Question for the septic tank experts.....

Discussion in 'Homesteading Questions' started by 3ravens, Dec 6, 2006.

  1. 3ravens

    3ravens on furlough-downsized Supporter

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    We bought a house in June that was built in 1976. Had the tank pumped because nobody could tell us when it was done last. Good thing the lady that sold us her parent's home knew where the tank was, 'cause we never would have found it otherwise. It was under a trapdoor in the wooden deck!
    Anyway, I figured I was in troube when the honeywagon guy opened it up and said "Hmmmmm, I never saw anything like this before!" It's a big ole metal tank with an electric pump in it! Anybody ever heard of such? And that metal tank is 30 years old. I guess my question is, how long do I have to save up for a new one, 'cause someday it's gonna leak. Probably sooner than later. And what about that pump? Septic guy said the tank had no baffles or filters. He also said it wasn't full and hadn't backed up into the drain field.
    I did read the whole family the five dollar lecture about what could go in there. We only use septic approved tp, no liquid fabric softener, no grease, food, feminine supplies in the toilet, short showers, etc. But there are a lot of us...... 6 adults and a 2 y/o. Any other septic saver tips?
     
  2. tiogacounty

    tiogacounty Well-Known Member

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    I would tend to have suspicious thoughts about the pump. Was it used to lower the liquid level by pumping it down when nobody was looking? If it is integral to the system it should of had float switches and a high level alarm, like a modern pressure system does. If you don't have an outlet baffle, it's only a matter of time until the field get clogged. If you do nothing else you need to get inlet and outlet baffles fabricated and pump the thing on a pretty frequent basis, so you have a clear understanding of what's going on. A lot of older tanks has steel baffles that rust to the point of completely dissapearing, maybe that why yours appears to have none. Find somebody that is knowledgable about septic repairs and see what they can do to get the system functioning properly. Don't let this go. With a family your size, a field will clog rather quickly, and it can be a tough thing to fix. And, DO NOT call your local sewage enforcement authority. A local, backwoods excavator can solve a problem for a few hundred bucks, and nobody knows a thing. A beaurocrat can turn a septic problem into a $12K nightmare in the blink of an eye.
     

  3. hunter63

    hunter63 Well-Known Member

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    Sound like Tioga is most likely correct.

    Does a line extend out from the tank?
    May be you have a "grinder pump" and what your looking at is just the 1 st step.
    When it fills up, a float pumps it out to another tank?
     
  4. TnAndy

    TnAndy Well-Known Member Supporter

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    Hard to say on the life of the metal tank.....but even if it does leak slightly, it's not a big deal.....not like it's a pressurized tank. The outlet to the drain field is the primary way the effluent leaves the tank. Actually having it under that deck might be a GOOD thing....that way nothing can crush the tank if the metal is getting thin.

    As to how long it will last is anybody's guess. Most of the 'lecture' was a good thing...but the 'long showers' thing would have nothing to to with the tank, but the condition and size of the field bed.

    The pump may be a lift pump if the field lines are higher than the tank....but there should also be a float switch, etc. The pump would probably be the weakest link in this whole system.

    Tanks hold solids until they break down, and flow with the water into the field bed or lines. IF you have sufficient bed area, and do not allow the sludge in the tank that will never break down ( or just hasn't had time to yet ) to fill the tank and flow into the bed area, clogging it....then a septic system will last pretty much indefinitely.

    That sludge is what the occassional pumping is for.

    I put a 1000gal concrete tank in my current system when installed new in 1982.....and had it pumped the first time in 2004, and not because of any sign of need, but just because it had been so long. I don't think it really needed it. That's with 2-3 people in the house over that time, and we don't do anything special other than don't have a garbage disposal. I'll probably never have it pumped again.


    "A local, backwoods excavator can solve a problem for a few hundred bucks, and nobody knows a thing. A beaurocrat can turn a septic problem into a $12K nightmare in the blink of an eye."

    SO absolutely correct !!
     
  5. dagwood

    dagwood Well-Known Member

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    And make sure he does the job onna Sunday too.....no local officials snoop on Sunday's....... :p
     
  6. Pouncer

    Pouncer Well-Known Member

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    Excellent advice here, about all I can offer is this: Your kitchen trimmings are okay-just need to be very small (diced) as they can aid in decomp. Your fabric softener is way better than large quantities of bleach in the laundry. Keep an eye on your household cleaners too, sometimes they can also retard the bacterial activity.

    I have a hunch there is a second pump becuase no one would (in their right mind) use a grinder pump and send "unprocessed" waste right into the drain feild.

    Did you get an "as built" survey when you bought the place? If so, the system and its design should be on the drawing.....
     
  7. Pouncer

    Pouncer Well-Known Member

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    Oops! Big typo there...what I should have typed was:

    I have a hunch there is a second tank because....

    Sorry about that, sure wish my fingers and brain came with spell check!
     
  8. Macybaby

    Macybaby I love South Dakota Supporter

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    The double tank system was what we had in WI, but that was a mound system. Here is SD we had the septic tank replaced and a new drain field run. Cost about $1800 for the whole thing (fall of 2004).

    Our house was built without plumbing. Someone converted the old cistern (Brick lined with cement) into the septic tank. It sat about 4' from the cellar. We knew we had a problem when the sump pump would run every time someone took a shower.

    There was a second tank all the way across the lawn, but we don't know if there was a pipe between the two or not. Neighbor suspected the drain field had been damaged when previous owner did some water line work. We think there is a second foundation over near it (grass grows funny in a rectangularly outline shape). Don't know if it was a house or just another shed, but that tank may have been for a different building.

