neat oil flowing into the drain field and spoiling it.

All oils and grease/lard should be collected and placed in the dustbin.

Things like frying pans and other oily/greasy kitchen things should be wiped dry with paper towels prior to washing and the towels dropped in the waste bin.

The same treatment for plates etc; sprinkled with salt. (Sodium chloride)

Salt is an antiseptic and over time it builds up in the drain field and stops it working.
(You can buy a chemical treatment, that restores the field to use for a time. Usually needs treating once a year.)

RV Toilet Chemicals.
If you are still using Thetford Aqua-Kem Blue This is a strong poison and antiseptic! Do not empty your toilet tank into your septic tank on arriving home, Aqua-Kem contains formaldehide which is an antiseptic, more powerful than Sodium. It will kill the process in your septic tank.

Thetford Aqua-Kem-Green is OK.

Restaurants, hotels and similar who do a lot of cooking find it helpful to fit a grease/oil trap between the sink and tank.

If you look on the net you will find that there are many people who have not emptied their septic tanks in 30 years and yes like mine fitted in 1985 they a still OK and going strong and trouble free, free flowing clear liquid and a nice crust on the top.

Some people recommend empty every year, this is trotted out regardless of the size of tank and drain field or the number of people using it. Or indeed if it is used or not!

Experience suggests that the longer the time the suspended solids have to settle and the larger the volume of free water/liquid the better the tank works. The best transit time seems to be between 36 and 48 hours and is best accomplished by a journey of around 8 feet.(Across the tank.)

One could also say that the timing of the days events and the order of process will have an effect. The smaller the transit space the quicker the fluids and suspended solids will pass through it into the drain field.

One should aim to let the drain field dry out over night. (8 hours of none use if possible.)

When to empty, in practice waiting until you have a minimum of 12 inches /30cms of clear water/liquid between the top of the sludge and the bottom of the outlet pipe seems to work.
However, keep in mind the build up of oil/grease/lard if your housekeeping is not up to standard.

If your tank is designed to serve twelve people and it is only used by two people, then emptying it every year or two is a nonsense.

There is a built in space for floating substances oil and grease, once this is exceeded oil will flow into your drain field.

It is a good idea to make a pole about 10 feet long with a plastic bottle on the end that can be passed down inside the tank to ascertain the remaining space on top of the sludge. Do this through the inlet pipe.

The sludge is quite firm and a plastic bottle small enough to go down a 4 inch pipe will do the trick.
You will feel the top of the sludge without problem.

The secret of longevity is : Control the things you put into the tank. Toilet paper is not a problem.

Never put alcohol products down the sink, alcohol is an antiseptic and will kill the process.

Only put into the tank things you would be willing to eat or drink. (except alcohol.)

Use other methods to dispose of other things.

Keep in mind that the process requires and generates its own heat, avoid letting cold rainwater get into the tank, expect the process to slow in the cold of winter and to flourish in the warmth of summer.

It is good practice to limit the amount and volume of cold water entering the tank, as large volumes of water will wash the suspended solids through the system into the drain field and stop it from working.

Make sure the lids fit properly and that the area round them is designed to let water get away without forming a pond.

A trench or French drain installed above the septic tank and drain field, diverting the surface water away to one side is useful.

The drainfield will come to a halt when it is not used for a time and then start up again when brought back into use.


Paulla said...


You have rendered me speechless.

This was very informative. I knew some of it, but some I did not - like about alcohol. Had no idea.

Our tank is built for four people, and we have four, unless my son is home from college. Plus, we have a constant stream of teens through our house who don't live here, but seem to use all the facilities regularly.

Thank you very much, Perry, for taking the time to write this all out. Impressive!