    We also discovered that the outgoing pipe (supposedly to the drain field) was lower than what is recommended for our area. We have a very high water table. We also had a very wet year, and contractor figured the water from the drain field was feeding back into the cistern. If filled back up to the top about three days after we had it emptied.

    Only option was to replace the whole system (which we had planned on doing at some point when we bought the place).
     
  9. Spinner

    Spinner Well-Known Member

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    I flush outdated milk down the toilet every now and then. It adds good bacteria to the tank and helps it disolve the solids. I haven't had my tank pumped in 15 years. Checked it a couple years ago and had about 3" of sludge on the bottom. The milk must work, or at least it isn't hurting anything. ;)
     
  10. dagwood

    dagwood Well-Known Member

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    I put Bakers Yeast dissolved in warm water into ours. I think we last pumped it 20 years ago......
     
  11. free-2-b-me

    free-2-b-me Well-Known Member

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    I keep a covered waste basket in the bathroom and throw out all TP I use . Have done this for years . TP does not break down in the septic as one might think. It creates a thick layer on top thus eventually plugging the septic .
    Food wastes go in the compost heap here not down the drain.
     
  12. Cabin Fever

    Cabin Fever Life NRA Member since 1976 Supporter

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    I would agree with some of the others here. The tank you had pumped is NOT a septic tank. The purpose of a septic tank is to allow solids to settle out to the bottom so that the solids do not do into the drainfield. A tank with a pump sitting on the bottom is pumping the solids somewhere downstream. I'd venture to agree that there is a septic tank downstream of the one you had pumped.....at least I hope there is. Start probing the ground on the downstream side of your metal tank to find the outlet pipe. Continue probing along the outlet pipe until you hit the second tank.

    I would not count on that steel tank lasting much longer.
     
  13. 3ravens

    3ravens on furlough-downsized Supporter

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    Thanks for the replies, everyone! I'll get my SIL to check the pump for alarms, floats, and switches, and exactly where it pumps FROM and TO, or honestly, if it's even working....... :shrug:
    CF, thats a good idea, but there's about 20 feet of deck on the side where the outlet is....do you think a 2nd tank would be further out (closer to the drain field) or also under the deck?
    Those who recommend bypassing the authorities...... we ain't got no stinking codes! Thank goodness! This old guy built this place himself......We had it checked, and it's safe enough, but codes? We would be in TROUBLE! :p
    Spinner, milk never lasts long enough here to get outdated. :rolleyes:
    Pouncer, I doubt such a survey exists, since the old guy built it himself.
    Dagwood, we have lots of yeast for baking.... How much at a time and how often? Let it proof or just dissolve and flush?
     
  14. steader

    steader Unknown

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    Amen to that.
     
  15. hoofinitnorth

    hoofinitnorth Well-Known Member

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    That doesn't make sense to me... Did he mean the drain field hadn't backed up into the tank or that the tank hadn't backed up into the house or??? You shouldn't have a drain field in front of the tank when wastes come out of the house...

    As far as an as-built, that is typically required by any title insurance company when you buy a place, especially if you finance the property through a bank. Should have had one done when you bought it - check your paperwork. There may also be records filed with your local authority on the type of septic system put in, especially if you also have a well. You can ask questions without getting yourself into trouble if you are careful and patient.

    Be glad that you didn't find an old rusted truck under there - pretty common in our parts!!! I actually had a real estate agent that was trying to sell his place for WAY too much money that had one of these "septic systems". I was baffled that he hadn't fixed it in all the years he'd been there and certainly before he put it up for sale and had to disclose it! I believe those systems are ILLEGAL with no grandfather rights...
     
  16. The Paw

    The Paw Well-Known Member

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    You don't say how close the tank-under-the-deck is to your house, but in theory the second tank could be upstream of your metal tank as well. There could be a first "settling tank" which then flows into your second "effluent tank" which needs a pump to reach the drainfield.

    Or, as CF suggests, your metal tank may just be a holding tank and a two chamber septic tank is further downstream.

    Last option, as suggested earlier, is that maybe this is a tank where the metal baffles have rusted out? In that case, there may be only one tank. The presence of the pump (presumably with a float switch) would not be ususual in that case, it would be required anywhere you didn't have enough slope for a gravity-feed to the drainfield distribution box. (this last set up is what I have, but it is a concrete tank so the baffle is intact).
     
  17. 3ravens

    3ravens on furlough-downsized Supporter

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    I guess I should have said it hadn't overflowed into the drain field? :shrug: The solid stuff hadn't gone into the drain lines. In fact, it wasn't even close to the top. So I guess the drain field isn't clogged. When the ground unfreezes we'll start probing for another tank. In the meantime SIL opens it up about once a week and checks the level. So far it's doing good....... I asked him to check for float valves and such next time he opens it.
     
  18. MWG

    MWG Well-Known Member

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    Here is an idea... not sure if it would work, but might be worth a try if others on here thinks it might work.

    Have the metal tank pumped. While it is empty built a mold 2-3 inches off each side and off the floor. Plug the inlet and outlet with plastic that could be cut later. Then pour concrete around your mold. Remove the wooden (?) mold and cut the plastic. Now you have a concrete tank that should last for ever. Perhaps you could even do something with the top and make a concrete lid.

    Anyone think this might work? You would loose some volume off the orginal metal tank but it would save you a whole lot of money...

    Any thoughts on this?
     
  19. hoofinitnorth

    hoofinitnorth Well-Known Member

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    MWG - not sure but they use a similar process these days to fix sewer lines without having to dig up the pipes and replace them - can be costly for landscaping & street repair...
     
  20. cougkid

    cougkid Active Member

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    This is the type of neighborly advice that makes this forum the best. :goodjob: